Thursday, September 28, 2006

Returning to Type

That's what the Canadian Conservatives seem to be up to, as they provoke no small amount of outrage through a variety of spending cuts.

Here's the weird thing, though:

"Never have Canadians seen such mean-spirited cuts at a time when Ottawa is swimming in money," said Liberal MP John McCallum. "This minority government only cares about its political base."

After announcing that last year's surplus was $13.2-billion Monday, the government unveiled $1-billion in spending cuts to take place over two years and announced that another $1-billion in savings over that period will be extracted through unidentified "tighter management" measures.
Thus, the spending cuts are entirely unnecessary from a budgetary point of view. They can't cry poverty, and even if they COULD, these would be penny ante.

Yet, for being penny ante, they're an odd set of choices. They're removing the GST rebate for foreign tourists, a program to reduce smoking among Aboriginal Canadians, cuts to the Canadian Tourism Commission, cut the funding for small museums, and (most bizarrely) slashed the budget of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Really, when everybody and his dog in Ottawa and the press is complaining about Canada no longer "punching above its weight" internationally, why on earth would you cut the budget of the diplomatic corps?

The Tories defended it by saying

"We want a more robust foreign policy. But more robust does not always mean spending more money and having more people," he said.

"It's not the government's plan to go on a hiring blitz when we're trying to show the Canadian people we're being careful with their money."
Well, first, that first remark is beyond silly, unless by "robust foreign policy" you mean "soldiers with nowhere to go and no knowledge of what they need to do when they get there".

That's the thing, though. They're sitting on an absolutely massive surplus. There's no reason in the world for them to do ANY of this- it is vanishingly unlikely that they'll get credited for this sort of thing, and some of the cuts (like to the GST rebates) are going to thoroughly tick off important segments of the economy and parts of the country. The Republicans like using deficits to cut programs they don't like, sure, but there's no deficit here- even the Republicans are smarter than this. The whole thing is, well, stupid, and it's been a long time since Harper has been accused of being stupid.

Or is it stupidity? Back before he cleaned up his image and jumped on "the five priorities" (is hacking up museum funding a priority now?) he was well known for being a hardcore libertarian: a market fundamentalist of the first order, who also didn't really give a rat's ass about foreign policy. Could we be seeing a return of the old-style government-loathing Harper, with a side of "let the Americans handle our diplomacy, we'll just send the troops they tell us?" It's certainly plausible. It fits the intrinsic weirdness of cutting programs that keep Inuit from dying of cancer.

And it's an absolute GIFT to the Liberals. It reinforces the "hidden agenda" concept ("what'll he do when he has a majority?") and, more importantly for what I'm interested in here, it provides an opportunity for the Liberals to put forward a vision of liberalism that can be counterposed to Harper's mean little museum-closing ideology.

Now if only they can stop the necromancy long enough to start doing that.

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