Tightening the belt; opening the wallet
The pundits weigh in on deficits, stimuli, spending, and fish.
Stephen Harper must act quickly not just on our economic fundamentals, L. Ian MacDonald argues in the Montreal Gazette, but to assure Canadians that despite all appearances during the election campaign, he’s on top of the situation. “Harper’s initial response, that the fundamentals of the Canadian economy were strong, was as disconnected from reality as John McCain when he made the same comment in the middle of the stock market crash,” MacDonald observes, and he says Harper was lucky to escape the fallout with his political life. Now, he says, Harper must “level with the Canadian people about the size of the storm we are facing. This is a time for grown-ups, not playing silly games about whether we can run a deficit.”
Meanwhile, the Calgary Herald’s Don Martin reports, the government’s optics gurus will be busy enforcing austerity on politicians and civil servants. Tomorrow’s fiscal update will feature pay freezes, cuts to “discretionary spending and a clampdown on travel and assorted parliamentary perks” for our elected MPs and “top bureaucrats,” we learn. Junkets, friend-and-family travel, health benefits—all slashed, potentially. The combined effect of this will amount to “pennies” against the “megacuts needed to keep a large deficit at bay,” says Martin—but, monkeys that we are, the PMO presumes we will clap appreciatively and stamp our feet to see the bad times spread around a little.
The Toronto Star’s Thomas Walkom is now confident that Harper understands the scope of the economic crisis, and the number of zeroes involved in what needs to be done to lessen its impact. The question is whether he has the stones to follow through on the IMF recommendation of a stimulus package amounting “to about 2 per cent of [countries’] national economies.” That’s $31 billion in our case, Walkom observes, and the government can’t count past tax cuts against that figure (though he concedes Jim Flaherty’s suggestion along those lines was a “nice try.”) Added onto the already projected deficit, this means the potential for a $35 billion deficit. This, Walkom predicts, would cause Harper’s “allies in the business press (and his own party) [to] go ballistic.”
The Globe and Mail’s Jeffrey Simpson files his second column in as many days arguing that the current model under which the Atlantic fisheries are managed is unsustainable, because it inherently privileges political concerns over scientific and conservational ones. We can detect no functional difference between the two columns—both make precisely the same argument—but today’s is slightly more entertaining, and is well worth a read.
On the whole, Chantal Hébert argues in the Star, Harper has every reason to hope Jean Charest hangs on as Quebec premier. “The advantages of a stable federalist presence in Quebec should outweigh the potential satisfaction of watching Charest get a taste of his own medicine”—i.e., payback for his less-than-helpful performance during the federal campaign. On the other hand, Hébert observes, “if Charest secures a third mandate and a majority, he will be free to ponder a future beyond Quebec politics for the first time since he left the federal arena a decade ago.” And that future might very well include Harper’s current job.
Don Macpherson’s scorecard in the Gazette has PQ leader Pauline Marois not only exceeding expectations in last night’s leaders’ debate, but as the hands-down winner. “What was apparent right from the start was a self-assurance acquired over more than a quarter-century of experience in which she has held most of the major portfolios in government,” he observes. And while Charest “defended his government’s record well,” he did so using a lot of numbers “that may not have connected with viewers,” and what’s more, he was occasionally “provoked into losing his calm and becoming angry and agitated.”
“I admire cyclists and deplore all invasive plant species,” the Vancouver Sun’s Vaughn Palmer insists. And he wouldn’t be bringing up all the government dough going towards paths for the former and eradication of the latter if it hadn’t been for premier Gordon Campbell’s recent promise to “rein in” spending. Among other recent expenditures: “$22.5 million to bring Internet access to remote native communities”; “$10.4 million to purchase 86 new ‘clean-technology’ school buses”; he can, and does, go on and on. So what gives, Mr. Premier?
The Star’s Jim Coyle looks at Dalton McGuinty’s increasingly bizarre reactions to the furor he created over restricting young Ontarians’ driving privileges, namely:
- suggesting the province’s young’uns proactively propose alternative restrictions on their freedoms (“What’s next?” Coyle asks. “Having LCBO clerks demand assurances … that purchasers will not get tipsy?” God, please don’t give him any ideas) and
- pooh-poohing the idea of holding public meetings on the subject because teenagers don’t go to meetings anymore.
Coyle suggests Premier Dad may finally be testing Ontarians’ patience, and we dearly hope he’s correct.
The installation of Hillary Clinton as secretary of state “speaks to [Barack] Obama’s self-assurance,” John Ibbitson argues in the Globe. It seems he has no qualms about sharing “some portion of the public space” with a “competing narrative”—i.e., The Clintons—and is unconcerned that “if the two of them ever clash, … Mr. Obama can count on the Clintons’ many whisperers to leak all to the press.” But other than those concerns, Ibbitson is mystified at all the sound and fury surrounding her appointment. Clinton is “demonstrably qualified,” he says, and what’s more, “choosing her will seal whatever rifts remain within the Democratic Party after the primary battles.”
The Citizen’s Dan Gardner notes Dutch research suggesting that people are more likely to litter and steal when their immediate environment is unkempt than when it’s “up to the usual Dutch standards of order and cleanliness.” Superficially, he notes, this would seem to back up the “broken windows” theory of policing, which Rudy Giuliani—no friend of Mr. Gardner—is commonly held to have used to save New York City from roving gangs of Death Wish-esque thugs. But the “broken windows” theory was never just about policing, Gardner notes; it simply became conflated with Giuliani’s “zero tolerance” approach to petty crime. That’s not to say police can’t play a role in urban improvement, he stresses, but that lots of other things can be just as important: clean streets, graffiti eradication (which New York undertook “long before Siant Rudy became mayor,” Gardner notes) and social marketing campaigns, for example.
As schools are burned to the ground and more and more parents decline to risk sending their children to school, the Star’s Rosie DiManno laments that “we are back at the beginning” in Afghanistan, “making the same mistakes, with [a] government that thinks it can hang onto power by negotiating with the Taliban.” If protecting women is any part of the Afghan equation, she insists this is folly. “Karzai is a desperate man with no daughters,” she concludes. “We all know what a made-in-Afghanistan solution looks like. Females aren’t part of it.”