Stephen Harper's letter on the economy

Paul Wells on why we should expect cuts to programs that have no constituency within the Conservative party

Last night I posted the Prime Minister’s letter to Conservative MPs on the economy, which you may still not have seen because it received, judging from a quick Google News search, one-twentieth the coverage the election of Mike Crawley as Liberal party president got. Which makes sense, of course, because a sitting PM controls only $200 billion in program spending, whereas Mike Crawley beat Sheila Copps.

But onward. The timing of the Harper letter is obviously opportunistic: it’s designed to emphasize that Harper is Focused on the Economy—quick shot of the leader working late at the Langevin Block, pool of light from his single desk lamp his only defence against the gloom—whereas the Liberals want to legalize pot. The mise en scène is maybe a bit too obvious to be effective.

But there is also information in the letter, so let’s have a look. 

The next budget, he writes, will “focus on key areas that will lead to stronger growth and job creation such as:

1. Expanding trade and opening new market…

2. Investing in research and development…

3.  Contributing to skills training…

4.  Eliminating red tape…

5.  Keeping taxes low—to help families balance their budgets and to provide a competitive business environment that supports job-creating investment and expansion.

6. Controlling debt and deficits—to ensure Canada avoids the debt crisis plaguing many developed countries by gradually eliminating our deficit from now to 2015.”

I’ve added numbers to the bullet points for handy reference. The combination of points 5 and 6 will be familiar by now. Low taxes and concerted effort to pay off the deficit means continued pressure on program spending. This will mean cuts to programs and departments that have no constituency within the Conservative party, and a lack of new programs in most areas.

Point 1 anticipates some kind of decent conclusion to negotiations on Canada-EU trade, and continues to signal the government’s desire to get the Northern Gateway pipeline built. The “research and development” bit…will have to wait for details. The feds have a heap of evidence that the weakness in Canadian R&D is in the private sector and that the most generous tax credits in the world aren’t helping. Perhaps they are even starting to listen.

Discuss the rest of these points among yourselves. Harper continues by calling on ministers to consult with Canadians on these issues and to repeat, as he has in recent interviews, that “tough, important choices” lie ahead. “We must make those choices – choices that will lead to greater prosperity – but we must make them together with the Canadian people.”

I’ll bite. What are the choices?

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