Not a campaign event, we hope

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty will talk to the media tomorrow morning at 8 a.m. on Parliament Hill about process surrounding meetings with the International Monetary Fund and G7 countries. Something to do with the spot of bother on the stock exchanges. And the banks. And the jobs outlook.

Whatever Flaherty says should be calibrated carefully to make sure the steps the government is taking, in a increasingly grave economic situation, aren’t sold as part of an electioneering calculation. That could be a challenge, since Stephen Harper and his campaign have been struggling for several days to find the right way to talk about the crisis.

In particular, Harper needs to keep clear the fact that the state’s instruments of market action—the Bank of Canada especially, but also the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions—must be viewed as inviolably trustworthy no matter what elected government they serve.

Institutional reliability shouldn’t be portrayed as being linked in some way to his own party remaining in power. At a Victoria campaign stop today, Harper was in full flight on the subject of Conservative economic virtues when he offered this: “If we enter into the markets, as the Bank of Canada did today, it’s done in a way that will stablize the situation, done in a way that will lower interest rates… That’s what we’re advocating.”

By “we” did he mean the Conservatives only, or a Conservative government in concert with the state’s non-partisan institutional arms? Was he suggesting the Bank of Canada might act in some other way if some other party were in power? Is some other party advocating that the BoC act differently?

In a crisis, and we’re in one, it’s important to keep clear the distinction between party politics and the non-partisan branches of the public service that we rely on to do their jobs—answerable to elected leaders, of course, but operating at an essential remove from the democratic fray.

It’s fine to say your economic policies are better than your opponent’s, of course, but not to try to somehow make the Bank of Canada’s actions part of your campaign pitch. Flaherty has a fine line to walk tomorrow.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.