The sketch: Economic Action Notions™

The notional success of the Canada Job Grant
Prime Minister Stephen Harper rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Monday,Jan 28, 2013 .THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Blair Gable/Reuters

Justin Trudeau wondered if the Prime Minister might stand now and—presumably having engaged in some deep reflection over the Christmas break—”abandon” the Canada Job Grant, but Mr. Harper had apparently not been so moved.

“This government remains absolutely committed to the notion that to address some of these problems, we need to get employers and institutions and individuals who are looking for work working together to fill jobs that can be filled,” the Prime Minister explained.

Notions (Jim Flaherty would separately describe the Job Grant today as a “concept“) are, or at least can be, rather great things. Much of governance and politics, at least in its public expression, is notional. ™And a lovely notion the Canada Job Grant is, everyone somehow coming together to make the world somehow better. Why wouldn’t the government remain so committed? Why wouldn’t we all be so committed? Why does Justin Trudeau hate the notion of cooperation leading to the gainful employment of his fellow countrymen? Why is Mr. Trudeau so afraid to dream?

It is a pity only that notions aren’t much more than daydreams unless someone can work out the details. Ten months ago, the Canada Job Grant was “a bold, new initiative” that “would transform the way Canadians receive training.” But as of this moment, it is still basically a notion, one that the provinces have rejected.

Which is not to say that one of the signature promises of last year’s budget has so far been a total loss.

“Mr. Speaker, let us be clear on this. The Canada Job Grant was the government’s signature economic policy of the last budget. It spent millions of taxpayer dollars on partisan ads boosting it, but it is a mess. It was rejected by the provinces. It will cost more and help fewer people,” Mr. Trudeau lamented.

Here the Liberal leader had simply refused to acknowledge one important element of the Canada Job Grant: the basic notion’s ability to cheer people up.

“Mr. Speaker, I noted that the Canada Job Grant was in fact very well received by those in the marketplace,” Mr. Harper enthused, “by people who want to upgrade their skills, want to receive more training, want to gain jobs and, by pluralism, want to create jobs.”

So apparently people who might like to receive a grant to upgrade their or someone else’s skills were, in fact, heartened to hear that they might receive a grant to upgrade their or someone else’s skills.

So there’s that. And presuming Jason Kenney figures out a way to make the notion into something tangible, the government will at least have an actual program to claim, even regardless of whether it angers the provinces or basically makes sense or does, in fact, work. At that point, presumably, the government can announce it again and the marketplace will be newly happy.

But that will still leave to be questioned the small matter of the $2.5 million already spent to promote the Canada Job Grant, an ad buy that seems to stretch the definition of advance warning—a bit like the film industry deciding to promote movies that have not yet been financed or cast.

Of the general topic of the federal advertising budget, the NDP later sent up Mathieu Ravignat to grouse—it having been reported that the government had exceeded its planned envelope for Economic Action Plan™ promotion last year. (You will note in that story that the Globe is still clinging to the quaint notion that the Economic Action Plan™ was a “catchphrase” related to government efforts in regards to the recession. That might’ve seemed to be the idea in 2009, but it would now seem that the Economic Action Plan™ is what we used to call “the federal budget.”)

“Mr. Speaker,” the New Democrat wondered, “how much of our money is the current government going to waste?”

Tony Clement stood here to explain the government’s commitment to fulfilling its obligations.

“Mr. Speaker, the responsibility of any government is to communicate with the population on plans and priorities and policies that are actually passed by this Parliament,” Mr. Clement explained. “It is our obligation and indeed our pleasure to do so. Of course, we want to inform Canadians about the great economic policies that are found each year in the budgets, and we will do so again I am sure.”

It is an obligation that extends even to the government’s notions and concepts (Economic Action Notions™) It is their responsibility to bounce ideas off you.

Here though, presumably, is an answer to the Parliamentary Budget Officer’s quibbles about the lack of information so far provided to explain the state of the nation’s finances and the government’s spending reductions. The PBO need not fret, but simply wait patiently for the inevitable campaign that will explain at length and in detail precisely which expenditures have been eliminated or reduced, how and why and what impact such changes will have on the government’s ability to provide services and so on. An hour-long infomercial might be necessary. But we might forgive the government the expense.