Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Throne Speech: Poor speech but let's pick our own time to go to the polls

So first of all, the night did not get off to a good start for Harper’s team as the throne speech got leaked to the media a couple hours before the speech. This is pretty serious stuff, not as bad as leaking a budget in advance, but still you have to wonder who was behind it. That’s two major leaks for the Conservatives in a short amount of time: first their environment plan, now their throne speech.

Of course the government House leader Peter Van Loan in typical fashion tried to claim it was the opposition parties that leaked it (the leaders get a copy before the speech), but as usual Van Loan was proven wrong as the speech was leaked before the opposition leaders got a copy.

Anyways as for the speech itself….

There was really not much new of substance in there. It seems mostly like they’re just going to repackage old policies. No new vision. A few good ideas, but otherwise same old story, weak policy and direction with a few petty jabs in there at the Liberals.

To be fair there were some things in there I agreed with.

The PM should apologize once and all for Natives for the residential schools issue as the throne speech suggested. It was vague whether it would happen this session but it must happen and it seems the Conservatives agree.

Canada also should be paying attention to the Arctic. I’m not near as gung-ho about it as others are and Harper often goes about it the wrong way, but it’s still an issue that shouldn’t be neglected. The plan for a research centre there is a reasonable one.

Also I agree that Canada should be working to eliminate trade barriers between the provinces. It’s true there’s too many walls put up and Liberals should be advocating this as well as it’s line with our view in support of a strong central government.

Finally, I support income tax cuts, but ONLY if they are geared towards the lowest income bracket like the previous Liberal tax cuts were (that were of course repealed by the Harper government).

Now for the bad….

Throwing all the crime bills into one omnibus bill is irresponsible policy and to make it a confidence bill to boot is really careless. It’s still vague how this big crime bill will look (what mandatory minimums will be in there, what bail conditions will be imposed, etc…), but the Liberals were on record as supporting the bulk of these before. If Harper really wants to govern he’ll just bring back the ones that already made it through the House and leave the rest at the door or for further debate in committee. Having an election on a crime bill would not really work to either party’s advantage in my view (Canadians are pretty middle of the road on the issue and won’t accept Draconian bills, but they still want something done so both parties would get fault) so Harper shouldn’t bother to force one over the issue. Anyways there will be room for debate in Parliament and the Liberals will get their say on the crime legislation, so that doesn’t make the cut for voting this speech down.

Another issue was he mentioned dismantling the Wheat Board. Also wrong-headed as it’s the US and other countries that are dying to see that happen. Sure some farmers will make more money, but most will lose big if the Wheat Board goes down in flames. But Harper said he’d bring the issue to Parliament so the Liberals will get their say. This is a big issue out West so the Liberals can't give up on this one.

Harper also wants to dismantle the gun registry. All he said was he would bring forth a bill though. So big deal, it would get voted down in this session and Harper won’t follow through anyway, it’s not a winner where he needs votes.

On Afghanistan, Harper hinted he wants Canada to stay till 2011 in a combat role. But again he said he’d bring it to Parliament. Of course the “non-partisan” panel (filled with partisans with the exception of Pamela Wallin) will likely back Harper’s preference, but the Liberals won’t be so easily goaded by that I don’t think. So no poison pill here either.

On the federal spending power, I strongly oppose further limiting federal spending power on social policy. However, it seems that what was described is already the case, Harper just wants to limit spending on new “shared-cost” programs by allowing the Provinces to opt out and be compensated. They can already do that, so I’m kind of confused what the advance is here. Certainly not as radical as had been mused about (limiting all government spending on education, child care, cities, etc…, none of that was mentioned).

On taxes, the further GST cut is dumb plain and simple and I don’t quite see why they are following through on it (it would be a promise worth breaking for sure). It saps up so much money for so little gain that could go elsewhere. As a Liberal though that’s good, the Liberals can propose to use the money the Conservatives want to allocate to the GST cut to poverty reduction and/or cities or towards a cut to the lowest income tax bracket.

The closest thing to a poison pill though was on the environment. Harper provocatively threw in a line on a decade of inaction (very false, Dion’s 2005 plan is better than the current one the Conservatives have put forth) and that the Kyoto targets are unattainable. The reality is that the way it was worded (that we can’t reach the target in the next 77 days was all was said) is accurate, but Dion can make the argument that if his plan stayed in place and wasn’t repealed (and then selectively re-instated) the Liberals would be on better track to make the targets and Harper has completely wasted two crucial years on this issue. Dion can say he has a plan to bring us as close to the targets as possible and in line with real international standards (20% reductions below 1990 levels not 2006 levels) by 2020. McGuinty’s plan is a good model and a realistic plan by just barely missing the Kyoto target but catching up to the rest of the world over the next decade. So letting this line go in this speech is not the end of the world. Dion can still credibly claim he has the better plan and that he will bring us into line with international standards, whereas Harper sides with Bush and John Howard (on his way out hopefully next month) and makes us an international environmental pariah while others move ahead of us.

Finally, there was terrible bluster on Canada being “back” (which is insulting given that Canadians has long been respected on the world stage), the country being as united as ever (tell that to Premiers Williams and Calvert) and the government is clean (but just happens to be under investigation for the second time over violating Elections law). But that’s just par for the course for Harper that kind of rhetoric isn’t worth having an election on.

So overall some ok ideas in here, but mostly poor ones and a very vague plan for the session on the key issues. They’ve got five new priorities, but how they heck are they going to have claimed to have met any of them? They’re more like directions to take Canadian policy than actual policies, but I guess they’re wedded to the priorities term, they may regret it later since it’ll sure be tough to say they’ve met such vague ideas.

Anyways as I've said previously, this speech if it passes will have no consequences for the lives of Canadians. The Liberals will have a chance to have a separate vote on all the negative aspects of this speech and we’re gonna have an election better on those individual issues than on a dull, vague speech that doesn’t really have anything other than short-term political consequences if it passes.

So as I argued before, the Liberals can just strategically vote down/abstain and move on to debating the real issues. The NDP and Bloc can whine and parrot Conservative party lines, but only one party can actually get take the Conservatives out of power and Canadians know that. The Liberals will show Canadians in the months ahead that they deserve the chance to govern again, but now’s not the time to go to the polls. We can pick our issue and make sure we’re ready to go to make sure we win.

We'll see tomorrow afternoon if Stephane and his caucus agrees.

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