Tip of the iceberg

Morneau_Bill _Lib_TorCentre_GalleryIt is tempting to overreact to Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s latest “fiscal folly:” another case in which, as CBC News puts it, he, actually Canada, “is still staring at a horizon awash in red ink, with no forecasted return to a balanced budget.The Economist says that, thanks to Jean Chrétien and Stephen Harper, “Canada has been managing its public finances conservatively for the past 20 years or so. Now in charge of a sluggish economy, Mr Trudeau can afford to give growth a modest lift by spending extra money on infrastructure.” But, I would suggest that the important word is “modest.”

But I think that the steadily mounting debt, the impact of which, on ordinary Canadians, especially working families in the suburbs, will be exacerbated by the loss of carefully targeted tax cuts that Prime Minister Harper introduced and by the forthcoming carbon tax, will erode the confidence that many journalists and most Canadians have in Prime Minister Trudeau and Finance Minister Morneau.

Even so, I think that, thanks to two decades of conservatively managed public finances, the growing Liberal debt bubble is just the tip of the iceberg.

Consider Ontario, Canada’s largest province. It used to be the “engine of growth” that pulled the rest of Canada along … no more. It is a “have not” province, looking to Saskatchewan for handouts.

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Ontario’s public debt is, to be charitable, the worst in North America and, quite simply, it is out of control …

… were/are Dalton McGuinty and Kathleen Wynne fools? No, not at all. Were/are they loony left ideologues? No, not that either. Why then is Ontario in a hole and still digging … why did Premiers McGuinty and Wynne violate the famous ‘First Law of Holes?’

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The answer, it seems to me, is fairly obvious … but first, the “answer” is not confined to Ontario, or Quebec or Alberta, as CBC News (different report) says, since former Ontario Liberal cabinet minister “Jim Watson was elected mayor in 2010, the City of Ottawa’s total net debt has more than doubled — and is likely to top $1.7 billion by the end of 2016.” Did Mayor Watson, and I daresay many, many other mayors drink the Liberal kool-aid? Is it that simple?

No … none of McGuinty, Morneau, Watson or Wynne are fools, none wants to plunge their city, province or country deeper and deeper into debt.

So why is public debt growing, sometimes at alarming rates in cities, in provinces and at the national level? The “fairly obvious” answer is that …

… we Canadians, in all our shapes and sizes, want, and in many cases need, the services that governments provide and for which our taxes (or our children’s and grandchildren’s) must, perforce, pay.

As the CBC News story about Ottawa’s debt points out, things like roads and sewers are necessary and, somehow or other, they have to be paid for by the end uses ~ you and me ~ and sometimes taking on debt, even large inter-generational debt, to pay for them is a “good” thing to do. But, not everything that some of us want are what most of us need, even when they might be, generally, “good” things they may not deserve to be too high on our priority lists …

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… while other things, some that are simply not very sexy ~ make poor political ‘photo-ops’ ~ or are just things we would rather not have to pay for …

… are, actually, more important: they are things we really “need,” rather than things we just “want” because they will make us feel better.

One key element of good political leadership is to persuade us, voters, to to put our many and varied “needs” and “wants” in a sensible order of priority and then tell (feedback loop) the elected politicians what our real priorities are.

That doesn’t mean that we, not even most of us, are going to agree with every item on the list or, especially, with where it sits on the list: some “hot button” issues like abortion, right to die and same sex marriage are and will remain deeply divisive, while others, like defence policy and first nations and the environment and pipelines will also be contentious. But a sensible, well explained list can and should be part of a Conservative platform.

It isn’t, or it shouldn’t be, “guns or butter,” it needs to be some of both, plus clean air and water, and social housing and protection of property rights, and pipelines and respect for first nations’ inherent rights, and, and, and …

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