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Editorial cartoon by Brian Gable (Brian Gable)
Editorial cartoon by Brian Gable (Brian Gable)

Brian Topp

Cheques speak volumes Add to ...

The pictures of Conservative MPs distributing millions of dollars of public money through cheques made to look like they are from the Conservative party of Canada are a reminder of several things.

First, they are a reminder that Canada's federal government under conservative rule (red and blue) over the past twenty years or so has largely put itself out of business, as far as the daily lives of most Canadians are concerned.

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In the result, government MPs Liberal and Tory trying to demonstrate they're contributing something grasp at these pathetic opportunities for a moment of sunshine back home. They aren't involved in delivering programs or services, so federal government MPs attach themselves to federal ATM payments to other, functioning levels of government instead.

It's impossible not to look at those improvised presentation cheques, festooned in Conservative Party colours, and at the frozen smiles of those politicians, without pitying them -- a little.

Second, those pictures are a reminder that this Conservative government is governing at complete variance with its own principles.

That Prime Minister is the former head of the National Citizens Coalition. The Finance Minister ran to be leader of the Ontario PC Party on the theme that Mike Harris wasn't right-wing enough.

These are the people who believe that the magic solution to all economic ills is to manipulate the money supply. These are the people who believe that all government cheques cause illegitimacy, drug dependency, and crime. These are the people who believe the market governs best -- that unemployment is good for workers, poverty good for families, and that the rich will provide for all, provided their tax cuts are generous enough.

And yet there they are not only passing out those satanic government cheques, but branding them with their party colours.

Third, in counterpoint, these images are a reminder of how conservatives have actually governed in recent times throughout North America.

The political ancestors of today's conservatives opposed pensions, health care, schools, and many other public goods the overwhelming majority of citizens value. So they were usually defeated. Today's conservatives have figured this out. And so they peddle a different agenda: valued public goods can all be had, for free. Nothing fundamental needs to happen to public services. And taxes can all be deeply cut.

In the short term, this allows Conservative politicians to pose for photos handing out millions of dollars in public funds on cheques designed to look like they come from the Conservative Party, while simultaneously taking victory laps celebrating trivial cuts to citizens' taxes and deep, fundamental cuts to taxes paid by Canada's "wealth community" and business community.

In the medium term, it's all good for the folks conservatives really serve. The fortunate few in our wealth community get a disproportionate share of the tax goodies. And they are also the people in a position to invest in government debt. So they pay less in tax while earning interest payments funded by the rest of us to pay for those tax cuts.

This "revenge of the rentiers" is one of the instruments that has engineered a massive transfer of wealth back to the rich during the past two decades -- returning us to gross disparities of wealth last seen in the 1920s. So those cheques -- financed by public debt -- work just fine from a conservative perspective.

And in the long term, this fiscal strategy can only have one end. The government must at some point hit a debt wall. Forcing it to further liquidate itself -- also all good from a conservative perspective.

The antidote to this reckless madness is balanced-budget good government financed by middle-of-the-pack taxation. The kind of government provided in the United States by progressive democrats like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. By social democrat governments in Europe and the antipodes. And by competent NDP governments in Canada under effective premiers like Roy Romanow, Gary Doer and Darrell Dexter.

So one of the many good things about the quiet, steady re-emergence of Jack Layton as the most competent and credible alternative prime minister on the opposition benches (a role he also played in the 2008 election) is that the electoral debate likely to come at some point next year just might not be a phony and meaningless one about whether the reds or the blues will provide the best conservative government.

Instead we could have a real debate -- triggered by issues like Mr. Harper's HST tax transfer from business to working people -- over the real issues embedded in those big, fat government cheques... brought to you by the Conservative Party of Canada... honest.

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