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Jeffrey Simpson (Brigitte Bouvier For The Globe and Mail)

Jeffrey Simpson

(Brigitte Bouvier For The Globe and Mail)


User fees, Bob Rae’s future and other regrets Add to ...

Last year ended with an unforgivable brain-cramp mistake. User fees were indeed implemented in Saskatchewan three years after the introduction of medicare in 1962 – but by the Liberal government of Ross Thatcher, not by the CCF. The CCF paid for medicare, in part, with premiums but not user fees. Those fees were subsequently abolished by an NDP government, never to return to Saskatchewan nor to appear anywhere else in Canada. And, by the way, an admirer of former Saskatchewan premier T.C. Douglas wrote to say that the philatelic service had indeed issued a stamp honouring him, in contrast to what was written here. Good on Canada Post.

Apologies, too, to the Harper government. In 2008, its platform promised to develop a “North American-wide cap-and-trade system.” It never pledged to implement a Canada-only system for greenhouse-gas emissions, and thus wasn’t as hypocritical as was suggested in deriding the NDP’s commitment to implement one.

Speaking of the Harper Conservatives, it was said here that, last summer, the Prime Minister would shake up his cabinet. Wrong. He left things intact in 2012. We’ll see if he plays with a pat hand in 2013.

Last June, these words appeared: “Canada is about to be spurned in its efforts to join the emerging trade bloc, the Trans-Pacific Partnership.” These words were spectacularly wrong. Canada did join the TPP talks, albeit belatedly and largely because the United States wanted Canada present (to get some things out of this country) and steamrollered the opposition of New Zealand and Australia. Now that Canada’s in the TPP, how does it also find the resources and commitment to negotiate deals with India, South Korea and Thailand while considering China’s grand offer to negotiate a free-trade deal?

A column about the federal budget in March, written as these things are in the budget lockup, was wrong in saying the “Conservatives essentially left the entire structure of the government intact,” evidence of a tendency of conservatives in North America to talk more about reducing the size of government than doing it. In fact, the Harper government is cutting $4-billion to $5-billion in Ottawa’s own spending, eliminating programs, reducing others and ending the jobs of thousands of civil servants. These cuts are dressed up in Harperspeak as “administrative efficiencies,” whereas they’re very real reductions in programs and jobs.

Shawn Atleo, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, wasn’t “seriously challenged” at his organization’s convention in July, as prophesied here. He won re-election easily.

The erroneous prediction about Mr. Atleo’s future came some months after another goof: that Bob Rae was so obviously the best qualified candidate to become the federal Liberal leader that “frankly, there is no one else. If there were, Mr. Rae could leave.” Well, there wasn’t and there isn’t. Yet, Mr. Rae still announced he wouldn’t seek the leadership. The next sentence compounded the error: “Liberals can dream of Justin Trudeau, except that he has ruled out a leadership bid.” That’s what Mr. Trudeau said, but obviously circumstances changed. So did his mind.

A column in February drew attention to the munificence of Alberta government spending, propped up by a staggering $15.9-billion in non-renewable energy revenues. A few weeks ago, the provincial treasurer warned of tough times ahead and pushed back his target for a balanced budget because non-renewable energy revenues were weak. How things change within a year, even for the country’s wealthiest province.

When will Alberta’s political culture realize that the province needs a sales tax, which provides much steadier revenue to finance its expensive public services and would allow it to put much more of its non-renewable resources into the Heritage Fund? Answer to this rhetorical question: not any time soon.

A column in June waxed eloquent about New Brunswick’s plan, negotiated with provincial unions, to eliminate fixed indexing and bring about other changes to make it sustainable. On reflection, those changes likely didn’t go far enough, or at least don’t provide the right template for other public institutions facing obligations they can’t meet without higher contribution rates from employees.

Onward, to 2013. Happy New Year.

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