harponomics eeny meeny miny mo

Are you planning an addition on the cottage this year? Maybe a new nanny room in the basement? Good news: Jim Flaherty is here to help. In Tuesday's budget, Canada's finance minister is offering Canadians a tax break for fixing up their homes.

Are you planning an addition on the cottage this year? Maybe a new nanny room in the basement?

Good news: Jim Flaherty is here to help. In Tuesday’s budget, Canada’s finance minister is offering Canadians a tax break for fixing up their homes. Spend between ,000 and ,000, and receive a 15 per cent tax credit.

The great news is that there are no strings attached. You don’t have to prove you’re needy, or that your house is substandard, and you certainly don’t have to bother with any of that silly green nonsense. Replace the carpets, put in a new chandelier, repave the circular driveway, do what you want with the money.

You don’t need to use Canadian suppliers for that carpet. Have it shipped in from China, hire cheaper carpet layers from across the border, that’s what NAFTA’s for.

Don’t bother to conserve, just rip out the old stuff and throw it in the landfill. As for the ,500 you save, no obligations there either. Spend it at Cabo San Lucas if you like.

Remember all the Chretien-Martin belt-tightening years? Billions each year gouged out of social spending to “tackle the deficit”? We did it, too. Notch by notch, poor and working class Canadians cinched and cinched as corporate salaries swelled and the jeweled girdles of the rich got longer by the year. And, by damn, we tackled that sucker to the ground.

As infrastructure crumbled and programs decayed we built strong fiscal management on the backs of the poor. The deficit-slaying message was, ‘Full speed ahead and damn the dying children.’ First Nation communities boiled their drinking water and the mentally ill took to living under bridges and begging on the streets, but Canada made extra payments on the debt and built up its rainy day fund.

Then the Harperites came to power and gave all those hard-won surpluses away, billions and billions of it in tax cuts to the already disgustingly rich. And then, oops, the markets collapsed and the rich found themselves in need of a lot more money to see them through the tough times. So now we’re back to deficits, and the cycle begins again.

It’s always a questionable exercise to predict in retrospect, but really, did anyone ever doubt that this budget would be passed? Canada’s shiny new Liberal leader is politically savvy enough to insist on seeing the budget before rejecting it—which is more than can be said for the NDP. But it couldn’t have been more obvious that Michael Ignatieff would be combing the document looking not for bad news, but for good.

Neither Harper nor Ignatieff could possibly want to face the electorate any time soon. The former has too much to lose, the latter can’t afford to run a campaign. Like two tango dancers, the Liberals and Conservatives have maintained the appearance of tension in an exercise that is entirely co-operative.

The budget itself is a disaster. According to the IMF, its projections are based on blind optimism, and we will surely face much greater deficits than Flaherty suggests. Instead of tying all of its spending to sustainability, as any sane government would be doing today, it offers billion for “green” projects, a great deal of which will be targeted at bogus carbon sequestering in the oil patch.

There’s not a penny in this budget to create child-care spaces, though given the degree of unemployment we can expect in the coming years, maybe Canadian parents will have more time to spend with their children—say in the line-up at the food bank, for instance.

The budget does propose billions in infrastructure spending, but a proposition is all it amounts to. Provinces already drowning in debt will have to match every dollar in federal spending, and municipalities will be required to contribute an as-yet unspecified sum. Harper’s “use-it-or-lose-it” challenge to junior levels of government will make a great excuse not to spend the fund at all.

It’s more than likely that at the end of two years the government will have billions in unspent infrastructure money in hand. That money could come in handy. They could use it to help keep the deficit from spiraling out of control. They could pump it into real job creation, or into unemployment benefits that will surely be much needed by then. Or they could give it all away in tax cuts for the rich.

Hm, I wonder which they’ll chose. Oh, eeny meeny, miny, mo….

Al Pope won the 2002 Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist in BC/Yukon. His novel, Bad Latitudes,

is available in bookstores.

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