Responsible spending, Conservative style

Last October the Conservative Party of Canada's web page carried an article praising Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's handling of the economy, under the title, Focused on Responsible Spending and Economic Growth...

Last October the Conservative Party of Canada’s web page carried an article praising Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s handling of the economy, under the title, Focused on Responsible Spending and Economic Growth, a commitment the party demonstrates at every turn. For example, this September the Toronto Star reported that the government has responsibly spent “well over $100 million” in public funds to promote its Economic Action Plan.

The Conservatives are so focused on responsibly spending public funds to make the action plan look like a success that this May they put out a tender for three more years of advertising, despite the fact that the March 2012 budget included “a final report to Canadians” on the stimulus program.

An internal government poll contacted 2,009 people after a multi-million-dollar ad blitz this March. Six had visited the website tagged at the end of the ads, which according to The Canadian Press is “the Finance Department’s key yardstick for measuring success.” No one called the toll-free hotline.

So why does a government focused on responsible spending keep throwing millions after an ad campaign that fails to attract any attention, for a program that was officially declared finished last March? It’s a matter of focus. According to CBC News, “an analysis last year by the Privy Council Office … found those who saw the ads were more likely to approve of the overall performance of the government.”

What focused, responsible, governing party would throw away an opportunity like that? It’s free political advertising, bankrolled by the taxpayer. It’s almost as good a scam as appointing dozens of senators to campaign on the public dime. And both are money well spent, because everyone in the Harper government knows that the best path to economic growth is to re-elect focused responsible spenders like themselves.

Whatever else befalls them, the Harper Conservatives stand on their reputation as managers of the economy. This week The Toronto Star reports that the government has spent so wisely, and managed the economy so well, that 800,000 Canadians now rely on food banks to survive, up 23 per cent from 2008, during the recession.

According to Food Banks Canada’s Hunger Count, 18 per cent of employed Canadians earn less than $17,000 per year. A growing number of food bank users are working poor, and others struggle with “meager social assistance benefits” and “inadequate pensions.” Young people make up a disproportionate number of food bank users, as do the very old.

Statistics Canada reports that new job growth in the post-recession period, beginning in 2011, occurred largely in the low wage service sector, which grew at four times the overall rate. But even a 10.9 per cent increase in the McJob rate doesn’t bring us back to pre-recession employment levels. Canada’s employment rate in 2008 was 73.6 per cent. Today it sits at 72.2, ranking us 20th out of 34 OECD countries, behind even some of the alleged basket cases of Europe.

There are 300,000 more Canadians unemployed than before the recession. The country did create jobs, but not enough to keep up to the number of Canadians growing up and entering the labour force, not to mention the more than 300,000 temporary foreign workers currently in the country, who have a competitive edge because they can be paid 15 per cent less than Canadian workers.

According to The National Post, the Harper government has responsibly spent $60 billion giving tax cuts to corporations since coming to office, “reducing the country’s corporate tax rates to some of the lowest in the world.” By a strange coincidence, they responsibly spent the $14 billion budget surplus they inherited and replaced it with a record-breaking deficit of $56 billion, which Flaherty now congratulates himself for carving back down to $29 billion.

In 2006, when Harper and Flaherty began responsibly spending, the national debt stood at $467 billion. In 2011, they had managed to spend it up to $586 billion. When Stephen Harper was out of power, deficits, debt, and low employment were bad economic indicators. But those were Liberal deficits and debts, and Liberal low employment rates. Today we have a Conservative government focused on responsible spending and economic growth, so you can ignore the deficit and the low employment rate.

Focus instead on economic growth, or at least on the promise of economic growth, some day. Currently the growth rate is dropping swiftly, year by year. Every year that the Conservatives have been in power, the growth rate has dropped, except for the radical leap up from a 2009 low of -2.7 per cent to the 2010 peak of 3.22 per cent, brought on by stimulus spending. Today, with the exception of that 2009 bottoming out, growth is at a 10-year low of 1.8 per cent, and dropping.

Don’t be deceived by the bleak economic news, the responsible spenders in the Conservative Party know just what they’re doing. In 2008, Ian Brodie, one of Harper’s former chiefs of staff, explained exactly what responsible spending means to the Conservatives.

“Despite economic evidence to the contrary, in my view the GST cut worked,” Brodie said, fending off criticism from economists and tax specialists. “It worked in the sense that by the end of the ‘05-‘06 campaign, voters identified the Conservative party as the party of lower taxes. It worked in the sense that it helped us to win.”