Small Decisions or Poor Decisions?

Flipping through some of the Canadian party sites, I came across this article. I was intrigued to see Dion bringing up Harper’s small decisions concerning the economy as of late.

The two small choices made by the Conservative government that were made recently were to set aside money for farmers which was done, according to the press release,to move away from CAIS, and to open up the options for Canadians when flying outside of Canada and the States with the new Open Skies agreement.

“While the rest of the world sets ambitious targets and commits major resources, the Harper government fails to invest in our long term economic prosperity,” he said. “After a very successful period brought about by smart fiscal management by successive Liberal governments, we have a Conservative government obsessed with spending the fruits of that prosperity for short term gain. This is a government that is squandering our opportunity and failing to plan for Canada’s future.

Dion stated this in his recent comments on the Liberal economic agenda. While I respect that the amount of changes being instituted by the Conservative government may be considerably smaller-scale than what Dion is promising (“competitive taxes, aggressive international trade and a massive commitment to innovation and education”), I think that the comments made in this article do more to discourage me than encourage me regarding Dion’s economic plans.

The key that Dion seems to be overlooking (most likely deliberately, since he is by no means a stupid man) is the fact that small steps are both required, and forced upon the Conservative government. The latter is a simple notion; the Conservatives are in a minority situation, which clearly hinders the number of huge changes the government can make to the system without risking their power. To expect huge alterations to the education system (which, if I am not mistaken, is provincial territory, anyhow?) is not feasible for a minority government, which Dion would surely be forced to admit were he in the situation Harper is currently.

The former concept is, in my mind, more important. While it is difficult to make impacting decisions while in a minority situation, if it was absolutely necessary, I believe that Harper could be faulted for valuing power more than what is liable to benefit the country (although Dion is certainly no different — no political leader is, as far as I know)! However, to me Dion’s promises of making large-scale decisions is reminiscent of many recent Liberal platforms. Too many promises, not enough follow-up. Harper is taking his time about refining the system to make it more efficient, which in many ways is what the Canadian system requires: a reliable, steady stream of small changes, rather than unrealistic ones that are unlikely to take place.

And, as far as I can tell, both of these recent economic changes are positive to the general population. I have heard many negative things about farmers’ wages, and while I do not know the CAIS system well at all, generally when there is much emotional backlash, it is because the program is fallible. To make a more basic, operational financial system for farming families hardly seems to hurt the country. The same goes for the Open Skies decision, which will benefit those people flying to “third countries.” And this seems to be one step in the right direction — away from the major corporations, and towards more individual benefits. Most of my companions criticize the Conservative ideology of supporting large businesses, but both of these financial changes seem to suggest gains for the lone citizens, rather than large farming and airline corporations.

While it is great that Dion has goals to alter the system heavily (and if it took place, the changes he proposes could be quite beneficial, as he suggests), the real issue is how feasible it is to expect this new Liberal leader to pay up when the time is right. At this point, Harper has proven he can deliver. Perhaps Dion should take a page out of his notes, and start making promises that sound half believable!


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. blackberry guy
    Mar 16, 2007 @ 14:17:00

    I won’t defend Dion’s comments, because they’re premature. The Conservatives will table a budget on March 19, and they have a large surplus to invest. We’ll see then what their priorities are.

    Two thoughts on the subject of education. First, you’re right, it’s an area of provincial jurisdiction. However, the federal government has long used its spending power to sponsor initiatives in areas of provincial jurisdiction (e.g. health care).

    The provinces would generally prefer that the federal government just give them the money. I’m a typical Ontarian: I like a certain amount of pushing from the centre, setting at least a minimalist national agenda on important matters.

    (Residents of Atlantic Canada would strongly agree. Residents of Quebec or Alberta would strenuously disagree.)

    My second thought is this. Journalists (Jeffrey Simpson, Paul Wells) have argued for a while now that the federal government should invest in the “knowledge economy”. Continued prosperity in the global economy depends upon such an investment, they say.

    The Paul Wells article criticizes the (Liberal) Paul Martin government for not acting when it had money at its disposal.

    Remember that Dion is a university professor. Along with the environment, he seems to be making the knowledge economy a central emphasis of his platform. If the pundits are right, there’s a neglected opportunity here. Dion is seizing it and trying to make it his own.

    But the Conservatives might still beat him to the punch!


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