Saturday, October 19, 2013

10 mostly negative (but I did try) thoughts about the Speech from the Throne

I know everyone stopped caring about the Speech from the Throne on Thursday, including Prime Minister Harper, who fled to Europe right after it was read Wednesday night to bring back every Canadian a block of gouda. I’ve been busy the last few days though so forgive me, but I’m just getting to the throne speech now.

I wanted to write something along the lines of five likes and dislikes, but I found that, even when there were things I liked, there were such caveats that it was hard to really call them likes. So, instead, here’s some thoughts of things I like but am sceptical of, and things I straight-out dislike.

  • Probably the closest to a genuine like was the commitment to lowering inter-provincial trade barriers. It’s an important economic issue that doesn’t get enough attention. However, it’s not the first time the Harper government has promised to do something about it. About the only accomplishment I can point to on this front is wine, and I still can’t get much BC wine in Ontario because the province isn’t on board. And that was a private member's bill. Besides, if Harper really wanted to address this, he may actually have to get into the same room as the premiers. So I’m not holding my breath

  • The government said it “work in partnership with industry to ensure that all major military purchases create high-quality jobs for Canadian workers.” Good. If we’re going to spend billions on new jets or ships, we should try to keep much of that money at home. If this is the government policy though, it’s a new one. Take the F-35. While every other country made a point of getting a guarantee that the vendor will spend X dollars (usually equivalent to the contract value) in their country, Canada pointedly did not. Our companies will compete on the open market for the work, the government said. Yeah, except it’s not an open market when every other country is getting guaranteed contracts.

  • The government promised an “updated science, technology and innovation strategy.” This is important, we need one to refocus both government and industry in this area. I look forward to reading it. And I have been for some time. They were accused of lagging on this -- over three years ago.

  • The government promised to “renew its efforts to address the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women.” Since their efforts seem to largely be remaining the only group opposed to a national inquiry, I’m not sure how they plan to do that without a policy change.

  • Now we’re into straight-out dislikes. I think balanced budget legislation is stupid. It’s pseudo-populist pandering, like fixed-election date laws. And just as easy to ignore, as we’ve seen in the provinces where it’s been implemented. Besides, the Chretien and Martin Liberal governments didn’t need balanced budget laws to turn the Mulroney-era deficits into surplus. Perhaps the Conservatives do though, as Harper and Jim Flaherty quickly turned those surpluses into deficits, even before the recession and stimulus funding. This isn’t about budgeting, it’s about trying to politically limit freedom of movement for a future Liberal (or, sure, NDP) government, just as they’re starving government revenues. It’s an unnecessary law though, something the Conservatives are supposed to be ideologically against.

  • Speaking of unnecessary laws, they talk about red tape for small businesses in every throne speech, fiscal update and budget. And they promise that “for every new regulation added, one must be removed.” That’s just dumb. Yes, we should minimize unnecessary regulations. But this kind of arbitrary approach to regulation isn’t particularly productive, or helpful.

  • Finally, after all the hype about a consumer agenda, there wasn’t much here. On roughly one page out of 24, we got lowering roaming costs in Canada, unbundling cable packages, no fees for paper bills, cheaper banking services, and something about ending “geographic price discrimination.” I won’t say it’s disappointing, as I found the wholeconsumer-focus thing a distraction anyway. But to the extent they wanted to accomplish something with it, I don’t think this does it. About the only real thing is the cable thing, which will end up costing Canadians more anyways. As will all these things; end the $1 for a paper bill, sure – they’ll just raise rates by $1 instead. Consumers will always pay in the end. The geographic pricing thing is impossible to tackle and will go nowhere.

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