Monday, October 14, 2013

For Thanksgiving: Lots of Conservative Turkey

How much do we really have to be thankful for in the federal government's recent spate of policy announcements? All the good news is getting hard to digest.

 A last ditch effort to engage First Nations people on the issue of oil pipelines,  described by one representative of First Nations  as "too little too late," comes after after  20 months of aggressive campaigning to  vilify opponents  of the Northern Gateway Project as "radicals"  and "hijackers"  funded by "foreign interests;"   changes to the National Energy Board Act to limit public participation in hearings; and   repeatedly antagonizing First Nations with unilateral changes to the Indian Act and environmental regulations as part of an Omnibus Budget bill, sparking the Idle No More movement. 

Similarly,  Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver's   recent overtures to the U.S.  indicating that the Government of Canada  is "ready to partner on tackling climate change" , including an un-typically rapid  acceptance by the government of the latest scientific meta-study from the University of Hawaii,  comes after six years of downplaying climate science, five Fossil of the Year Awards, pulling out of both the Kyoto and desertification treaties, and generally ruining Canada's international reputation in regards to the environment.

And then there is the  new centerpiece for Turkey Day: the government's sudden discovery that a "focus on the economy" means attending to consumer interests as well as producer ones. What an epiphany!  This  apparently springs from the good polling numbers that James Moore got when he made a consumer-oriented pitch for more competition in the telecom industry.   (Not to mention the low polling numbers that came from the prime minister's Senate scandal.)

 If the government were really serious about a "Consumers First" strategy, it would be opening the domestic market in airlines, agriculture and banking; it would scrap that Canada-EU trade agreement--a "producers first" document if there ever was one, which will probably boost the cost of drugs by $2 billion per year. It would reverse the recent decision to increase tariffs on less developed countries, which will raise the cost of clothes and sports equipment. It would open the telecom market to everyone, (not just a multinational corporation like Verizon that made $40 billion in profits last year in the U.S. while paying no taxes).  And if it really wanted to prove that it cared more about consumers than the NDP or Liberals, it would tackle the thorny issue of supply management for dairy and poultry products--a move that would likely scare many voters in farming districts into Opposition hands.

Of course, the government will do  none of these things. Unbundling cable channels and tackling high cell roaming fees are popular politics and are safe. Aside from a few regulatory changes related to telecom, cable and credit cards, (mostly nicked from the NDP) this is just a shift in the propaganda winds.  We should  be keenly aware how much these initiatives represent public relations band-aids for self-inflicted wounds.  Obviously, the past six years of aggressive, heavy handed privileging of corporate interests in the energy sector have been counter-productive. If anything, they have only resulted in further delaying the Northern Gateway pipeline, and  jeopardizing  the Keystone XL pipeline--to say nothing of the harm it has done by frightening First Nations people, setting back the environment,  hurting our seniors and giving Canada a global black eye.

If an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, this government is offering nothing but  costly late  interventions to un-poison the well with First Nations, consumers, the United States, and the international community. Each of these departures contains a tacit admission of failure and recognition that the government has been anything but steady at the helm. That the government continues to spend millions of dollars of taxpayers  money on advertising to feed us an illusion -- that this is all part of Canada's continuing "Economic Action Plan", is an insult to our intelligence and requires a level of doublethink that is unprecedented in Canada, even on Parliament Hill.   

But doesn't Canada get credit for having one of the healthiest economies in the world since the Financial crisis hit in 2008?  Doesn't Canada have the best financial and fiscal conditions in the G-7?  Sure it does. But that is because the minority Liberal and Conservative governments between 2004 and 2008 were in no position politically to implement the bank mergers and financial deregulation being urged upon them by the largest banks and small-c  conservatives in several right-wing think tanks across the country.  (The "best" Jim Flaherty could do was to bring in sub-prime mortgages for a year, in his first budget in 2006).  I shudder to think what would have happened if the Conservatives had formed a majority government a decade earlier.  

That they did not is one thing that we can all be truly thankful for.