Someone asked me this morning why the Liberals are supporting the government’s budget. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a good answer. When I heard yesterday that the Liberals would be proposing amendments to the budget I didn’t think that “putting the government on probation” (to use Ignatieff’s expression) would be sum total of demands that would be made. Really… is that it? How utterly disappointing.
Thomas Walkom nails it:
Ignatieff understands what’s wrong with the budget. Yesterday, he detailed some of its main defects – its failure to address the fact that most jobless people don’t qualify for employment insurance, its refusal to deal with child care, the strings attached to its infrastructure spending proposals, its gratuitous attack on the principle of paying men and women equally for work of equal value.
Then, having listed the budget’s flaws, he said his party would support it anyway.
“We are in the opposition,” he explained. “We are not the government. It is the responsibility of the government to govern.”
This political science 101 argument might make sense if the opposition Liberals were planning to oppose. But they are not. They plan to keep this government alive.
Even so, they could use their influence – as others have done in minority parliaments – to persuade Harper to compromise.
Where the government needs to compromise most is in the area of employment insurance. All employees pay into this fund. But only 42 per cent of the jobless qualify for benefits. In bad times, this discrepancy promises disaster.
A solution might cost $500 million a year. But for a government willing to spend $750,000 on a Lake Huron yachting pier, that’s small beer.
Or the Liberals could have focused on the budget’s less expensive but more ideological elements. These include temporary suspension of union rights in the public service and a frontal attack on the principle of pay equity, under which men and women are paid equally for work of equal value.
Had Ignatieff’s Liberals cared enough, they almost certainly could have forced the government to back down here. But clearly they did not.
It’s bad enough that we’re stuck with a government that’s more intent on playing cheap political games than it is in taking care of the nation’s business, the last thing in the world we need is an official Opposition similarly focused that continues to support Tories against the wishes of its own membership.
Update2: Brent Fullard from the Canadian Association of Income Trust Investors (CAITI) weighs in with a detailed critique of just how “flawed” the Conservative budget is, and more germane to our purposes here, how it specifically fails to meet any of the conditions set out by Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff’s so-called “litmus test” that he had said was essential to gaining support of the official Opposition.
Update3: Here’s the latest on the webpoll from SDA — 84% hate the budget and want the spending madness to stop. Only 15% feel that the budget basically gets things right. On our little poll here, 68% of people didn’t want the Liberals to support the budget.