The Liberal Case

Presented without comment other than to observe that the argument strikes me as being somewhat incoherent.

Okay, I fibbed and so herewith are a few remarks to elaborate on that a bit… Ignatieff seems to be claiming on the one hand that the federal government has been disgorging billions of dollars to enrich the fortunes of Conservative officials and disproportionately benefit the ridings they control, while at the same time engaging in a wider clandestine scheme to “starve the beast” (alluding to Grover Norquist’s infamous phrase) and lower expectations of the government as an effective provider or facilitator of economic solutions. If that’s actually so, then it’s a terribly cunning and remarkably convoluted plan. I think maybe it might be better for the LPC to focus on the alleged incompetence issue rather than trying to introduce this somewhat conspiratorial and weirdly ideological component into the debate.

But who knows? Maybe Ignatieff is actually onto something here. It could be the agenda of the Harper Conservatives is to dig a hole with all of their lavish stimulus spending so vastly enormous that it will enable them to: a) win a majority government through targeted funding and distribution of pork; and then, once fully in control of the levers of power, to; b) cut the government to the bone and eliminate any programs they find objectionable in order to be “fiscally responsible” or some such thing when they eventually have to reign in expenses, thereby effectively re-structuring the government according to their ideological principles. Maybe not such a crazy idea… It’s just a thought.

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32 Comments

Filed under 2009 Election, Liberal Party of Canada, Michael Ignatieff, STEPHEN HARPER Govrnment of Canada

32 responses to “The Liberal Case

  1. Navvy

    I wouldn’t put it past them… I mean that’s Harper’s strategy with the senate isn’t it? Stuff it full of the most brain dead hacks he can find and hope they make it look stupid.

    But you’re right, to waste that amount of money to realize some sort of libertarian utopia is like something out of a really bad, and really scary, movie.

  2. Navvy — Personally, I thought the stimulus should have been no more than $15-20 billion and all of it gotten out jiffy quick into key transportation/infrastructure projects pending, investments to shore up the manufacturing sector, and loans to help secure some of the more fragile sectors of the financial lenders… Generally speaking, just pumping a bit of life back into the economy. Where the Conservatives have taken things however with their reckless spending spree goes into the realm of absurdity.

    They’ve discretely funneled untold billions of dollars into the banks while showering all sorts of money on short-term “use it or lose it” projects for their friends that will have little net benefit or gain, and tossing a few crumbs at taxpayers in the form of credits that will help them undertake home improvements like a new patio deck.

    Meanwhile… who’s going to be paying off this humongous load of debt and what will have to be sacrificed down the line? Sorry, but there’s no free ride here — something will have to go, eventually.

  3. Joseph

    RT,

    With all due respect, your post today is the perfect example of why I honestly don’t think Canadians understand what is happening before their eyes.

    This is exactly what the “Reagan Revolution” accomplished in the US, and the US Republicans have stuck to script ever since. Prominent Reagan advisors even used the term “starving the beast.” Yes, they had Tom Flanagan types running around telegraphing party strategy even then if anyone bothered to listen.

    The very argument that the US can’t “afford” national healthcare now is a result of making sure there is never enough in the cupboard to manage government effectively, then decrying that government can’t solve any issues.

    The military gets what they want . . . everything else suffers. Enough people to ensure reelection are trained to yell “Rah Rah” when needed, in addition to variations of “Government is Bad” (socialism is the term en vogue this year). When W got into the White House, the Democrats had managed to rectify the situation somewhat although there were huge bills still looming in the future (baby boomer retirement, social security and medicare shortfalls rapidly approaching, etc). So what did he do! The first thing he did was push through the largest tax cuts ever, sinking the nation into deficit well before the latest economic crisis. Took less than a term and the “revolution” was back on track.

    You may say find fault with Ignatieff – have you noticed that you always do? – but for someone who is so alert to politics, you are missing the big picture entirely if you think what he explained today isn’t actually happening.

  4. Joseph — Having read Thomas Franks’ work I’m aware of the argument you’re making and am arriving at a similar conclusion to that which you’re putting forward.

    I’m just approaching it a little more tentatively and throwing the idea out there for consideration rather than asserting that it’s indeed true. Sorry, but we on the left like to claim we’re in the “reality-based community” correct? So it’s incumbent on us to go by a preponderance of the evidence rather than simply what appears to be true or might persuasively suggest our theory holds water.

    In other words, I don’t want to jump to conclusions about what’s going on, but am kind of suspicious about it and think there may well be more than meets the eye.

  5. p.s. Part of my reservation in this regard stems from a belief that I just don’t think this bunch of incurious, dimwitted lunkheads are really smart enough to execute such a methodical con-job. I could be wrong however… Harper is, we’ve been told a “grand chess master” (oh, and he’s writing a book about hockey as well).

  6. Joseph

    I gathered that after I fired off my immediate reaction . . . apologies.

    I tend to be just a tad sensitive to this because much like W, Harper gave me that sinking, “I see where this is heading” feeling long before it really began to stink. And I tried desperately to ignore the voice for the first year or so, even as far as trying to engage a few hard-core conservatives in open discussion.

    I gave that up after about a year. And, sadly, Harper has yet to disappoint me in achieving the absolutely rock-bottom expectations I have for his government.

    That’s the reality I see, though I appreciate the need to remain open-minded.

  7. p.p.s. Yes, I do frequently find fault with Ignatieff. What can I say? He doesn’t turn my crank. I’d be dishonest to say otherwise. Truth of the matter is that most politicians leave me cold. The only two that I found to be inspiring were Dave Barrett and Howard Dean. The rest are just the usual bunch of shiftless trimmers and amoral compromisers.

  8. Navvy

    “something will have to go, eventually.”

    If I worked for the CBC I’d start passing out resumes about now.

  9. Ti-Guy

    Part of my reservation in this regard stems from a belief that I just don’t think this bunch of incurious, dimwitted lunkheads are really smart enough to execute such a methodical con-job.

    That’s part of the plan. Ineptitude is way for them to get the job of destroying government done without having to do much planning, careful implementation or management at all.

    It didn’t take Ignatieff or the Liberals to explain to me that that’s what the Conservatives would do.

  10. Joseph — I’m always wary about laying claim to “the truth” for fear of running into Alex Jones or Glenn Beck territory where it’s presumed everything is figured out and it’s all some giant, nefarious conspiracy that makes perfect sense.

    I used to get into quite furious arguments with people on the “far left” about their theories concerning Bush (for example that FEMA was being used to ship black people off in boxcars to concentration camps — a kooky notion that’s now been re-purposed by right-wing kooks into FEMA quarantining whites in concentration camps). So this kind of stuff makes me a little weary. Been there, done that… got nothing out of it but a lot of frustration and anxiety.

    I don’t fully understand Harper’s mindset and I think he’s at odds with his own philosophy of government and ideological principles at the moment, but I’m not prepared to impute some nefarious scheme onto what he’s doing. It would certainly be interesting however to see someone from the media have a hard-hitting interview with him to explain some of these things… like how exactly is he planning on paying off this massive deficit he’s running up and how can he explain the disproportionate nature of money spent across the country, etc. Or what happened to the notion of accountability and transparency… how did that get tanked with half-measures and failed initiatives that have actually worked in reverse. What about all this money that went to the banks… can we get a clear accounting of how that deal went down… What happened to his promises on health care wait times and the accountability provisions when it comes to federal-provincial transfers of money. And on and on.

    Unfortunately, our pundits are asleep at the wheel or busy jerking off about dead dogs and inter-provincial barriers to the commercial movement of wine (at least judging from my reading of the local paper this morning).

  11. I belive Iggy. I’ve been thinking along these lines for months now (buy a majority, starve the beast, etc.).

    I don’t think it’s a hidden agenda, I think it’s easy enough to see.

    It’s not a complex plan, I think the Conservatives have the talent and will to carry it out.

    What’s more important to Conservatives, social conservatism or fiscal conservatism? I think the former, as some of the old PCs have left.

  12. TofKW

    I agree with Ti-Guy in that this is no conspiracy, it is in fact what the faux conservatives have wanted all along. Reduce taxes and ramp up spending to ‘starve the beast’ in order to straight-jacket future Liberal governments from creating any new large-scale national programs, like daycare or the Kelowna accord.

    Think of it. Increasing the GST back to 7% is now a politically toxic move for any politician, even though it is required if we have any hope of attempting to get our new structural deficit under control. So the only other means is to cut services and sell assets (to their friends of course, as did the Harris regime here in ONT) which is what the Reformatories are all about. The worldwide recession and resulting stimulus plan is just a bonus to them really.

    Getting back to your earlier point Red, a real stimulus package should have been directed towards projects like improving border crossings, railways, ports and airports (infrastructure projects that are actually investments) versus building new retirement homes in Lethbridge.

    Just shows the Harperites are conservatives in name only. They are nothing more than folksy-fascist populists who endlessly rant about how our society must go back to some past mystical neo-libertarian utopia …that never existed.

  13. Northern PoV

    Much of the deficit is structural.
    ie long term and not related to the stimulus – if only 12% is actually being spent …
    the deficit is mostly due to
    * fall in tax revenues as the economy is in recession
    * the ongoing hole left from that GST reduction
    * huge increases to spending by the Cons from day 1 of their gov’t
    Flarrety is accomplished at hiding these things as he learned it all from Mike Harris, so this stimulus mirage actually plays into his hands.

  14. KOL

    NPoV –

    Don’t forget that the federal debt will grow by about $150-200 billion in the next 5 years. Servicing the debt will be a much heavier burden than it is today.

  15. Toe

    Flanagan told us the plan back in (I forget ’07 or ’08) he said and I quote: “I’m hopeful there will be some ideologically-driven, neo-conservative cuts to government,” political scientist Tom Flanagan, a former chief of staff to Harper, said in an interview.

    Such cuts, he added, would be consistent with Harper’s long-term goal of reducing the size and scope of government.

    “I think that’s always been sort of the long-term plan, the way that Stephen was going about it of first depriving the government of surpluses through cutting taxes . . . You get rid of the surpluses and then it makes it easier to make some expenditure reductions.”

    And let’s not forget where they all really learned it. The Calgary School of Straussian neo to theo con policies. Remember what Gutstein wrote back in 2005? Again I quote – “Two of their students, Ted Morton and Rainer Knopff, went to the University of Calgary where they specialize in attacking the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They claim the charter is the result of a conspiracy foisted on the Canadian people by “special interests.” These nasty people are feminists, gays and lesbians, the poor, prisoners and refugee-rights groups who are advancing their own interests through the courts at the expense of the general public, these Straussians allege.

    The problem with their analysis is that the special interest which makes more use of the courts to advance its interests than all these other groups combined — business — receives not a mention. Deception by omission is a common Straussian technique. The weak are targeted while the real culprits disappear.”
    http://www.4data.ca/ottawa/archive/harper/harper-noble-lie.html

    At the time he wrote that piece Civitas was not on the net – it is now.
    And even in their About Us section they use typical Straussian language. Like Coyne constantly points out to us, it’s all in the ‘tenses’ of what these fascist populists say (borrowing from Northern Pov). TofKW nails it.

  16. Tomm

    RT’s conspiracy theorist friends,

    I see you have gathered here in this place using your yogic natures to share that linked mind space. Now that all of you are here with me, listen carefully (because I don’t have time to repeat myself).

    Yes, it is all a conspiracy by the socially conservative protestants of Canada to create a new religious autocracy and chop down the professionally pruned sapling of a Liberal utopia. Now that you know, talk amongst yourselves while I answer some of RT’s questions.

    RT, you asked:

    “like how exactly is he planning on paying off this massive deficit he’s running up…”

    I believe Harper’s plan is to grow the economy and thus capture more tax revenue. Some reductions to bureaucracy or programs may also be in the cards. Let’s all hope they are program reductions from Liberal ridings.

    “and how can he explain the disproportionate nature of money spent across the country…”

    I think the answer to that one goes back up to the conspiracy theorists. Go visit with your friends, perhaps if you wear the tinfoil hat just right, you will receive the proper signals. Or perhaps you should just take a breath and remind yourself that Gerard Kennedy is a partisan politican and would do and say pretty much anything to build his case.

    “Or what happened to the notion of accountability and transparency… how did that get tanked with half-measures and failed initiatives that have actually worked in reverse….”

    That is actually an interesting story. But I haven’t time to get into it. Perhaps if Harper got a majority we could discuss it more fully.

    “What about all this money that went to the banks… can we get a clear accounting of how that deal went down…?”

    What on earth are you talking about?

    “What happened to his promises on health care wait times…”

    Good question. Maybe if the Liberal’s get tired of asking embarrassing questions about body bags, they will ask the Health Minister about wait times. Actually asking a legitimate question may be a novel idea to the Liberal’s, but perhaps it will work. Just don’t ask McGuinty to ask it. I don’t believe he even thinks in legitimate conversational terms.

    I hope I have been of some assistance. And not to be too obnoxious, I must say that I listened to Ignatieff’s speech and that is why I wrote this. That was terrible, pointless and the cheerleading, frankly embarrassing. Since I listened to that, I would make you read this.

  17. takedeadaim

    I dunno. Some of this “they built the tower inside the walls to tear down the castle” doesn’t really hold water.

    Everything in their positioning leading up to the end of 2008 was that their preference would have been to stick to their ol’ faithful of ‘tax cuts is the cure all, and we’ve done a bunch of those already’. Maybe some minor stimulus so they could say they did, but i doubt their intention was to announce tens of billions in new spending.
    Their greedy brain cramp in the fall made sticking to the tax cut line impossible.

    At the time i thought it would have been better for the Conservatives to toss the keys to Dion, Jack and Gilles (ha, ha) at the end of 2008 and let them publically fight over the bed covers and rack up the assured massive deficit, and to date i’m still not sure. THAT would have put them in a much greater strategic position to cut to the bone if they got back into power, ala the Chretien/McGuinty plan. Cleaning up someone else’s mess always allows for dramatic liberties.

    At the end of the day, i think that the last budget will be viewed by most Canadians as being the culprit of the deficit (true or not, it’s the perception), that budget has the liberals signature on it, and at the end of the day as is often pointed out, 2/3rds of this country isn’t conservative and keynesian economics sits fine with them.

    From the conservatives perspective, there was nothing more clever in that last budget than their best shot at not getting ganged up on by the other 3 parties.

  18. Toe

    Correction – borrowed ‘fascist populists’ from TofKW.

  19. Red:

    I don’t think this is very complicated. As you of course recall, last year Harper got called for not planning to do anything (aside from some macro economic plumbing involving trading treasury notes for mortgages to help the banks), nearly lost government, and came back with a ‘proper’ stimulus budget. He was originally going to do very little, which fits with his minimalist intervention ideology. When confronted with the political reality that he was not going to get away with it, he leveraged the spending into a long series of announcements, which we endure to this day.

    How well is the money been spent? Not so well. Harper is stretching it out, favouring his ridings, and ridings he thinks he can take.

    Hapless Iggy didn’t help matters by demanding a series of report cards, which Harper was only too happy to oblige.

    Harper original approach was to play the old ‘belt tightening’ line and let institutions starve.

    Remember, Kevin Page, our Parliamentary Budget Chief, indicated last year that the Feds’ rising fiscal problems were self-inflicted due to overspending and too much tax cutting? That was the plan we know all too well in action.

    And Harper has said he want more tax cuts.

    Add it all up, and the stimulus is a blip in the original plan.

    Now we have a debt monster, and Harper will just have to slay it.

    And we know what that means.

    The differential diagnoses is that he’s turning into Mulroney. Spend! Spend! Collect envelopes filled with cash! Buy shoes for the wife!

  20. KOL

    I believe Harper’s plan is to grow the economy and thus capture more tax revenue.

    Speaking of Mulroney, that was his strategy as well. As the economy recovered in the 1980s, the deficit shrank to a more manageable size. The Mulroney government reformed the tax code and relaxed foreign investment rules to spur the economy and refrained from any major tax increases or austerity measures. As the economy kept growing, the deficit became smaller and smaller. Of course, the deficit was never completely eliminated – not even close – and when the recession of 1990-91 hit, the previously manageable deficits exploded. The debt nearly doubled before the budget was balanced in 1997. More recently, George W. Bush argued that tax cuts, which would lead to economic growth, were essential to eliminating the US government’s deficit – a deficit that was created by Bush’s tax cuts. Sound familiar?

    The solution Harper proposes has been tried before and failed miserably. Harper is proposing we do nothing for a very simple reason: he does not want to have an honest debate about the issue, or any other issue for that matter. He’ll wait for the opposition to propose a solution and then he’ll begin his familiar campaigns of lies, disinformation and character assassination and the media will let him get away with it again.

  21. L. emersonia

    A very good read, Red. Thanks!

    This may be old news to you, but this almost year-old article by Charlie Smith is often in my mind:

    http://www.straight.com/article-175233/get-ready-stephen-harpers-attacks-next-liberal-leader

    The last sentence is my favourite: “Harper can be beaten. But it won’t occur if the Liberals keep underestimating how vicious he can be in the political trenches.”

    Creepy, isn’t it?

  22. Another element of this ‘starve the beast’ theory is harper’s desperate ambition to drive ambivalence and disregard for our whole parliamentary system, politicians etc. While there is some good reasons for cynicism of politicians from all stripes, its taken Harper to tie the strings together, negative ads outside campaign cycles, organized ambushes with outside sources (RCMP, media) of his adversaries, and the appearance of having bought favourable media coverage and less stringent coverage of his own actions… Confusing and distorting public opinion on how our parliamentary system works, while the media for all intense purposes plays blocker and blurs his own damning past actions. I think this stupid olympic design logo talk is too far – if there’s truth in it, the public doesn’t care; it only makes us Liberals look paranoid (cue tomm et al’s retort;^))… but this idea of Harper as a sleeper agent against canadian parliamentary system can’t be brushed away so quickly. Unfortunately, without an effective, responsible and calming counter, it only makes the argument look starved for attention.

  23. Tomm

    Burl,

    I blush.

    Yes it is true. Hedy Fry, Charlie Angus and every other politician who holds up the logo and bays at the moon is just taking up space.

    “C” could stand for “Canada”. A maple leaf in the middle? It leaves me simply vibrating with anger!

    I’ll bet these guys would also use a blue floor for the Canada Day concert!

    Could Hedy actually be the Queen of Hearts? Only Tim Burton knows for sure.

  24. Toe

    Those who would say the minority voice doesn’t matter are the very same ones who would hand over democracy on a platter to the first dictator to demand their allegiance. Truth is, sometimes I get glimpses between elections, Canada is ruled by the PMO, effectively making the power of the prime minister suspiciously akin to that of a dictator. The only Canadian politician proven to have taken money in brown envelopes was a Conservative.
    In public the CPC is hiding behind the red tory Conservative name to get votes. Behind closed doors they are still Reformers.

    This has been an interesting read RT, but I do believe Mikey and Jack had a telephone conversation. For them this game has ended, for us it is alive, as they meant it to be. Harper’s agenda has failed in Canada, willful blindness can’t be cured. And we must start thinking about a coalition again, because that was the only thing that scared the bejeesus out of Harper. Divide is his name, while he contemplates sitting on as many Boards as Mulroney did, after his failed American-made project is finally finished.

  25. hitfan

    “In public the CPC is hiding behind the red tory Conservative name to get votes. Behind closed doors they are still Reformers. ”

    I wish they really _were_ Reformers — you know the ones who wanted to eliminate MP pensions, a EEE Senate, in favor of transparency and accountability. Instead, they’re becoming just as two-faced and as duplicitous as the Liberals. Pork barrel spending? What did you guys think of tax return center being located in Shawinigan then?

    All political parties become corrupt the longer they’re in power. Eventually, the public gets tired of the scandals and they vote the bums out. It happened in 1984, 1993 and 2006.

    The best way to beat Harper is to win more seats than his party — it’s fairly simple. The coalition idea backfired and it caused Harper’s poll numbers to go up and it precipated the ouster of Stephane Dion. Yet you guys still want a coalition? Ignatieff only grudgingly supported it on paper because he was surrounded by morons who thought this idea was the greatest thing since sliced bread.

  26. We’ve been told that Harper is fascinated and reads Stalin books…..it shows.

    Stalin created the cult of personality:

    A cult of personality arises when a country’s leader uses mass media to create an idealized and heroic public image, often through unquestioning flattery and praise. Cults of personality are often found in dictatorships and Stalinist governments.

    A cult of personality is similar to general hero worship, except that it is created specifically for political leaders. However, the term may be applied by analogy to refer to adulation of religious or non-political leaders.

    …his photos everywhere, the logo issue…

  27. sussannah

    Speaking of Ignatieff, have you seen this attack ad against him that popped up the other week?

  28. Sussannah.. uh..and what part of the ad was not accurate? Personally, I think if Ignatieff were truer to himself, he COULD develop a “cult of personality” a la Trudeau and Chretien.. but he seems drawn to the task of seeking everyone’s approval. As I blogged today, sometimes a leader has to lead, and say, “to hell with you if you don’t agree, then don’t vote for me.” I recall Pierre Trudeau making that clear to the west – it infuriated the west, but at least he seemed to have a certain force of will to let you know where he stood.

    Personally – if Ignatieff had just stuck to the positions he has advocated in the past, particularly during his life in the U.S., hell, I might even have voted for him. Now, well, it’s pretty hard to believe he stands for much of anything.

  29. Ti-Guy

    Personally – if Ignatieff had just stuck to the positions he has advocated in the past, particularly during his life in the U.S

    And which ones were those again? Besides “Empire Lite?”

  30. sapphireandsteel

    “As I blogged today”

    Ugh, shameless blog promotion.

  31. Ti-Guy

    Tomm is gushing and burbling like a 13 year-old girl all over Liberal blogs this morning praising Harper for his “gutsy” performance at the NAC yesterday.

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