New Liberal government, same old litany
“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again, there is nothing new under the sun,” as King Solomon noted 3,000 years ago, and so it is today as we greet the latest “news” from Ottawa.
A Liberal finance minister announces that the federal government will run massive deficits over the next few years. What else did we expect? This is exactly the same thing that happened under Pierre Trudeau, the only difference being that this time, under his son Justin, the numbers are bigger – much bigger.
This time it’s an $18-billion to $20-billion deficit in year one. Add in another $10-billion of borrowed money to pay for Liberal election promises, a projected deficit for the following year of at least $15-billion, and pretty soon it adds up to the $90-billion in additional federal debt over the next four years projected by the National Bank of Canada.
There’s nothing new under the sun; even the excuses are the same – “It’s the fault of the previous government.” Of course it is; it always is. This is the same old talking point that was used by the Laurier government when it replaced Canada’s first Conservative administration in 1896. Such an excuse has been used by every new government since then, regardless of political stripe.
And what is the new Liberal government going to do to “get the economy going again” – the shopworn phrase used by governments to express a forward-looking objective in the vaguest possible terms? Again, there’s nothing new under the sun. They’re going to spend money on infrastructure and kick-start a $1.9-trillion per year economy with $10-billion in public-works projects.
This is exactly the same thing that the Chrétien Liberal government promised in 1993, with less than spectacular results. It’s like, to use a phrase from that era, trying to start a 747 with a flashlight battery.
And as if starting out on the wrong foot fiscally were not enough, why is it that national-unity strains, especially along the energy front, almost automatically increase whenever a Liberal federal government is elected?
What are the unity consequences when the federal government is all ears to requests from Bombardier for financial aid to protect 3,000 jobs in Quebec, but is deaf to the voices of more than 100,000 unemployed oil-field workers in Western Canada?
What will be the unity consequences when a supposedly national government welcomes tankers bringing in foreign oil on the East Coast but wants to ban tankers on the West Coast from carrying Canadian oil to world markets?
What will be the unity consequences when the federal government pipes billions of dollars into regions it favours to build public infrastructure projects while strangling private infrastructure initiatives, such as pipelines to move Western Canadian petroleum westward and eastward to seaboard?
What are the unity consequences when the federal government pays more attention to energy advice from Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre than it does to Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall – the latter having forgotten more about energy than the former will ever know?
There’s nothing new under the sun. These first few steps of the new Trudeau government on the fiscal, energy and unity fronts cannot possibly be construed as “sunny,” new, progressive, 21st-century policy initiatives. They are the “same old, same old” Liberal policies from the 1970s and 80s that plunged us deeper into debt, crippled the energy sector and eventually divided the country.
Just as it was left to conservatives to repair the damages after Trudeau the first, it looks as if the challenge for 21st-century conservatives will be to repair the damages after Trudeau the second.
Preston Manning is the founder of the Manning Centre.
This column was published by the Globe and Mail on February 26, 2016