William Watson: The Liberals’ latest fiscal update would definitely impress Kim Jong Un
You can’t scroll through Ottawa’s latest fiscal update without being impressed by how much like North Korea we’re becoming. Not in terms of militaristic brutality: the military is hardly mentioned, although there is a reference to our acquisition of “ice-breaking capability,” which I take it means actual ice-breaking ships, rather than picks, hammers and pitons. And the overall policy program presented, with its gentleness and sensitivity, especially to female, Indigenous and francophone Canadians, is the furthest thing imaginable from brutal. In the GA+ of the $25 million allocated in this fiscal update for additional avalanche safety measures — GA+ being “Gender Analysis Plus,” you know — the document points out that francophones will now get greater exposure to avalanche safety information. (“This measure will be a direct benefit to Francophone Canadians who will have access to more French-language safety information,” it says, although 88 per cent of avalanche deaths occur in Alberta and B.C.) No mention of the gender breakdown of avalanche victims.
No, the North Korean-ness is not in any cruelty of the approach but in the propagandistic vacuousness of the language. There are two main spending aggregates in summary Table 1.1: “Continued Progress for the Middle Class” and “Confidence in Canada’s Economic Future.” It used to be — a long, long time ago — that budgets mainly listed how government would spend and tax. But nowadays we spend on such things as “Confidence” and “Continued Progress.” How uninformative yet supposedly inspiring.
This never-a-clear-word approach carries over to the government’s own assessment of its record in 33 pages of appendix tables that are basically a checklist on the Liberals’ 325-promise 2015 election platform. Though the Department of Finance has a reputation for toughness, its grading of the government’s accomplishments is wonderfully supportive, an exercise in esteem-building. I didn’t do an exact count but “Actions taken, progress made” is the most frequent grade. But sometimes the grade awarded is “Actions taken, progress made toward an ongoing goal.” That’s the case, for instance, on “Advance Canada’s progressive trade agenda,” where the goal is not only ongoing, it’s up and gone. In still others, the mark is “Actions taken, progress made, facing challenges.” Here an example is “Balance the budget in 2019/20,” where “Facing challenges” puts it mildly (with the deficit now forecast at $19.3 billion).
In many cases, though, the government gives itself a “Completed — fully met,” as in “Priority: Strong Middle Class” and “Commitment: Raise taxes on the top 1% of earners.” We strengthen the middle class, it seems, by taxing everyone above it. Strangely, there’s nothing on “Dynamically push forward the building of knowledge-based economic power and a highly civilized nation by dint of science and technology!” Oh, sorry, that’s actually one of Kim Jong Un’s. Only a couple of the hundreds of Liberal promises get an evaluation of “Not being pursued.” One is “Establish a special parliamentary committee to consult on electoral reform.” As they say, only Allah is perfect. The word “pipeline” does not appear.
If we do look at money, the bulk of the billions goes to 100-per-cent first-year write-offs for manufacturers and processors — the goods-producers who have long benefited from goods fetishism in our governments. On the other hand, service providers and others can benefit from a first-year write-off three times higher than normal. Both bonanzas are temporary, however, starting to be withdrawn in 2024, completely gone by 2027. The U.S. will not be going back to a 35-per-cent corporate tax rate any time soon. If we want to be competitive, we need to provide long-lasting relief, too.
Because it’s possible that the U.S. economy’s apparent Trump Bump may be more the result of deep deregulation than of tax cuts, Ottawa is also committing itself now to a deregulation agenda. Naturally, this will be done in the usual way of Ottawa: by establishing “a dedicated external advisory committee on regulatory competitiveness,” by “exploring” making regulatory efficiency a permanent part of regulators’ mandates (it’s not already?) and by launching a “full review … by 2020 to seek further opportunities to reduce administrative burden and ‘red tape’ on Canadian business.” By 2020, mind you! And notice how they put red tape in quotes, as if it’s not an established problem.
The government’s most startling pro-competitiveness move is a pledge to pay its construction bills promptly. Business people often complain their biggest problem is customers not paying on time or, Trump-style, not paying at all. Ottawa apparently has been guilty in that regard. Does it use Phoenix to pay its bills, too? In any case, it will mend its ways, just as soon as it can pass enabling legislation. Why it needs a new law in order to pay faster it doesn’t say.
There’s one more move to help competitiveness: “…(T)he Fall Economic Statement reaffirms the federal government’s commitment to strenthening (sic) freer trade within Canada.” Well, that’s a relief!
I can’t believe Liberal promises to deregulate, pay bills faster and finally somehow free Canada’s internal market will engender great confidence among business people. But I don’t want to end on a down note. As they say in Pyongyang (in unison): “Let us make national sentiment and noble and beautiful lifestyle prevail throughout the society!”
Published at Thu, 22 Nov 2018 12:25:42 +0000