Sometimes a cartoon just says it all.
That’s how I felt about the De Adder cartoon published in the Telegram last week. It showed a mask of Justin Trudeau stripped away to reveal a chipper, prancing Steven Harper. It’s good to see our media subtly acknowledging that the last election changed very little. We still have Steven Harper policies. It’s just that the face and style of delivery have changed.
Four recent federal government decisions stand out to me.
One is the approval of the Kinder Morgan pipeline extension, a decision that accrues all the benefits of increased revenues to one province, Alberta, while residents of another province, BC, get the environmental risks. Not only is this politically unacceptable, but Canada’s continuing blinkered commitment to oil and gas extraction above all else is leading us nowhere economically. Over the last 15 years of this obsession, our export performance has been the second lowest among OECD “rich” countries. Expect the statistics to worsen, given the global community’s commitment to a lower carbon future.
There’s also the Trudeau government’s insistence that CETA, their “gold standard of trade agreements”, should be ratified as quickly as possible. The protests of 455 different civil society organizations across Europe and Canada, the millions of signature garnered through petitions, and the concerns of so many European parliamentarians are simply ignored. CETA must be passed, especially now that it looks as though the two other corporate engineered trade agreements, the Trans Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, have been killed off by public opposition in the US and Europe.
Then, last week, the Liberals backtracked on the election promise that 2015 would be the last election held under our first past the post electoral system. Why? I suspect it’s because neither the Canadian public nor the Electoral Reform Committee are interested in Prime Minister Trudeau’s preference, a weighted voting system that would massively favour the election of Liberals.
Most worrying, however, is something that has been underreported - the Liberal government’s new infrastructure initiative. Like many others, I think investing in infrastructure is a very good idea. However, it’s the way it’s going to be done that should be sending out warning bells.
Government has proposed the development of an infrastructure bank largely funded by the private sector. For every dollar that government spends on a project, the bank would attempt to leverage four dollars from private pools of capital. Money raised in this way would be used to finance Public-Private partnerships. The Advisory Council to government has recommended that Ottawa should privatize – in full or in part – some of its existing assets to raise money for the initiative.
I have two concerns. First, the concept makes little economic sense. Why would government seek private investors who will expect a return of seven to nine percent when the government can float 30 year bonds to finance infrastructure at two per cent? Secondly, this initiative will slide us into greater privatization and control of traditional public sectors by international corporations.
Of course, I believe that that is exactly what this government wants. I think it’s time to consider that our elected leaders have been seduced into believing that only the corporate sector knows what’s best for the Canadian economy. It’s Bay Street corporations and financiers that seem to be running the Liberal party. Perhaps they’ve been doing so for a long time and we simply didn’t notice.
There are parallels here with our province. We’re in a massive financial mess because past Conservative governments took their advice exclusively from powerful business groups. It was monumentally bad advice, undoubtedly driven by the vision of quick profits that could be made. Yet my fear is that, in looking for expertise on how to revive our broken economy, our politicians will continue to turn to the very same groups that encouraged so many of those original disastrous decisions and policies.
Like Edsel Bonnell, in his letters to the Telegram, I believe we need more public involvement in long term decision making and much greater cooperation and collaboration among the political parties. Until that happens, expect public anger, pessimism and disrespect to grow in our province.
Conception Bay South