The Conservatives work very hard to perpetuate the notion that they offer the “steady hand” needed to manage our country’s finances. It seems as though whenever a cabinet minister is interviewed, he/she answers just about every question with a reference to the economy.
Given the degree to which the Tories concentrate on the economy, one might assume that it was a strong point for them. They certainly attempt to portray it as such. However, if we analyze the data, we are faced with a very different picture.
Between 1963 and 2011, the Progressive Conservative and Conservatives combined have been in power for 16 years. In 14 (87.5 per cent) of these years they have left Canada with a deficit. It may be noteworthy that these exceptions occurred, in part due to the surplus left behind by Paul Martin.
Under his and other Liberal prime ministers’ terms, Canada’s fiscal state was much better managed. During the same time period, the Liberals held power for 33 years and kept the books balanced 10 (30.3 per cent) times. Perhaps there is something wrong with lamenting the loss of a governing party which left us with a surplus less than one in three times, but to suggest that the Conservatives have a better track record is demonstrably fallacious.
While Harper’s performance thus far has been destructive, his latest budget, Bill C-38, brings this toxicity to an unparalleled level.
The budget brings sweeping changes to 69 different acts. Bill C-38 cuts funding for the CBC by 10 per cent, reduces the number of government agencies annually evaluated by the Auditor General and allows, under certain circumstances, U.S. federal law enforcers to arrest Canadians on Canadian soil.
Perhaps most shocking, the budget radically alters Canada’s environmental policy. For example, it causes the Fisheries Act to only apply to major waterways as opposed to protecting the ecosystems of all bodies of water containing fish. It sets strict timelines for environmental reviews and gives the cabinet, not the National Energy Board the final say on pipeline projects, a change that will apply to both the Enbridge Pipeline and future projects.
It is not surprising then, that progressives have rallied against Bill C-38. Green Party Leader and MP Elizabeth May alone proposed 330 amendments (320 of which were approved by the Speaker)! By forcing a vote on these amendments, the opposition hoped to delay the bill, force additional debate and draw public attention towards the bill’s faults. May was also willing to speed up the bill’s passage by dropping her amendments if a few key ones were implemented.
Because May is the only Green MP, she does not have official party status in the House of Commons and is disadvantaged in a number of respects, such as in her ability to participate in the committees that review bills. In order to compensate, as long as she has the support of fellow MPs (both the Liberals and NDP backed her up) she is able to put forward as many amendments as her stamina will allow. She is allowed to actually rewrite parts of the bill, whereas the other opposition parties can only suggest that parts of the bill be deleted entirely.
However, the Speaker grouped similar amendments together for debate and voting purposes. Even so, alongside the other opposition parties, this 57-year- old grandmother managed to shield us from the budget for more than 22 hours!
While no one is surprised to see those on the left of the political spectrum in opposition to a Conservative budget, many have been taken aback by the number and prominence of conservatives who have raised concerns over both the content of the budget and the process of limiting debate.
For example, Bob Mills, a former Reform MP, has openly criticized the abolition of the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy. Also, John Fraser, a former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister and former Speaker of the House of Commons, has been an outspoken advocate for Canadians, referring to Bill C-38 as “absolute bloody nonsense” and telling MPs on both sides of the House that, “silence is not an option.” He along with three other former Fisheries Ministers (one of them a former PC) co-authored a letter condemning both the contents and process of Bill C-38.
David Wilks, a Tory MP from B.C., has said that, “I will stand up and say the Harper government should get rid of Bill C-38.” In fact, he went so far as to say that if 12 other Conservatives joined him he would vote against the budget. He has since retracted his statements (no party whip there).
Unfortunately, Canada did not get the 13 hero MP’s many were hoping for and not a single one of the oppositions amendments was accepted by the Conservatives. The bill as it passed will result in serious negative consequences for our environment.
As a young person, environmental issues are especially important to me. My hope is that the environment in 50 years will be just as much my environment as today’s is. Other members of Neelin’s Eco-Club are also quite concerned about the effect this budget will have. In fact, Annie Munroe, a leader within the Eco-Club, helped to organize a protest about the budget at Merv Tweed’s office last Wednesday.
» Nathan Grills is a Grade 12 student at Neelin High School.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition June 18, 2012