Friday, April 06, 2012

Ah, so that's what it takes

I have always wondered what it would take to make the Harper government change its mind on one of its "signature" initiatives and now I know.

It takes a political two by four.  I had a feeling.

Canada needs to replace its F-18s.  No industrialized country can do without a fully capable air force.  I have no problem with the government's desire to buy new fighter/strike aircraft.  My problem is we can only do so once every 30 years or so.  As a result, it is imperative that we get it right otherwise we will be stuck with the wrong aircraft for a very long time.  That means the process should be designed to identify the operational needs of the Canadian airforce and then go out and find the aircraft that best meets those needs.

Although it is naive to believe some politics will not seep into such a process a government that lets politics take over the process is doing Canada a great disservice.

Now we get to see how this government reacts to this situation.  Will it react like the Chretien government did or will it do the right thing?

After the Chretien government cancelled the EH-101 contract it did its best to disqualify that helicopter from the running to replace the Sea Kings because they believed they would look like idiots to cancel a signed contract only to sign another one for the same aircraft a few years later.  (They would have been right.)  The only problem was the EH-101 met Canada's needs so they could not really disqualify it without cranking the process, which lead to lawsuits, which lead to so many delays in buying new helicopters we still have not replaced the Sea Kings.

So now we get to see what this government does.

Considering this government has proven it places political considerations above all else I think it is pretty safe to say that we are witnessing the beginning of the 'Sea King' saga all over again and that it will be another decade or so before the Canadian Airforce sees new figher/strike aircraft.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

The Calgary School must be fuming

So after reading the budget put forward by the current federal government I am left with the impression that Stephen Harper's mentors in Calgary are probably wondering what it is going to take to have their ideas implemented by a Canadian government.

This first budget from the majority Conservative government was probably the only real chance for them to implement some of the policies that they fought for during their time in Opposition.  They had an opportunity to radically remake the Canadian government as they stated they wanted to do many times during the late '90s and the early '00s, while still having plenty of time to recover from any political fallout that might have occured. 

They did none of that.  Instead they crafted a budget that would have passed a minority parliament if it were necessary. 

The structure of the government that existed on March 29 still exists today.  True it is less well funded but otherwise it has not changed.  Any succeeding government to this one will not need to rebuild the government infrastructure if they want to improve existing programmes.  They will only need to increase the funding.

Even the reduction in the number of federal public servants is small when you compare it to the overall size of the Canadian federal bureaucracy.  As some media commentators pointed out the government did not even reduce the public service to pre-2006 levels.  That is, they did not get rid of all of the public servants that were hired under their watch. 

So, this budget is a rather mundane document, with two exceptions.

The first one being the reduction in the budget for the Canada Food Inspection Agency.  What is it with Conservative governments reducing budgets of agencies charged with protecting our food and water supplies?  The Harris government's decision to reduce the number of water inspectors in Ontario lead directly to the Walkerton tragedy according the judicial inquiry that was called to investigate that event.  That event was also a great contributor to the bath the PCPO took in the subsequent election.  You would think that the Harper government would have taken a lesson from that, particularly since that government contains so many former Harris cabinet ministers.

The second exception is the favourtism in this budget to the oil and mining industries over the manufacturing industries.  Resource extraction is not the answer to long-term economic health in this country.  Over 150 years of history should prove that.  They are too prone to boom and bust cycles and the Canadian economy needs a robust manufacturing sector to help mitigate the damage to the economy a resource bust will have.  Like governments that came before this one the current government has failed to realize that reality.  It will come back to haunt them and to haunt Canadians.

I do not know why the current government did not take a bolder approach in this budget and I can only imagine that many in the Calgary school are just as stumped as I am.

The Canadian Right's desire to copy the American Right

One of the features of the contemporary Canadian right that I have always found interesting is their desire to copy the issues and policies that are put forward by the right in the United States, particularly those issues and policies put forward by the far right in that country.

The Canadian right cleaves to the ideas of the American right on economic and fiscal policies, which is not surprising.  However, on such issues as abortion, same sex marriage, capital punishment, gun control, health care and other social issues the Canadian right tends to fall into step with the ideas put forward by the far right in the United States as well.  This is unique to the Canadian political right.  No other right wing party or government in the industrialized world makes any of these social issues a priority.  They tend to mimic the US economic and fiscal policy to a certain extent but they do not bother with the social issues.

Why is the Canadian right so enamoured with the ideas of the American right?

To a certain extent I can understand their desire to mimic the economic and fiscal policies of the American right.  Despite its troubles the United States still has one of the most dynamic economies in the world.  The Canadian right believes that such dynamism is the result of the low taxes and regulations on business in the United States.  So their argument goes that if Canada can set up a similar tax and regulation regime the Canadian economy will take off like the US economy.

On the surface this argument might have some merit but if you dig a little deeper it is patently false.  The US economy has been the driving force in the world economy for decades because innovation is the watchword for that economy.  Innovation in products, innovation in processes, and not being afraid to take risks is the reason for the dynamism of the US economy.  That was true during the height of the welfare state US economy of the '50 and '60 and it is true of the current Darwinian economic model in the US.

If Canada wants to have an economy like the Unites States the players in the Canadian economy will need to adopt such an approach to economic activity.  Canadian companies and government will need to be as innovative and as willing to take risks as those in the United States.

That's not going to happen.  Canadian companies and government do not take these kinds of risks.  They do not engage in that kind of innovation.  You just need to look at the history of Canada's economic activity, as I pointed out in my previous post, to see that. 

So Canada's right is barking up the wrong tree on the economic front.  Until there is a sea change in how business and governments approach economic activity in this country no amount of copying the US policies will create an economy as dynamic as the US economy.

On social issues I do not understand the Canadian right's desire to copy the American right.  Virtually all of the social policies that the American right pursues in the United States tend to resonate with a sufficient number of Americans to make it worthwhile to pursue. 

The same in not true in Canada.  None of those issues are front and centre in mainstream Canadian thought.  In fact, with the exception of health care most Canadian are quite content not to rock the boat by bringing up those other social issues that the right is so enamoured with.  As well, whenever these issues do break through the consciousness of Canadians their opinions tend to be different from those of the Canadian right.

Canada has unique issues that need to be dealt with in both the economic and social realm of Canadian society.  Perhaps, the Canadian right could use their energies to come up with original thoughts on how to deal with those issues instead of just regurgitating the thoughts and policies of their cousins to the south.