Friday, February 06, 2009

Flaherty versus Harper

Jim Flaherty on Thursday:
Just days after his $40-billion stimulus budget passed its first test in Parliament, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is coming under pressure from the Liberal Opposition to offer more rescue spending as the economic downturn deepens and job losses pile up.

I'm open to the possibility of doing more,” the Finance Minister said Thursday.

“We said in the budget that we would do whatever is necessary. We said there was a large degree of uncertainty in the world economy – which there is.”
Flaherty on Friday:
He reiterated that his government may be willing to do more in future, but won't know if it's necessary until the economic action plan is functioning.
Jim Flaherty's boss weighs in on Friday adopting a "stick to the course" pose:
Stephen Harper says he will not yield to opposition calls for more economic stimulus measures despite confidence-shaking news that Canada lost 129,000 jobs in January, the sharpest decline ever.
Mr. Harper said Canadians can expect more job losses in 2009, but that the government has already responded in a big way.

“The reason this government has proposed such a massive economic plan and such a massive deficit-spending stimulus is our anticipation of significant economic challenges, including significant job losses in the year to come. That's why we're doing what we're doing,” he said at an event in Miramichi, N.B., intended to funding for hockey arenas.

And the Prime Minister directly rebuffed the Liberals' hints that they might force the Conservatives into another round of stimulus spending in late spring.

We cannot have in Parliament, quite frankly, instability every week and every month, every time there's a new number, people demanding a different plan…” Mr. Harper said.

“We continue to believe this is the action we need, and we're going to need it in the months to come, and we're not going to be blown off track every time there's some bad news.” (emphasis added)
Nice to see Mr. Harper decrying instability in Parliament, by the way, he who has threatened the opposition with tens of confidence votes over the past two plus years.

But on the main point here, Mr. Harper seems to be leaving himself open to the criticism that he's not doing enough, that he's unwilling to be flexible and adapt to changing circumstances on behalf of Canadians. Here was John McCallum's point yesterday on the parliamentary timetable:
“If current trends continue, with the economy continuing to deteriorate more than people thought, then it certainly may be needed to have additional fiscal measures before Parliament breaks before summer,” Mr. McCallum said.

“We may not want to wait until the fall economic update of November, 2009.”
Also noted in that report in which McCallum's comments were made was an anonymous "government source" who left open the possibility, echoing Flaherty, of doing more as a result of Liberal confidence votes.

Now comes Mr. Harper today putting the kibosh on it all. Why Mr. Harper would paint himself into a corner by turning stubborn, it's unclear. Perhaps it's just a Popeye moment, he is who he is. Or perhaps all the criticism he's been getting for abandoning his so-called fiscal conservative roots is getting to him. Perhaps he didn't like his Finance Minister and unknown sources getting out in front of him yesterday and this was another who's the boss moment. Whatever the case, there's a contrast in Flaherty's comments and Harper's today that's worth noting. Flaherty seems to be wanting to leave room to manoeuver and Harper is sending the opposite message.