Saturday, June 11, 2011

"Not a budget for one Canada"

Thought I would just do an overview kind of post on Bob Rae's House of Commons budget debate remarks from earlier this week. You can see it above (runs about 20 minutes on the video) and you can find the text here. I just want to highlight some of the themes in the remarks.

First, there was clearly an effort to send the message that the government continues to divide Canadians, that its budget choices reflect this and the government is not speaking to "one Canada":
The essential message that I bring to the House and to the people of Canada about this budget is that it is not a budget for everyone. It is not a budget that brings Canadians together. It is not a budget for one Canada. It is a budget that focuses on a certain group of people. It does far more for those who are better off than for those who are not.
Below there is a further excerpt that expands on what the above means, specifically that the tax credit choices the Conservatives favour are geared to the middle class and even those above. Begging the question of the degree of universality of policy or tax choices the government is making. 

The second excerpt I thought was notable, a commitment to fight the criminal justice policies, with the cost of prison expansions singled out in particular. While there is support that you see here and there in public opinion for the tough on crime policies of the Conservatives, the cost issue may become much more sensitive and encroach upon that support as cuts come into focus:
...I want to refer to one other item that is not in the list of things, because it relates to a major debate that we will be having in this country in the fall, and that is the cost of prisons. The government is about to take this country on a course with respect to the reform of the criminal justice system that will repeat every significant error made in the United States and made in Europe, particularly in the U.K., for which those countries are now repenting and seeing the folly and unwisdom of their ways.
There was also a pointed message to the government about the strength of its majority, an important point to continue to raise.
The majority of Canadians do not have the same priorities as the Conservative Party. That is important. We acknowledge the facts: the Conservative Party has a majority in the House, but it does not have a majority in the country. It is difficult for the Conservative Party to accept this reality. In fact, the Conservatives can do as they wish in the House, but they cannot shirk their responsibility to respect public opinion in Canada.

I would like to talk about the options available to Canadians. Throughout the country, a movement that is open to and ready for change recognizes that Canadians want a different kind of politics. This movement believes that the government is there to serve Canadians. It is a popular movement that understands the economic challenges, but that does not believe that the ideologies of the past will help.

We in the Liberal Party believe that public policy should be driven by facts and evidence, not by ideology. Every step of the way we will be challenging those policies coming forward in the House from wherever they come that are not supported by facts and evidence.
I liked that message for two reasons, because it pushes back against this Conservative-values-are-Canadian-values talking point we're hearing post-election. It also seems to reach out to Canadians, building alliances, if that's what's meant. That Liberals will be on side in supporting fact-based policy in opposition to an ideological government (see prison point above, for example, and others).

Last excerpt, this one seemed to balance the focus on poverty (in an emotional part here) with talk of creating a "truly progressive entrepreneurial culture" before going on to explain that tax credit preference system the government is fostering:
When we look at health care and at the issues of crime and social justice that I have talked about and at our tax policies, and, particularly, when we look at the importance of aboriginal issues that have still not been faced up to by the House and Canadians, we must recognize the real and present danger that we are dealing not with one Canada but with two, with those who are in and those who are out; with those who are benefiting from the good things in life and those who are not; those who have a stake, a position and security, and those who have none.

These things are avoidable. As Canadians, we do not have to accept this fate. We can lead the way as a country by saying that we want to set a standard for our country in the world and that we want to be at our best in the world. Yes, we want prosperity. Yes, we want our businesses to succeed. Yes, we want to create a truly progressive entrepreneurial culture in this country. However, we understand full well that it will mean nothing if there are still millions of people unemployed and millions of people living in poverty, and if there are those who go to bed at night in a room with six or seven people who wonder, as the wind is whistling through the windows of an overcrowded house on Big Trout Lake, in their aspirations if there is not a better world and a better place.

We must recognize that despite all of our successes, Canada has the highest suicide rate in the western world. That principally is because there are far too many young Canadians, young teenagers, young aboriginal people in particular, who do not see a way out, who do not see hope and who do not see opportunity.

As we reflect on our budgets, they are not just about what businesses or the chamber of commerce think. A budget is not just there for taxpayers, even successful taxpayers, but a budget is there for every single Canadian, whether homeless or with a home, whether on the street or in the most comfortable place, whether living in rural Canada or urban Canada

The definition of a good politics is a politics that brings everyone together. When I look at the budget, I see a consistent politics that tries to divide, that tries to separate, that says the government is there for some but not for all.

Let me provide the simple facts. Last year 24.5 million returns were filed , of which 15.2 million owed net federal tax and 9.3 million owed no federal income tax after all the credits and deductions. The fact is that without net income, one will not get the benefit of the tax credits.

In my riding, who needs piano lessons but does not get access to them? It is the poorest kids in my riding. Who has problems taking care of their loved ones? Who has problems taking care of their mother or their father?

Who needs the tax credits provided by the Conservatives? They are not simply tax credits for Canada’ middle class. They should be for everyone and not just for some. Quite frankly, that is the difference between the vision of the Liberal Party and that of the Conservative Party.
Those tax numbers underscore the exclusionary nature of the tax credit approach. And remember, tax credits are actually new Harper government spending programmes. When Harper decides to give tax credits to one group, he's spending all of our tax dollars subsidizing one group. That's hard to criticize, on a political level, because you don't necessarily want to offend that group. Rae, however, is opening up the argument by making an appeal to Canadians' sense of fairness, about the moral thing being to include everyone - if we are indeed going to make a government choice to spend money. It's about the right thing to do and the government, by favouring some who are less in need over others who have greater need, is not doing the right thing. This seems to me to be a good approach to criticizing the Harper economic choices on the targeted tax credits in question. (Whether these one-off tax credits in and of themselves are a good way to go is a whole other discussion.)

This is an inherently reactionary speech, in that Liberals are reacting to the government's agenda. And the budget will pass, no doubt about it, irrespective of what any opposition member says. Despite all that, it struck some good contrasts with the government. The "one Canada" theme in particular was clear and made an appeal to Canadians' better nature. There seemed to be a solid emotional aspect to it as well, something Liberals could use a lot more of.