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By Jason Hayes
Adrienne Clarkson, presented the new Martin Liberal government's "ambitious agenda" in the Speech from the Throne (for those not familiar with the term, the Throne speech is similar to the SOTU in the US) earlier this week.
As one would expect from a government run by Chrétien's second in command, the Martin government's agenda veered sharply to the left, promising the same tax and spend policies that have hampered Canadian development for the last decade. Promises were made to retain the Kyoto Accord, ramp up student aid programs, and provide bevy of new government programs and services to politically correct special interests country-wide.
Perhaps the single best indicator of Paul Martin's concept of good government was found early in the speech. In two revealing lines, Clarkson noted, "the Government is proposing an ambitious agenda … that should be measured and judged by the goals we have set and by the resolve and constancy by which they are pursued."
Translating bafflegab into English reveals the government notion that Canadians have no business judging their performance with antiquated measures like economic efficiency or effectiveness in achieving program goals and objectives. In their own words, the only valid measure of government performance is the ability to conjure up vast socialist utopian dreams and their determination in making those dreams reality.
In Clarkson's statement we have the embodiment of Liberal governing in Canada. No social re-engineering agenda, regardless how foolish, expensive, or outright ineffective can, or should be "measured or judged" as incomplete or wanting. If government is setting goals and is determined in their resolve to carry out those goals, they are succeeding; further concerns of efficiency, effectiveness, and economy need not enter the equation.
The unfunded utopian dreams continued throughout the speech, and included; a lack of interest in Western issues, an unspoken refusal to repeal the Firearms Act, a swarm of new federal agencies and mandates, and continuous symbolism over substance – ‘throw more tax dollars at it' quick fixes. The sheer weight of new spending and commitments to special interest is simply impossible to cover in one short column.
On a more positive note, Martin did make an intelligent move by removing the GST charges levied against municipalities. However, the wisdom of making the move was sullied by attempts to claim some degree of virtue in being forced to admit the need for the change. Municipalites are hard pressed to make ends meet given the fact that Martin balanced the federal budget on their backs and the backs of the provinces. Furthermore, as one Calgary Sun article noted, they should have never been collecting this tax in the first place. "Only Ottawa could tax other governments and think it's OK."
Equally encouraging was the promise to allow more free votes in the House. When compared with the arrogant, iron fist-style of management preferred by Chrétien, the possibility that MP's might be free to vote their conscience or the wishes of their constituents is a definite plus. It remains to be seen whether this Martin promise survives its first encounter with unpopular votes, such as the vote expected for legislation on same sex marriage.
On the topic of promises that might never be kept, thoughts naturally turn to the oft heard, but never kept Liberal government promise to appoint an "independent Ethics Commissioner reporting to Parliament and an Ethics Officer for the Senate". While Canadians have high hopes that ethics might some day return to the federal Parliament, the fact that this austere house is still populated by the "hyperactive children" decried by former Reform MP, Lee Morrison does not instill a great deal of confidence. This promise has reared its head before and was smothered under the weight of red tape, posturing and procedure; do not be surprised if it disappears again.
Additionally, should an ethics commissioner and ethics officer be appointed, Canadians would do well to read the fine print guiding the actions and responsibilities of these offices before placing faith in them. Given the messy end to the Radwanski story, it would be reasonable to question the latitude which will be allowed for the pursuit of ethics complaints. There is no doubt that Parliament would love an ‘ethics' commissioner to present the veneer of ethical behaviour in government. However, an ethics commissioner that actually expects or enforces expectations of "ethical" behavior may quickly receive a Radwanski-ing and be out of a job.
Unfortunately, the few positive promises that were made in the Throne Speech are overshadowed by a decade of lies and deceit. Canadians can hope for something more, but they have no reason to believe any promise made by the federal government. Quite simply, government has an established track record of breaking them.
All of Martin's "we're different" and "new government" spin aside, this group is demonstrably (and very literally) no different than their predecessors. Apart from a few visible figurehead changes, this government is the same crew that has governed this country, badly, for the past three terms.
Sadly in their tenure in Ottawa, the only believable promises, the only promises actually kept by this group, were those that committed to expand size, cost, and influence of the federal bureaucracy.
Jason Hayes is a Calgary-based, independent consultant who specializes in
environmental, policy, and tech issues. Jason's blog is located at www.hayz.ws/blog.
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