Politics beware the political ides of late March/early April, a common time for government budgets.
This year we have full-on entrails to read from governments of the left, right and centre budgets from Toronto and Saskatchewan, a Liberal budget from Ontario, a Conservative budget from Alberta and Throne Speech from New Brunswick and Ottawa as well as a flock of Liberal leadership candidates.
We can now say that the success of a political revolution has been complete all the more so because no one has even noticed. Governments have now gone out of the business of industrial policy, social policy and environmental policy. For all intents and purposes, we live in failed states when it comes to these issues.
Such matters may now be left to the mercy and grace of competitive markets. For those who haven't found their soul in the marketplace, its unalloyed sway is simply the way it is, less worthy of notice and less changeable than the weather.
How else to explain the lack of clamour when the Ontario government blows its financial wad on roads at the very time when the province's manufacturing, mining, logging and retail sectors are falling totally under foreign ownership and melting down faster than Greenland's glaciers?
How quaint it seems that capitalist politicians of only 40 years ago agreed that the ownership and well-being of the commanding heights of the economy were crucial. And was our history teacher right when she said governments of the 1950s and 60s got turfed out if unemployment went above 5 per cent? Since we're now at 6, could it be that all the pundits telling us we're in an economic boom are selling us a bill of goods? And how old-fashioned it will soon seem that farmers once grew food, before the market told them to grow ethanol for our cars?
Since we're now at 6, aren't all the people saying we're in an economic boom selling us a bill of goods? And did farmers really use to grow food before the market told them to grow ethanol for our cars?
The Conservative Throne Speech in Ottawa sets a new standard for unpromising government promises with its five slim pages on five skinny priorities: a low-carb, low-protein, taste- and inspiration-free weight-loss diet for government capacity.
Don't even think about the vision thing, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's speech screams. We've got the focus thing, which is the new corporate vision thing.
But to see Harper in the round, other political leaders aren't far behind the prime minister. Twenty years ago, when the PM was a wingnut leader of the looney National Citizens Coalition, there would have been blood in the eye of a pol like Jack Layton, who now says he is rolling up his sleeves to work with Stephen Harper. NDP publicists brag that Layton is influencing the PM to get more benefits for hardworking Canadians.
I'm trying to work hard, too, but I can't see any trend that doesn't confirm government's abdication of strategies that once helped hardworking Canadians, or even non-hardworking Canadians such as kids and seniors and people with severe disabilities and the unemployed and others not covered by the market.
Ironically, if governments were publicly traded companies and we were stockholders or customers instead of mere citizens or taxpayers, politicians couldn't get away with this level of inaction. There are laws and institutions that require ongoing due diligence, financial prudence and general fiduciary (good faith) responsibility from corporate rulers. Would that we took our investment in democratic institutions as seriously.
The end of government responsibility for advance planning, the most proactive element of policy, is glaringly obvious in the face of global warming and peak oil. I can find no evidence of any level of government of any political stripe that has defied the lemming instinct of laissez-faire government on these issues.
Although experts predict an imminent and long-term drought throughout the Prairies, for instance, there are no moves to stabilize population or hold back on the booming housing market the ghost towns of the future, real estate speculators might take note. There is no shift of western crops away from water-intensive grains and beef, no move to identify areas close to population centres where such foods could be produced when nothing grows in the Prairies.
We are flying blind, but the market will provide, says the new religion.
To ensure that this shutdown of government capacity is permanent, there's a rush on tax cuts, the reversal of which will tie future governments up in tax revolts should they ever decide to ramp up government capacity to avoid being failed states.
The federal Libs are outbidding the Conservatives in the tax-cutting auction, insisting that the Tory cut to the GST not replace the Liberals' cut to personal taxes. Thanks to its lack of expenditures, the upcoming Tory budget can pull both out of the hat, and we can all celebrate the feds' loss of $10 billion a year in revenue enough to end child hunger in Canada.
The leftish Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives makes an impeccable research case that tax cuts give back to the rich not to the poor. This misses the point that even tax cuts shared equitably by people on low incomes make future governing in the interests of the majority unaffordable. Governments short on funds can't support large-scale public sector employment, traditionally the most powerful upward pressure on wages of all working people.
Nor can underfunded governments that have to give first dibs to roads, police and health care have any leftovers to support public services that treat rich and poor alike.
The Saskatchewan NDP is pushing tax cuts and the delights of relying on oil royalties with the best of them, and top New Democrats now agree that deficit financing unlike childhood poverty, affordable housing or bankrupt farmers is on the consensus list of government no-no's. In the new economic order, only individuals, it seems, can legitimately borrow money for investments by using their property as collateral; governments have to pay as they go.
Some might think public expenditures for medical care are an exception to this trend. Almost half of Ontario's budget, for example, goes to medical care, falsely identified in government and media propaganda as health care.
The obsession with medicare, now that it expropriates all the money that once went to industrial, social and environmental determinants of health, is what psychoanalysts call the transitional object. It's the thumb-sucking and security-blanket phase infants go through as they begin their separation from the parents who once looked after and cared for them.
Thank you for sucking it up.