After a year of taking it on the chin for giving away a few hundred million to party cronies mired in obsolete politics, the government then went on to dish out $7 billion to economic cronies mired in obsolete businesses.
And it went unremarked upon.
On the eve of the election, Paul Martin's Liberals gave $7 billion to the Big Three automakers and several forestry giants, and no one in the media or opposition called them on it.
Not even the international delegates at the global warming conference in Montreal, where Martin welcomed them to Canada, the "environmental conscience of the world," just after he gave billions to the two industries most responsible for climate change.
Industry Minister Dave Emerson bragged in late November, "We're trying to ensure that GM and all other manufacturers in Canada are globally competitive, and we've been succeeding beyond our wildest dreams."
I shouldn't really pass judgment on Emerson's statement without walking a mile on the meds he must be popping, but it should be noted that he said this the day after GM announced 15,000 job cuts in Canada. If the real world were our guide, there's not one test of logic that his statement could pass.
This is not a safe investment, money that taxpayers will ever see again, other than when CEOs of these companies post their annual salaries.
The Canadian government's confidence is not shared by two of the investment world's leading debt-rating agencies. They just downgraded the bonds of two U.S. recipients of the money - General Motors and Ford - to just above junk-bond status. This was one of the moves that led less courageous investors than the Canadian government to drive down GM's stock value by 40 per cent this year.
One of the greats of GM history was famous for his egocentric belief that "on a clear day you can see forever," but it would take a very auto-smog-free day to see just the end of GM's unfunded liabilities. They owe somewhere north of $50 billion for health care (in the U.S.) and retirees' pensions. This is quite besides the Big Three's and forest biz's unfunded environmental liabilities.
As a way to protect or create jobs, the government giveaway to these particular industries is self-defeating, notes Sam Gindin, a former CAW staffer and one of the architects of the anti-concession politics that previously defined auto unionism.
That's because, Gindin argues in the electronic newsletter The Bullet, the auto industry suffers from excess capacity, more company ability to make new goods than there is consumer ability to buy them.
Industries in this predicament don't need more plants with a greater ability to turn out more goods. All that the new products from the government-funded machines do is drive another plant out of business and cause a layoff there. Then that company will get a government bailout, causing another layoff in a different plant.
Edsel socialism (named after Ford's 50s blooper car), we might call it. If this kind of money were being given to people on low incomes instead of executives with high incomes, it would be classified as good money being thrown after bad into a black hole of chronic welfare dependency.
The government's $7 billion won't boost sales of Canadian goods in foreign markets and thereby solve the glut problem. The $1.28-billion subsidy to our lumber industry only means U.S. lumber interests are crying foul and threatening to tear up their offer of small but meaningful concessions to imports of Canadian softwood.
This is just the kind of unfair subsidy that makes for unfair competition that we've been complaining about all along, they're saying. Oops. What a web we weave when first we practise to deceive in international trade matters.
The idea of boosting sales of Canadian-made cars in Japan or elsewhere is good for Canada's reputation for dry humour. The Big Three can't even compete with Japanese carmakers in the North American market, where less subsidized Japanese manufacturers produce two-thirds of the cars sold.
If this kind of money were given to something innovative that might actually win global sales - public transit vehicles designed for areas with low population density, or softwood shingles with photovoltaic insets, for example - it would mean something.
At any rate, Canadian government money isn't going anywhere that Canadians will ever have a say on. We get an inkling of this from the fact that GM is planning significant layoffs at two Oshawa plants. (Weirdly, my U.S. spellcheck keeps correcting "Oshawa" to "Ottawa," which indicates the wealth of geographic knowledge in the home country of the head offices of the companies we're giving money to.)
Contrary to government and union beliefs, what's good for GM is not good for the proletariat. The unkindest cut of all is that none of this government largesse will create jobs for young people or immigrants who live in Toronto or any other city where low-wage industries dominate.
Both the auto and forestry industries are centred outside the big cities, and are so mechanized that almost all their well-paid staff are high-seniority workers well past middle age. Those are deep systemic barriers, especially to the people of colour who came to Canada after these industries stopped hiring.
If this kind of government money ever went exclusively to big-city immigrants under 45, there would be a hue and cry about reverse discrimination. But when the big bucks go to older white workers in obsolete and destructive industries in dependent regions, what's even worth commenting on in that?
The government pours money into lemons - which is what urban youth are told to suck.