When it comes to the Liberals and the Harper Conservatives, chuck the rhetoric and check out the numbers. Comparing the secret agendas of the Conservatives and the Liberals, there's only one true dividing line. It's government debt. But please don't go to sleep, because what's ultimately at stake is our sovereignty and the will of the people versus the international money markets.
Deficits and debt take the power of the people and deliver it into the hands of the international investment community. If you want to borrow, be prepared for bankers to call the shots.
Harris's Ontario is the prototype. On top of costing us more and getting us less, the tax policy of the so-called Conservatives left the provincial government drowning in debt.
The same is true of George Bush's economic performance. U.S. tax cuts and military spending have created massive budget deficits and public debt. This is a fundamental part of the politics that guide Harper's policies. It is not a fluke or a provincial anomaly.
On the other hand, Martin's fiscal leadership has also meant massive cutbacks and the failure to address critical social problems. But he has left the federal coffers in surplus for seven successive budgets and reduced Canada's public debt load by $52 million.
For the last four years, Canada has had a balance of payments current account surplus, which means that in the international context we aren't dependent on foreign dollars to cover our collective borrowing needs.
This independence from the whims of foreign investors matters tremendously in an era when, all over the world, political will is in a fight for its life against corporate power. Canada's balanced economy is part of what made Chretien's stand against involvement in Iraq possible.
Of course, George Bush is perfectly at one with his investment bank brothers who invented "structural adjustment" to destroy the ability of governments to respond to the needs of their people. It's a made-in-America solution. Cut more mothers off the welfare roles, kick the sick out into the streets. Spend to increase the profits of the military-industrial manufacturers. No problem.
But Canada is not the world's financial capital. The rating agencies have already started rattling McGuinty's cage. Two weeks ago, Moody's Investors Service renewed the province's Aa2 credit rating but indicated that the outlook is negative because he hadn't implemented aggressive enough spending cuts.
Dalton McGuinty is a dolt, but he did not create the budget issues he's currently facing. The Conservatives did. The tax cuts they implemented were so out of sync with the provincial economy that, despite huge cutbacks that erode even basic government functions like the courts, there isn't enough tax money to cover government expenses.
The Conservatives' ability to deliver on their anti-government promises is based on the fact that they're functionally indifferent to economic balance. More than that, they gladly invite the vicious cycle of slashing spending and tax cuts demanded by international investors of debt-laden countries. They should be called radicals, not conservatives. And the mantra of voters should be "Beware politicians who keep their promises."
Surprise, surprise. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives study of the three party platforms shows Harper's promises will ring in a cumulative deficit of at least $11.4 billion over the next five years. Both the Liberals and the NDP would continue to rack up surpluses.
Martin has been unable to get any political mileage from his good managament of public debt partly because the surpluses and debt reduction have gone on so long, we've forgotten when bond raters ruled the day in Canada. That was who called the shots for Martin's famous 94 budget, and we haven't seen one like it since because he got the bastards off our backs and continued to keep them off with his small-c conservative budget surpluses and quiet debt reduction policies.
This process was accomplished on the backs of the poor, the young and the sick. It has meant increasing inequality, downloading and deteriorating access to health care, education and other critical social services.
But the complex economic truth is that the result has brought significant benefits to a wide spectrum of Canadians through its feeding of a relatively job-rich, low-interest-rate, high-performing economy. This is a better defence of our sovereignty than any military equipment Harper could buy.
Perhaps the most incredible feature of this puzzling election has been Paul Martin's inability to articulate - let alone take credit for - the political achievement of his career.
The Canadian economy has suffered huge unexpected challenges. They have included natural disasters, health emergencies like SARS and BSE, post-9/11 border-crossing issues and major trade disputes. Most recently, contrary to all expectations, the economy has adjusted to a major increase in the dollar's value relative to the U.S. currency and has still outdone itself in terms of continuing growth.
Certainly the Liberals could have done much more to reverse the devastating results of their 94 budget cuts. What's new? The Liberals on their own will always disappoint us. And if Martin pays for his arrogance with a minority mandate, it could be the best thing that ever happened to Canada - taking advantage of an NDP caucus that has never had more to offer.
But even if Harper wins more seats than the Liberals, I think a Team Martin that includes Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe could form a potent Tory-blocking government. Yes, Duceppe finds common cause with Harper on provincial rights, but the television debate really showed how much Duceppe has in common with Layton and Martin on other issues. Martin's financial smarts, pushed hard by Layton and Duceppe toward an independent peace-minded foreign policy, health care and social investment, could likewise be amazing.
But our children will thank us for anything we can do to keep power out of the hands of the Conservatives. Contrary to Liberal hype, there are only three ridings in Toronto where NDP voters need to worry they might help elect a Conservative: Etobicoke-Lakeshore, Don Valley East and Don Valley West. Way to go, Toronto.