Saturday, March 24, 2007

Budget/Quebec 2007 (Harper's sold his Albertan soul)

If I lived in Quebec (and I could if I moved a few kilometres north), I think it's safe to say that I would be a partisan of the Quebec Liberal Party. I like its history, I like its policies, I like its leader - or that is to say, I liked its leader. Jean Charest always struck me as a bit more principled than some of his fellow politicians. He's proven this week that he is just about as opportunistic as you can get, and not coincidentally, Stephen Harper showed once again his own lack of principles.

How else can you characterize this joke of a budget? I didn't think the last one was particularly reprehensible, but this one is just beyond the pale. Leave aside the general lack of principles in the budget itself - it looks like something that Paul Martin would have sent back to the drawing board for spending too much and accomplishing too little. But this complete sell out to Charest? Stephen Harper should be ashamed. After years and years of railing against Alberta's (and Ontario's, but he didn't really care about Ontario) tax dollars financing Quebec's lavish social spending, he is essentially giving Quebec over a billion dollars - that's $1,000,000,000, in case you missed it - of other Canadians' money.

Harper was quite clearly and transparently trying to buy the current provincial election for Charest, his biggest ally and asset in the province. (He made that clear by telling Quebeckers that if they wanted more where that came from, they'd better re-elect Charest - a comment from which Charest, Parti Quebecois leader Andre Boisclair and Action Democratique du Quebec leader Mario Dumont all quickly distanced themselves.) Harper needs a stable federalist government in Quebec if he hopes to implement his preferred election strategy there (ie: buy the votes of Quebec with the money of other Canadians). If the Liberals had delivered a budget as big-spending and lacking in tax cuts as this one, Stephen Harper would have had a conniption. If the Liberals had delivered a budget which was blatantly and openly an attempt to buy an election - and maybe two - in Quebec using the tax dollars of Albertans and Ontarians, well, Stephen Harper's head would have spun around and exploded.

Don't get me wrong - I support equalization. But giving in to this "fiscal imbalance" nonsense and then paying Quebec money it doesn't need is not something I can support. First of all, Quebec already enjoys the best social services in Canada - no other province spends so much per citizen, even despite its huge deficits. Did you know you can go to university in Quebec for $1500 per year? $1500! The government subsidizes car insurance. It has a great education system. Quebeckers are doing pretty well for themselves already.

But alright, let's pretend that Quebec actually needed this billion-some dollars to, I don't know, help pay its staggering debt and deficit? Or perhaps to further fund Quebec's social programs, for which Charest was saying his province so desperately needed more money from the federal government. What does Charest do with the money?

He turns it into an across-the-board tax cut for the people of Quebec! What? What about those programs Quebec so needed other Canadians' money to fund? What about that huge deficit that needed to be checked before it ruins the province's finances? Bugger than, there's an election to be had! This proves beyond a doubt that the fiscal imbalance (or the "fiscal balance" as the sickeningly sunny Conservative propagandists are now calling it) was a myth, is a myth, and shall remain a myth. If that money was so urgently required to fix this so-called "fiscal imbalance," why wasn't it spend, you know, fixing it, instead of handing out hundreds of millions of dollars of basically free money - courtesy of the rest of Canada - to Quebeckers? But worse, it just stinks of dishonest, disingenuous, dirty politics. Stephen "Firewall" Harper's sold his Albertan soul - to the premier of Quebec.

That's why, if I lived in Quebec, I could simply not bring myself to stomach voting for Charest. I don't support separatism, but I could help but consider the PQ - at least they probably believe the lies they're telling regarding the fiscal imbalance. (Not a huge stretch, considering most of them believe their own lies regarding Quebec's economic prospects after separation.) And I don't really lean to the right, but I would simply have to consider the ADQ - at least they've got a dynamic leader.

With a tight three-way race, I'll certainly be glued to the TV Monday night - it's been a very long time since politics in Canada was this interesting. I'm quite excited to see the outcome - I just hope it's not Charest.

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