Friday, March 23, 2007

Provincial NDP Budget

The provincial budget delivered by Andrew Thomson yesterday is the last act of a government that we may not see for another decade. The government chose to spend more than it made in the fiscal year in question. When spending exceeds income debt is born. On the long term this is never a good option regardless of the reasons. The Grant Devine conservatives learned that hard lesson.

Granted, the provincial government has been experiencing record growth from our oil and gas sector and the economy is relatively hot. The question to consider is whether it is prudent to hand all that new revenue back to the people through long-term social programs like the drug plan for seniors that contains no income indexing. I fail to see how that program is sustainable over the long term. Frankly, it makes no sense for the government to pay prescription drug costs for those seniors who can well afford to pay for their own drug costs. I have no problem supporting seniors and non seniors with tax dollars for drugs if their income level clearly indicates they cannot afford the prescription drugs they need to maintain their health.

From a fiscal perspective the NDP government has on balance done quite well. In short, it is hard to make an argument that they should be defeated for how they have managed the province’s fiscal matters. On the other hand, it will be difficult for the government to take credit for Saskatchewan’s strong economy.

It may be tempting for taxpayers to wallow in the riches of new social programs. I prefer to believe most voters would prefer to pay down the debt, balance the budget, encourage business and growth in our province and care for those who are not able to care for themselves. Less government and reduced government spending is both responsible and necessary if we expect our tax dollars to be spent effectively by our governments.

The budget was tilted toward an election with an emphasis on urban voters. I believe the NDP have made a political tactical error that will cost them government. That having been said, they will have left Brad Wall and the SaskParty in a difficult situation when they form government. I guess one might consider it pay back time for the mess the conservatives left the NDP when they reclaimed power in 1991.

Hang on; a provincial election is coming soon. It really doesn’t matter what I think. Saskatchewan voters will soon get to judge all this at the polls. Thank goodness for democracy!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Federal Conservative Budget

The federal conservative budget is official. How does it rate? I give it thumbs up on political considerations. Why, because the conservatives are literally handing out money on every street corner across the country. It is a budget that was designed to meet the challenge of a federal election if the opposition joined to defeat the budget or some other non-confidence matter in the House of Commons.

It now appears the budget will not be defeated as the conservatives have earned the support of the Bloc, which is no surprise. The conservatives threw billions at Quebec to gain votes in that province. Now the Premier of Quebec, in the dying days of a provincial election, has promised huge tax cuts to the voters in Quebec. Sadly, the money Charest claims he will use the previously committed $700 million in federal transfer payments earmarked to specifically finance health, education and the environment for the people of Quebec. The resulting total tax windfall for Quebec voters if Charest is re-elected will allow a couple in Quebec to save about $750 a year.

Quebec gets $2.3 billion out of this budget. Literally, one third of all money flowing to the provinces from the federal government will go to Quebec. All this and they are still asking for more. Now get this. Charest is also asking for the federal conservative government to get its spending power under control. Well, I agree with that and then maybe we wouldn’t have to give Quebec so much money to buy their votes. Quebec is a province that is hopelessly in debt to the extent of $5.3 billion as of last year and their budget deficit is expected to grow by another billion in the next year or so. If you don’t believe me then ask the provincial auditor general for Quebec.

The federal conservatives have, on sound advice, attempted to resolve the fiscal imbalance among provinces. Unfortunately, the shameless act of Charest in the dying days of an election campaign in Quebec makes it look like he is buying an election with western oil via the conservative’s new equalization formula.

The federal conservative budget on balance is sound notwithstanding one would have thought a strong conservative like Harper would have paid down the debt as opposed to spending increases. The equalization formula has been improved notwithstanding the conservatives broke their promise to Saskatchewan voters to remove oil and gas revenues. Interestingly, Brad Wall, the leader of the Saskatchewan Party is backing the Premier of Saskatchewan’s opposition to the new equalization formula, which Saskatchewan conservative MP Gerry Ritz doesn’t understand.

The budget is worthy of your support considering the Harper conservatives are governing from a minority position. Don’t be surprised if Prime Minister Stephen Harper finds a way to get a federal election going on the strength of the federal budget. This would allow the voters to pass judgment on the federal conservatives performance and their budget. Call the election Mr. Harper – a majority government is possible.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Goodale Performs

Some time ago not long after the federal conservatives formed government I wrote about how well Ralph Goodale handled his tumble from government to the ranks of the opposition.

Now I have to tell you that he has barely missed a step in how he performs. In his latest communication that went out to all his constituents Goodale carries on as if he is still in government. He sharply condemns the conservatives, and regarding the Income Trust issue, even calls Stephan Harper a liar.

It is clear that Goodale is steamed over this issue when you consider all the accusations made on Goodale by the conservatives during the last election. Goodale was cleared of any wrong doing attributable to him personally and you can bet that he will do all in his power to hang this issue on the conservatives at the next election.

The interesting thing is how Goodale continues to act as if he is still in government. In his brochure to his constituents he lays out a budget plan for the conservatives and calls it free advice. It is actually pretty good advice as Goodale, the former Minister of Finance, knows what the conservatives are likely to have in a good budget.

Further, Goodale goes on in his brochure to lay out more information that informs his constituents of all the good things the government has done for the Wascana constituency and for the City of Regina. He talks in terms of we and leaves the impression that he is still securing funding for his constituency and Regina when in fact it was funding from the former liberal government.

The issue should be what Ralph Goodale has done for you lately. Not what he had done for you in the past. There is a significant difference here and I will leave that for the voters to consider.

Yes, Ralph Goodale plays the game of politics very well. When you read his brochure you would think he was still in government.

Ralph Goodale is near the end of his elected political career, but you wouldn’t know that to see how he performs. Conservatives in Goodale’s constituency of Wascana should get on with nominating a good honest candidate to run against Goodale. It would be a challenge to take on Goodale. The conservatives shouldn’t be playing chicken and waiting for Goodale to retire before they drag out their star candidates. They should get at it and defeat him before he retires.

Goodale has been a great Member of Parliament and I salute him for this, but I think he is done like Dion.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Prime Minister Snubs Premier

The recent announcement of one $1billion by the Prime Minister to support struggling Canadian farmers is welcome news. The announcement was made at a farm outside of Saskatoon. The interesting point is that the Premier of Saskatchewan was never informed of the Prime Minister’s visit to Saskatchewan to make the announcement.

Commons sense and respect for at least some form of protocol would suggest that the Prime Minister should have invited the Premier to attend the announcement. I suggest this in consideration of the fact that the Prime Minister has indicated he would like the provincial government to partner with the federal government in some way to support the federal initiatives for farmers announced by the Prime Minister. Rather, they both went on a rant criticizing each other over their differences. It was unbecoming politics for both the Prime Minister and the Premier. One has to wonder if the Prime Minister would have informed SaskParty leader, Brad Wall if he were Premier. Maybe not since Prime Minister Harper once stated that the SaskParty were only fair weather friends.

The SaskParty is more than confident that they will defeat the NDP in the next provincial election. So maybe the Prime Minister felt it would be popular to kick the NDP while they are down by not informing Premier Calvert of the federal governments agricultural initiatives. I personally don’t think it was popular and it certainly was not Prime Ministerial behavior on Harper’s part. Prime Minister Harper should stay on the high road and leave cheap, petty politics to back bench MP’s or party supporters. Since Harper likes hockey lets put it this way, he was guilty of high sticking and we can likely expect more of Harper’s antics as his government moves closer and closer to a spring election.

Harper and the Premier of Ontario were once recently at odds, but $1.5 billion for the Toronto transit system would suggest they are working together to support their own respective vested political interests. Harper’s support of Toronto’s transit system to gain support in Ontario against the few hundred million Saskatchewan farmers may get from Harper’s agricultural announcement tells you a lot about the Prime Minister’s political priorities.

Harper feels his MP’s re-election prospects are secure in Saskatchewan and he must maintain his focus on gaining support in Ontario and Quebec. Harper is positioned to gain a majority government and I think he should just get on with it and call the election. He has earned his right to call it after surviving more than a year in a minority government. There is no need to fabricate some reason to blame the opposition parties for an election call. Harper can win right now and he should act on an election call before the window closes. Dion is doomed!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Mark Wartman on Trade

Sometimes a journalist’s coverage of a news story provokes more questions than it provides answers. A recent report by Bruce Johnstone of the Leader Post is one such example. Mark Wartman, Minister of Agriculture and Food, had just returned from a two-week trade mission to China and Japan and Johnston reported on what Wartman learned over those two weeks.

To begin with, Wartman didn’t learn a lot more than he knew before he left on the trip. It seems apparent n Bruce Johnstone’s coverage of Wartman’s pilgrimage to the Asia-Pacific region that he covered what Wartman told him and nothing else. Primarily, that there are tremendous agricultural export opportunities for Saskatchewan in the region. That we need to increase our presence in the region and that we risk losing trade and investment opportunities to our competition like Alberta. That having a physical presence in countries that we want to trade with or do business with makes a difference. To this extent, Mark Wartman said, “”When you are out of sight, you are out of mind.” Wartman said, "the province needs to consider getting more people on the ground in Asia."

It was also reported that Wartman plans to hold meetings with Saskatchewan Trade and Export Partnership (STEP) and Saskatchewan Industry and Resources officials to find ways of increasing the province’s profile in the area. Minister Wartman apparently held some 60 meetings with government and business officials in China and Japan.

Here are some of the questions I would like to have asked to provide the public with a little more insight on the matter of international trade. Why did the NDP government close the trade office the Grant Devine conservative government had established in Hong Kong in 1990? It was an effective office run by a highly respected Saskatchewan citizen, but the NDP unceremoniously closed the office shortly after they returned to power in 1991. Wartman stated he wouldn’t do anything “extravagant” like establishing a trade office in China, notwithstanding Alberta has no less than seven trade officials working out of the Canadian Embassy in Beijing.

When did Mark Wartman discover that there are trade and business opportunities in the Asia-Pacific region? Why has his government not acted sooner to establish a presence for Saskatchewan in the region? Who did Wartman meet with over the reported 60 meetings? How long were these meetings on average, and what positive results, if any, came from these meetings? What does the Minister mean when he says we need to consider getting more people on the ground in Asia? How many people, at what cost and where will they be located and in what facilities? Does he mean simply sending government and industry officials to the region for two-week visits?

I am sure Mark Wartman and the government of Saskatchewan has a great plan to grow our trade in the Asia-Pacific region. It is needed to offset the trade deficits Canada has with their trading partners. The US is about the only trade partner where we have historically maintained a trade surplus.

Yes, Bruce Johnstone’s report on Mark Wartman’s two-week trade mission raised a lot of questions. Hopefully we will get the answers soon. Maybe the SaskParty will consider asking these questions in the spring session of the legislature and give Minister Wartman an opportunity to tell the whole story about his views on trade in the Asia-Pacific region. The public deserves to know and Bruce Johnston can report the whole story.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Minority Governments

Do minority governments work in the best interests of the voters? There are many that feel a minority government keeps the government accountable. To some extent this is true, but at what cost? The minority conservative government under the leadership of Prime Minister, Stephen Harper is both unwilling and unable to perform as they would if they had a majority in the House of Commons.

They are unwilling when they feel it may cost them government. They are unable when the opposition parties join forces to vote down government legislation. The government’s position to govern well and effectively is seriously placed at risk when partisan politics takes control of the House of Commons.

The best and most recent example of this is the defeat of the government’s move to extend the provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Act. This legislation was initially introduced and passed into law by the previous liberal government resulting from the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks in the United States. The liberals have in effect voted down their own legislation. The legislation provided for the government and its authorities to arrest, without charge, and detain suspected terrorists. None of the powers contained in the anti-terrorism legislation were ever used in the five years since they were enacted.

Regardless, what has changed respecting terrorism since Sept. 11, 2001? Most notably, we have a minority government that is unable to govern in the way it would if it had a majority in the House of Commons. Partisan politics is at a fever pitch as neither the conservatives or the liberals are in a position to form a majority government if an election were held today. Further, the NDP and the Bloc don’t want an election either as they are on the verge of electing less members to the House of Commons than they currently hold if an election was to be held in the next few months.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has repeatedly argued that he doesn’t want an election. He is happy being Prime Minister and he just wants to move forward. In conservative words this means providing the kind of government they feel is right for Canadians. In reality, this is near impossible as the conservative government cannot move on controversial legislation for fear of being defeated and cannot pass important legislation the opposition parties decide to vote down.

I appreciate the voters are not keen on having yet another election, but I am not keen on having a government that is not able to perform in the way they would if they had a majority. I believe that whenever the federal election is called that Canadians give either the conservatives or the liberals a majority so they can get on with effectively governing this country on behalf of all Canadians.

I want what is good for Canadians and not what is good for politicians and political parties. A majority government will save us from unnecessary elections. We can always hold the government to account at the next election as we did the previous liberal government. A federal election becomes necessary and inevitable if the opposition parties and the government continue to play the card of partisan politics. A majority government will better serve both the voters and our Country. Canada deserves good government free of frivolous partisan politics.