Thursday, 28 April 2011

Do-nothing federal government

John Duffy:
... What matters here is the attempt by the Liberals to have the government do something positive for individuals and for the country. That’s a very different thing from what Mr. Harper offers, which is a tax cut for its own sake.

Liberals fundamentally disagree with how Mr. Harper governs, namely by shrinking the federal government, its role in the federation, in the economy, in our society. Those who say he is betraying his conservative principles aren't noticing the policy areas – taxes included – where Mr. Harper simply downs traditional federal government tools, often without fanfare. We have no energy policy. We have no climate-change strategy. Can anyone say we have a broadcasting policy? Or a telecommunications policy? A social policy to deal with the erosion of the middle class? An industrial policy to address our productivity slippage? A health-care policy, now that the 2004 accord is about to expire? A national unity approach? An aboriginal strategy? And for all that vacating of important policy fields, the government still spends more than it ever did.

Mr. Harper’s is a kind of laisser-tomber conservatism, quietly letting go of the federal role in key public policy fields. I don’t think this approach serves anyone terribly well, and I think it is uniquely ill-suited to a country like Canada. No one is nostalgic for the Big Ottawa of the Trudeau era; that’s what’s so smart about Mr. Ignatieff’s stripped-down Learning Passport. But I’d welcome an outraged Conservative charge of creeping centralization. At least we’d be getting some real debate, instead of this relentless, silent withdrawal of our national government from Canadian life.

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