Limited Memory and Misplaced Priorities in the Globe and Fail

Posted on April 28, 2011

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I haven’t been keeping up with my promised election posting schedule over the past few days, mainly because I had to mark my way out of a giant pile of first-year history exams. I thought I’d get a break after the required three straight days of marking, but no sooner had I finished than this shit happened. You may not even need to follow the link. If you’re one of my regular readers, who I’m convinced are among the country’s most politically savvy citizens, then you may have already heard the news that the Globe and Mail has endorsed Stephen Harper and the Conservatives to win the election. In any case, think before you click. The editorial supporting this decision is likely to induce such physical side effects as nausea, headaches, and loss of appetite in progressive readers.

The reasoning employed in the editorial to justify the decision is weak. They start off by saying the campaign (which started with an historic contempt ruling and has included constitutional debates and scandalous allegations, to say nothing of the NDP surge) has been “unremarkable and dissapointing”. Things go downhill from there. Michael Ignatieff’s repeated indictments of the Tories’ abuses of democracy are said to have “failed to show how the Conservative has failed”, and Jack Layton is dismissed with the cliched assertion that his promises are unrealistic. Nothing to see there. Beyond that, Harper’s numerous abuses of power are shrugged away, and there is a lot of handwaving about giving the Conservatives a chance to apply their disciplined fiscal approach(TM) in a majority situation. The real crux of the argument can be summed up in this paragraph:

“Those who disdain the Harper approach should consider his overall record, which is good. The Prime Minister and the Conservative Party have demonstrated principled judgment on the economic file. They are not doctrinaire; with the support of other parties they adopted stimulus spending after the financial crash of 2008, when it was right to do so. They have assiduously pursued a whole range of trade negotiations. They have facilitated the extension of the GST/HST to Ontario and British Columbia, and have persisted in their plan for a national securities regulator. The Conservatives have greater respect, too, for the free market, and for freedom of international investment, in spite of their apparent yielding to political pressure in the proposed takeover of Potash Corp.”

The Globe and Mail’s editorial board appears to have swallowed the Conservative bullshit about the economy and come back for seconds. This is unfortunate, because if you look at the history of the recession in Canada, it becomes abundantly clear that Canada’s better than average economic performance is more in spite of the Conservatives than because of them. In 1998, the Conservatives tried to push Paul Martin’s liberal government to hop on the global financial bandwagon by de-regulating the banking industry. Luckily, Martin refused. This decision meant that our banks could not get involved in credit default swaps, and was the single most important reason that Canada came through the recession in such good shape.

Of course, being insulated from the cause of the recession did not mean that we were entirely insulated from its effects. Around ten years after Martin’s decision, we found ourselves facing an economic crisis as global demand for our goods and services began to dry up. Stephen Harper and the Conservatives, having just squandered the Liberal surplus on a self-serving cut to sales tax, refused to acknowledge this reality and had to be dragged kicking and screaming towards economic stimulus by the opposition, who threatened a vote of non-confidence over the matter. This was the origin of the 2008 constitutional crisis which nearly gave us a Liberal-NDP coalition government. That stimulus, which was frequently too little too late, and was  distributed according to partisan preference, is really the only claim the Conservatives have to economic action.

Today, despite our massive deficit and the well established fact that social spending is a better form of economic stimulus than corporate tax cuts, the Conservatives insist on reducing our corporate tax rate, which is already the lowest in the G7 and therefore quite competitive, in the face of a massive deficit. There is an eleven billion dollar hole in the costing for their platform, which will probably be filled through cuts to social spending. Given that the Globe and Mail was reporting throughout all of these events, I’m surprised that they did not take them into account while deciding on their endorsement.

Beyond economic issues, however, this endorsement has invoked a very troubling sentiment that economic and fiscal management trump all other issues. Even if economic management were the Conservatives’ strong suit, it would not give them a free pass on partisan prorogues of parliament, a laughable criminal justice policy, or the fact that Canada’s international credibility has been tarnished by a truly shameful diplomatic record on climate change. The Globe and Mail has implicitly agreed with the Conservative campaign in saying that none of these things matter, so long as we’re all getting paid.

I respectfully disagree. While the economy is an important political consideration, sound fiscal management is cold comfort in the face of the continuous degradation of Canadian democracy. I join at least sixty percent of Canadians in wanting a country that is run in a manner more conscientious than the financially obsessed management strategies of a large corporation. I want a country that will ensure the economy is not an ends in itself, but rather a means to the end of social justice. Next Monday I will be voting for a government that will stand for something more than the almighty dollar. I hope you’ll join me.

Also, I just deleted my Globe and Mail iPhone app.

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