Election Cost Benefit

I would like to assure Mr. Dopson (The Now Coquitlam 2009-10-07, Tri-City News Online 2009-10-06) that, as with most Canadians, an election is not the Liberals’ first preference. And, yes, an election, should it come to that, will indeed cost money: on the order of $300 million.

But if you remember that a year ago Mr. Harper promised that our legacy of budget surpluses was safe, and then, after the election, just a bit of a surplus, and then in the new year, with cascading economic failures all around us, we reluctantly agreed to a $30 billion deficit in order to provide stimulus funding. But now we’re up to at least a $56 billion deficit and an expectation of deficits for at least 6 more years.  (Annual interest alone on $56 billion is more than 5 elections!)

Since taking office Mr. Harper has hacked down the surplus with great vigour, while dramatically jacking up government spending — forcing us to the brink of deficit even before the recession and undermining our defences against it. Upon finally being forced by the opposition parties to confront the recession, the stimulus was intended to shield us from its worst effects; the idea being that injections of cash at the right time and in the right places would shore up our economy, stave off further collapse, and indeed protect government revenues from further erosion.

Adjusting the formula for EI on an emergency basis, as we proposed, would have helped do that. The existing municipal gas-tax rebate mechanism, which we proposed to be used immediately to flow significant funding to municipalities last spring, would have done that.

But the complex bureaucracy-bound approach chosen by Mr. Harper, meaning that the bulk of funding won’t flow until at least next spring, doesn’t even come close. Being tight-fisted at the wrong time and in the wrong way has only ended up making us face the full brunt of the recession alone, and costing us, as taxpayers, vastly more than any false savings achieved by it. If our economy is indeed on its way to recovery, as some say, it is in spite of this government, not because of it.

Election cost is really a red-herring here. What’s $300 million compared to huge continued hemorrhaging losses, and a deficit of $56 billion this year alone, which will likely amount to adding several hundred billion dollars to our debt by the time we can bring things back under control? And boiling our choices down to just Election vs No-Election is a slight-of-hand, distracting us from the real problems.

You ask for us to work with the government to benefit all Canadians, and it is a fair request. I would ask you, however, to please remember that we’ve been doing just that for quite some time, though we’ve only been disparaged and ridiculed for it. We have bent-over-backward trying to work with this government and achieve cooperation. But cooperation needs both sides, and Mr. Harper and his team have shown very little willingness, lip-service at best. In the end, we have reluctantly come to the realization that the best thing we can do for Canadians is to focus on the primary role assigned to us, which as Official Opposition, is to “oppose,” and hold the government fully to account.  That’s what we’re doing.

An election, when it comes upon us, will not be on us alone. It takes all three opposition parties, and a governing party that can’t or won’t work with any of them. Triggering an election, or not, will be the responsibility of every party in the House; not just us, and not just the Conservatives.

Yes, we, too, would like Parliament to work better. I wouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, though. The problem is not with the system, so much as needing people who are willing to get along and work within it. Without that good faith commitment, no system will work any better.

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