Colby Cosh sounds a warning note for Alberta’s NDP government:
… there is a danger — I say this with glum certainty that this centuries-old accepted truth will incite tantrums — in permitting the dole to grow too large. One need only look at the United States’s current addiction to federal and other disability programs. The U.S. reformed welfare as Alberta (and eventually Ontario) did, but disability schemes involving armies of doctors, lawyers and administrative judges became an equally huge species of para-welfare.
The result is a national orgy of prescription opioids and suicide, as policy inertia encourages millions to make a bad back or a trick knee the centre of an unproductive, isolated life. The bottle of OxyContin absolves and soothes; Donald Trump wins a presidential election.
I want no part of anything like this for Alberta. During my lifetime the province has been an economic colony, obsessed with competitiveness and quite short on the state’s version of “compassion.” We all knew we would get NDP economic policy when we voted NDP. They have un-flattened taxes, revived groovy ’70s industrial planning, taxed carbon, regulated farms, run planet-sized deficits, and sheltered the bureaucracy while businesses choked and private-sector workers struggled.
Only the very inattentive could have been unprepared for most of this, as a price to be paid for hosing out the Conservative stable, or even as a desirable correction. Welfare numbers signify a more fundamental, threatening change. It is one that the New Democrats may find more dangerous to its electoral future than all the rest put together, if Ontario history is any guide.
The growth in welfare rolls that can take place in a year may take 10 to reverse. And, of course, such growth suggests that other NDP nostrums, like hiking the minimum wage, aren’t working out. Why would anyone at all require state income support in labour’s paradise? Do NDPers need to look far to find a stalking, wrathful, hyperconservative Mike Harris figure in Alberta?
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Toronto’s real estate market has been insane for years, with prices for utter wrecks still approaching a million dollars. This has a knock-on effect for rental housing, with insufficient supply guaranteeing that rents will also go higher and higher. The Ontario NDP thinks they’ve got a silver bullet to fix the rental market: rent control! Chris Selley explains why this won’t work out the way eager would-be renters in Toronto might hope:
The NDP’s solution: rent control. MPP Peter Tabuns tabled a private member’s bill Monday that would extend limits on annual rent increases to units built after 1991 — thus closing a so-called “loophole” the Mike Harris Tories introduced in hopes people would build more new units. The Liberals followed quickly behind, with Housing Minister Chris Ballard promising “substantive rent control reform” — details to come.
You can see the attraction, politically. Robber baron landlords swoop in, cackling, forcing families onto the streets and auctioning off their homes, literally, to the highest bidder. The government can stop it. Why won’t the government stop it?
No doubt there are some very sympathetic stories out there. But we in the media tend to be very good at finding those, and it’s hard not to notice the preponderance of “victims” who could afford very high rent in the first place, and didn’t do their homework with respect to rent control or the lack thereof. A typical example: CBC introduced us to a 32-year-old who was paying $1,650 a month for a tiny one-bedroom condo, only to be sent couchsurfing by a whopping $950 increase.
The fact is, rent control would largely help high-end renters in a high-end market. The vast majority of units that aren’t rent controlled are condos. In October, CMHC pegged the condo-over-apartment rental premium in the GTA at 46 per cent for one-bedrooms, 54 per cent for two-bedrooms and 65 per cent for three-bedrooms.
The real challenge these days is finding an apartment, period: the vacancy rate in October was 1.3 per cent. Critics say the “loophole” didn’t actually incentivize building rental apartments, but closing the “loophole” certainly won’t. Indeed, it’s tough to see how it would accomplish much except transferring money from unit owners to their tenants. Many will like that idea on principle — but if owners can’t rent to the highest bidder, they are unlikely to suddenly rent for less to the youngest, most disadvantaged and most vulnerable people rent control ostensibly helps.
If you want central Toronto to be a more affordable place to live, you need to figure out how to boost supply. There are lots of different ideas out there. It’s a topic of constant discussion at City Hall and Queen’s Park alike. Rent control is nothing but a political distraction.
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My headline distorts Chris Selley‘s message a bit, but he does correctly point out that Justin Trudeau’s promise was a cynical ploy to attact NDP votes to Liberal candidates, not a genuine commitment to move away from FPTP in our federal election system:
So far as I can tell, the publicly stated evidence that senior members of the Liberal party had any interest in changing the electoral system amounted to Justin Trudeau’s single expression of interest in ranked ballots. There was no evidence at all to suggest any senior party members thought FPTP was the worst electoral system imaginable for Canada — the only interpretation of the platform promise. That being the case, the promise was far too conveniently enticing to New Democrat voters to take at face value.
As to referendums: ample Canadian precedent holds that electoral reform is contingent upon them. And a cursory glance at public opinion made plain that nothing justified breaking that precedent. An Abacus Data poll for the Broadbent Institute, published shortly after the 2015 election, asked respondents to rank their preferences among the current system, mixed-member PR (MMP), pure PR and ranked ballots. The most popular first choice by far, at 43 per cent, was the current system; it was also the second-most popular second choice. The most popular alternative, MMP, was the first choice of only 27 per cent.
No consultative process could fashion a referendum-free consensus from that. It had “face-melting political blowback” written all over it.
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In her latest column for Taki’s Magazine, Kathy Shaidle looks at the #elbowgate scandal in parliament:
No, Trudeau’s hissy fit was profoundly unparliamentary, even for him. He’s previously stuck out his tongue at opposition members. This isn’t even the first time he’s cursed in the House. Again: Like father, like son…
And — in any workplace beyond the Hill, perpetrated by any man with a poles-apart pedigree — it would be a fireable (and possibly criminal) offense.
Most readers likely share my dismay that human resources has siphoned so much power from other corporate departments like accounting or sales, as our society’s slow-motion sex change continues. But that’s the world liberals have created, so one might reasonably suspect that — ha! Had you going, didn’t I?
You see, Trudeau calls himself a feminist. All. The. Time. And for those few who haven’t sussed this out by now, that doesn’t mean he treats women equally and respectfully. That would be cwazy tawk! No, it means that, when he elbows one in the boobs, it’s no big deal. Because his feminism “shots” are up to date. He’s immune. See: “Clinton, Bill” and “Kennedy, Ted” for homegrown examples.
Oh, and “Ghomeshi, Jian” for one northern varietal.
I’ve written about Ghomeshi before: the women’s-studies major–turned–minor musician–turned–major Canadian broadcasting “star” and progressive pinup — until he was accused of slapping around his girlfriends. That case went very badly for the girlfriends, but accusations nevertheless persist that Ghomeshi and his fart catchers created a “toxic work environment” at the CBC. One I was forced to subsidize via government extortion, and where his “inappropriate” “sexist” behavior was tolerated and “enabled” zzzzzzz so sleepy…
Alas for, well, this column, “three’s a trend,” not two. But having no such professional scruples, amateur journalists from Victoria to St. John’s gleefully reposted this photo of Ghomeshi and Trudeau looking chummy as shit, along with an #Elbowgate hashtag and cheeky “We’re feminists!” captions.
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I try to avoid saying nice things about an NDPer as a matter of principle. I’ll make an exception in the case of Ms [Ruth Ellen] Brosseau. Having been handed a very lucky break she made the most of it. The story is a fascinating example of how many talented and intelligent people live in obscurity until a twist of fate pushes them onto another path. Brousseau was in her mid-twenties at the time of her election, working as a bar manager and struggling to survive as a single mother. There are many educated and accomplished people who spend the whole of their adults lives striving for political office, only to fail miserably upon attaining their goal. They have been bested by a woman who had none of their advantages. Luck plays a greater role in success than many people care to imagine.
Richard Anderson, “A Twist of Fate”, Gods of the Copybook Headings, 2016-02-22.
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The Alberta government tried to expel journalists from a particular (and particularly irritating) right wing media organization and was utterly shocked to discover that the rest of the mainstream media didn’t play along:
The MSM’s defence of the Rebel reminded me of how libertarians used to defend the rights of Holocaust deniers: Teeth clenched and at a long arm’s distance. The hatred of Ezra Levant by the Great and Good — and he is truly hated — is largely tonal. The right-wing impresario’s politics are not terrible right of centre, remember this is a guy who worked for both Stockwell Day and Preston Manning. Some of his campaigns and video rants — if rendered in more moderate language — could even gain the assent of the editorial staff at the Globe. The great sin of Ezra is that he is terribly rude.
More than half a century ago Pierre Berton observed that you can get away with saying anything in Canada, so long as you wear a bow-tie. It was an important insight into the Canadian character. There sits on the NDP and Liberal parliamentary benches figures far more radical — in terms of political distance from the mainstream — than anything that has ever passed the lips of Mr Levant. These radicals however speak in the dulcet tones of the Leftist argot. They wear the modern day equivalent of bow-ties and so pass unhindered through the corridors of influence and power.
Some of those corridors are now occupied by Rachel Notley and her band of tone-deaf socialists. That the Rebel was deliberately targeted is obvious enough. The thing that is truly fascinating is how utterly ill-prepared the NDP High Command was for the backlash. They basically handed Ezra a massive campaign on a silver plater. What were they expecting to happen? This is a man who makes his living fighting crusades over freedom of expression. Did they really think he’d refuse to pick up this particular gauntlet? That his tens of thousands of supporters would fail to back him as they’ve backed him so many times before?
With the Rebel the committed Right in Canada has at last found a perfect platform. No longer burdened by the tacit censorship and looming overhead costs of the legacy media, a genuinely new media has emerged to finish what’s left of the old. That may sound like hyperbole and perhaps it is. Yet there is a better than even chance that twenty years from now there will still be Ezra Levant ranting at full throttle, while his many critics and opponents have vanished into history.
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Some thoughts from Dave’s Insight on Alberta’s attempt to signal their new-found carbon virtues:
First, let me set the premise. When giving seminars on Tax and/or Profits, I like to ask the question. What is a word for a Company that does not pass all its expenses, including its taxes on to its customers? The answer of course is bankrupt. Maybe not immediately, but eventually. Something I always ask when dealing with businesses, non-profits and governments when they are talking about spending is: Where is the money going to come from? Well, where is the money going to come from?
The NDP government may claim that it will only be three or four hundred dollars per person, sorry, per family. But let’s cut to the chase. In almost the same breath they claim it will raise 3-4 billion dollars per year revenue for the provincial government. Possibly double that in a few years. So where is this coming from? At the end of the day, one way or another it has to come from our pockets. While at first you might think that we export so we can export the tax. However, our exports have to compete with all the other available sources of supply, so we cannot export the tax. If we could, we would still be charging over $100 per barrel for oil, but we cannot. That leads me back to: Where is this 3 to 4 Billion dollars per year (more later) to come from?
Well, there is really only one answer; it might be somewhat invisible, but we Albertan’s will have to pay it, and that my friend works out to about $1,000 per person per year, or $4,000 per family of four. And if it brings in $8 billion in a few years, that is over $8,000 per family of four per year. We will pay it in the form of higher transportation costs (both public and private); higher heating costs and to a lesser extend in the cost of everything we buy from groceries to toys. Of course some will pay more and some less, but to be clear, this will hurt the poorest the most.
H/T to Small Dead Animals for the link.
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… the other new strategic wrinkle was much worse in that regard: the announcement of a policy for a restored “federal minimum wage.”
Provinces set minimum wages for most employees under the Constitution, but Ottawa has an unused right to set a national minimum in private industries regulated under Part III of the Canada Labour Code. The major categories are banking, interprovincial and international transport, and broadcasting. You may be wondering how many people in these technically complicated lines of business are actually making the minimum wage. In the most recent survey of the federal labour jurisdiction (taken in 2008), the answer arrived at by Statistics Canada was: 416 people. In the entire country.
The New Democrats were pretty clearly counting on the press to foul up the story, and it obliged. Some Postmedia newspapers, for example, wrote headlines implying that the new wage floor was for “federal workers.” Economists, who mostly dislike minimum wages anyway, will probably tear into the NDP for a misleading measure that, to a close approximation, helps nobody. And it probably won’t matter much, as New Democrats go on repeating the words “federal minimum wage” for a year.
Colby Cosh, “How to ignore the NDP’s new talking points”, Maclean’s, 2014-09-18.
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In the Regina Leader-Post, Christine Whitaker talks about “life without fossil fuels” and what it might mean for Western Canada:
Author Naomi Klein and her supporters, promoting their Leap Manifesto (otherwise known as the “Tommunist Manifesto”), proudly assert that they now have 10,000 signatures to this document, most of which are “celebrities” and left-wing politicians, including, of course, David Suzuki.
This document starts from the premise that Canada is facing the deepest crisis in recent memory. The basic concept is that we must put an end to the use of fossil fuels; that we could live in a country powered only by renewable energy; that we could get 100 per cent of our electricity from renewable resources within the next two decades.
I wonder if these people realize that, to achieve this goal, there would need to be hundreds of thousands of wind turbines across the land. There would not be a single acre of rural Canada free of those monstrosities. Someone would also need to invent commercial airliners powered by clean energy, and there would no longer be any trucks to deliver food to the city stores. The whole manifesto is ridiculous.
So this is my counter-manifesto. It is equally silly, but I make no apologies. This is how Klein and company want our children and grandchildren to live.
Article 1: All persons who sign the Leap Manifesto, including Suzuki, should be immediately placed on an international no-fly list. They must never again be allowed to travel on planes powered by fossil fuels.
Article 2: All signatories will immediately have all their gasoline-powered vehicles confiscated.
Article 3: All public utilities (power, natural gas, water, telephone lines) will be disconnected from their homes.
As they say, read the whole thing.
In Maclean’s, Stephen Gordon looks at how the New Democratic Party is talking about their approach to corporate taxation during the current election campaign:
… the OECD says that the current combined (that is, federal plus state/provincial) corporate income tax rate in the US is 39 per cent. In Canada, it’s 26.3 per cent (the federal rate of 15 per cent plus an average provincial rate of 11.3 per cent.) Getting us up to something resembling the U.S. rate (in the absence of changes in provincial rates) would require increasing the federal rate to around 27 per cent.
The NDP has made use of several different reference points since then. For example, rolling back the cuts made under the Conservative government would bring the rate back up to 22 per cent. Increasing the federal rate to 19 per cent would bring us up to the average of the other G7 countries. The NDP’s target is apparently now down to 17 per cent or so.
As far as the prospects for Canadian economic growth go, this steady reduction is good news: corporate income taxes are the most harmful to economic growth. The growing recognition of the negative effects of corporate tax rates explains why Canada and other OECD countries have made it a point to reduce corporate income taxes over the past few decades […]
If you look at just the relationship between federal corporate income tax rates and federal income tax revenues, you get pretty much the same story. Even though federal corporate tax rates have fallen by more than half over the past 30 years, corporate income tax revenues have continued to fluctuate around two per cent of GDP.
There are at least two reasons why you might think that higher corporate tax rates might not result in higher corporate tax revenues:
- Higher corporate tax rates reduce the after-tax rate of return on investment. Everything else being equal, this reduces investment, capital accumulation and profits. Less profits means less corporate income to tax.
- Higher corporate taxes produce an incentive for multinational firms to shift taxable activities away from high-tax jurisdictions.
In the short and medium term, the second point is probably more important.
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Richard Anderson explains why it’s silly to blame Tom Mulcair for suppressing even minor deviations from the party’s main election message, which he calls the “iron fist in the orange velvet glove”:
What exactly did Bruce Hyer think he signed up for? He joined a political party not a social club. Perhaps he has no interest in sitting in cabinet but most of the NDP front bench does. That’s why they entered politics, it’s why they fight tooth and nail to win campaigns and why they elected Tom Mulcair leader, instead of an actual socialist. When you’ve joined a pack of jackals it’s a touch absurd to complain about the dining arrangements.
Politics is not about truth, justice or your particular understanding of the Canadian way. It’s about power. It has always been and always will be about power. Politics is answering the question of how the brute force of the state is to be imposed upon a country. Or to put it another way: What is to be done and who is to do it.
Behind the vapid speeches and focused group bromides all of it, down to the last Tweet and regulatory sub-clause, rests on the power of the gun. Politics is about deciding who controls the guns. In that stark light of day Mr Hyer doesn’t look like an idealist, instead he looks like a personality type quite common in the NDP: A fool on stilts.
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I missed when Colby Cosh started writing for the National Post a while back, and only just remembered to pick up the RSS feed for his column, so this one is nearly a month old (I’m hoping that the Post has given up on their goofy licensing idea for bloggers, which was why I stopped reading or linking to the paper when they introduced it):
Ever since May, when Alberta raised the orange flag of rebellion and keelhauled its Progressive Conservatives, we have heard much about the danger that Rachel Notley will turn out to be another Bob Rae. Every time I have heard this, I have asked myself a question: which Bob Rae?
I know they mean the callow young Rae who, as premier of Ontario, blew up the welfare rolls, fiddled with rent control and pay equity while the treasury hemorrhaged and struggled tumultuously against NAFTA. But what, I wondered, if Notley turned out to be more like Liberal-elder-statesman Bob Rae, who is often a more eloquent defender of markets than just about any Conservative politician one can name? (Fine: I’ll spot you Maxime Bernier.) The older he gets, the more explicit Rae becomes about his Damascene conversion to the primacy of economic competitiveness.
In May, Rae wrote a little-noticed article about Notley that was essentially a warning: don’t be me.
“Keeping spending on operations (health care and education in particular) in check has been the greatest challenge for social democratic governments around the world,” Rae wrote. “From the Labour government in the U.K. in the seventies, to the travails of François Hollande in France, the examples are legion. It ain’t easy.” The heavy sigh is almost audible.
“Government can’t defy gravity,” Rae added, taking what unreconstructed socialists would now call a “pro-austerity” position. “There’s a limit to what any government, of any stripe, can borrow, tax and spend.… The laws of economics are not exactly like the laws of physics, but reality has a way of rushing in.”
When it comes to Rachel Notley and the New Democratic Party, the truth is that Alberta, nauseated by the banana-republican habits of its PC caste, took a conscious gamble. Notley put forward an economic platform with a minimum of utopianism, and upheld the icons of relatively successful, fiscally austere prairie New Democrats: Roy Romanow, Gary Doer.
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In Maclean’s, Colby Cosh reflects on the sudden end to the Conservative era in Alberta:
…[i]t made me start to believe the impossible: that Alberta could really elect an NDP government, and snuff out the PCs like a cheap cigar. Even with plenty of local knowledge, it’s dangerous to model an election without some further model in your head of what your friends, neighbours and family — really, any people who don’t have non-negotiable partisan commitments — are thinking.
With the Alberta Progressive Conservatives in flames, their leader having fled not only his leadership but the Assembly seat to which he was just re-elected, there will now commence a certain amount of mythologizing of new NDP premier-designate Rachel Notley. It’s inevitable; it might even be wrong to resist it. She did what literally dozens of opposition politicians in Alberta before her could not. It’s a file of men and women stretching back through time — intelligent, sincere, often likeable people, Notley’s father among them, who spent careers trying to make holes in the great PC wall and never left a respectable dent. Even the coldest-hearted conservative crank must wish that the irresistible, gamine Pam Barrett could be here to see all this, or that Sheldon Chumir were on hand to make penetrating observations about the fate of his Liberals.
But even Notley might admit that the main difference between her and them is timing and good fortune; that this election was not really about her, or about any sudden mass affection for the NDP. By many, the New Democrats were adopted, temporarily or not, as a vehicle for retribution. The nearly unanimous sentiment of the Alberta voter on this night was: taken for granted for too long. Albertans were determined to send a message to pervasive, enduring power that had begun to resemble Philip K. Dick’s Black Iron Prison.
It’s been more than 25 years since I last visited Alberta, so I can’t even pretend to know what the average voter has been thinking over the last few months, but I can’t imagine that anyone on the political right was happy with the contrived collapse of the Wildrose Party. It showed that all the people who’d been working so hard to create a more conservative option to the Alberta PC party were either suckers or traitors. The budget the PC government brought in would have been offensive to many supporters even in less traditionally conservative provinces than Alberta (I don’t think Premier Wynne could have been re-elected in Ontario on the basis of a budget quite like that). In the wake of the Alison Redford era, the very last thing the PCs should have done is shown just that much contempt for the people who elected them.
Yet, they did.
And now they reap the just reward for their sins. And with the size of the majority they’ve handed the NDP under Premier-designate Rachel Notley, it’ll be at least five years for the conservatives to meditate on their sins … if they stick around to contest the next election, that is.
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The last provincial election in Alberta exposed the polling organizations’ flaws for all to see, and the self-destruction of the Wildrose party, followed almost immediately by the PC budget fiasco mean that nobody seems to have a clue what the voters will end up doing next week. Colby Cosh is right there with his finger on the political pulse, and even he’s not sure what to expect when the votes are counted:
Nobody trusts the polls. They are mostly being conducted by unfamiliar firms with no record of Alberta tea-leaf reading. But the signal that the New Democratic Party is close to a sweep in Edmonton is so strong that it cannot be ignored. Three different firms who polled the city on or about April 23 have the NDP at 56 per cent, 61 per cent and 54 per cent among decided voters.
There are many undecideds, and they may scooch toward the PCs. But … 54 per cent? 61 per cent? That is a lot of mileage to make up, even if the polls are badly out of whack. NDP Leader Rachel Notley was widely seen — right across the partisan spectrum — to have won the April 23 TV debate. Thomas Lukaszuk’s northwest Edmonton PC seat ought to be one of the safest in the city. When he endorsed the NDP’s corporate tax hike on April 21, contradicting his own party’s platform, it was a hint that internal Tory polls must look almost as bad as the published ones.
Notley will be the emerging star of the campaign even if she takes third place. During the TV debate she benefited from a tart exchange in which Premier Jim Prentice, trying to emphasize that Notley would raise provincial corporate tax rates by 20 per cent, quipped: “I know math is difficult.” He was trying to crack wise about the NDP making accounting mistakes in the original release of its budget plan. But the joke came off as “mansplaining,” which, for future readers, was a borderline capital crime in 2015.
Notley was also ready with a counter to Prentice’s actual debating point, insisting that the NDP’s fast correction of its error was an example of transparency and accountability. She also got off the best joke of the night: after Prentice mixed it up a little with Wildrose Leader Brian Jean, she told the premier: “That’s not the way to talk to a donor!” This was a cheeky reminder that Jean’s Fort McMurray-based company had donated $10,000 to Prentice’s 2014 leadership campaign.
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Paul Wells says the almost forgotten leader of Her Majesty’s loyal opposition in Parliament is doing his job, but illustrates it with a great example of how political rhetoric sometimes warps reality in favour of a more headline-worthy claim:
Here’s what he said: “After promising to protect all future increases to provincial transfers, Conservatives announced plans to cut $36 billion, starting in 2016,” Mulcair told the CMA. “This spring, Conservatives will announce, with great fanfare, that there is now a budget surplus. I’m here today to tell you that an NDP government would use any such surplus to, first and foremost, cancel those proposed cuts to health care.”
This needs parsing, but first, let’s let Mulcair finish: “Mr. Harper, it’s time to keep your word to protect Canadian health care. After giving Canada’s richest corporations $50 billion in tax breaks, don’t you dare take $36 billion out of health care to pay for them!” He said that part in English, then repeated it in French, which has become the way a Canadian politician delivers a line in italics.
Well. Let’s begin with the $36 billion. In December 2011, Jim Flaherty, then the federal finance minister, met his provincial colleagues to announce his plans for health transfers after a 10-year deal set by Paul Martin ran out in 2013-14. The 2004 Martin deal declared that cash transfers to the provinces for health care would increase by six per cent a year for 10 years. Harper simply kept implementing the Martin scheme after he became Prime Minister.
What Flaherty announced, without consulting with the provinces first, was that health transfers would keep growing at six per cent through 2016-17. Then, they would grow more slowly — how slowly would depend on the economy. The faster GDP grows, the faster transfers would grow. But, if the economy tanked, the rate of growth could fall as low as three per cent per year. Flaherty said this scheme would stay in place through 2023-24.
Add up all the shortfalls between three per cent and six per cent over seven years and you get a cumulative sum of $36 billion. Despite what Mulcair said, this isn’t a “cut,” it’s a deceleration in increases. And $36 billion is the gap’s maximum amount. If the economy shows any health, the gap will be smaller.
We could have fun complaining that Mulcair calls something a “cut” when it extends what is already the longest period of growth in federal transfer payments in Mulcair’s lifetime. But it’s more fun to take him at his word. He promises to spend as much as $6 billion a year in new tax money on health care. Mulcair couldn’t buy much influence over health policy with that money; he would simply send larger cheques to provincial governments. If he has other plans for the federal government, he’d have to pay for them after he’d sent that up-to $6-billion cheque to the provinces.
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