During the week of February 1, 2010, constituents in the federal riding of Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar received a pre-budget 2010 survey from Conservative MP Kelly Block
Titled Your views matter
the mail-out contains a healthy dose of hypocrisy and engages in what appears to be a form voter profiling to weed out non-supporters.
“The most important task of a Member of Parliament is to represent constituents, so it is important for me to know your views. I will be taking the results of this survey to the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance for consideration in the upcoming budget,” Block states in the preamble.
This is pretty rich coming from an MP whose sole purpose since being elected in October 2008 seems to be to inundate constituents with an endless stream of partisan flyers
paid for by taxpayers or read prepared statements at cheap photo-ops; and, who was completely silent when Prime Minister Stephen Harper robbed her constituents of a voice in the House of Commons when he shamefully decided to prorogue Parliament on December 30, 2009, to thwart an investigation by a House of Commons committee of the Afghan detainee affair.
The survey includes 13 simplistic, multiple-choice questions designed to appeal to conservative voters and drum up support for more tax cuts and possible spending cuts.
The survey begins on a disturbing note when Block asks respondents to identify whether they’re gun owners or churchgoers. How this information will help the prime minister and finance minister prepare the federal budget is a mystery.
The same applies to the next section of the survey where respondents are asked to pick their top priority from of a list of pre-determined topics, one of which is ‘Preserving Family Values (Moral Issues)’.
One explanation for including these hot button topics is that it could help Block and party strategists distinguish between conservatives and non-conservatives in the riding.
People filling out the survey are asked to provide their name, address, phone number and email address. Come election time voters suspected of being conservative friendly could very well be targeted for further contact.
In question #2, Block says that many people lost their jobs because of the recession. “What is the best way to help the employed,” she asks.
Respondents are given four options: Increase employment insurance, more training programs, neither, or don’t know. Not much to choose from. Then again, that’s not surprising since the Harper Conservatives have shown little interest in doing anything meaningful for the unemployed.
Shortly after Finance Minister Jim Flaherty tabled Budget 2009
in the House of Commons on January 27, 2009, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
(CCPA) issued a statement calling the government’s action on Employment Insurance (EI) the “biggest single failure of the budget.”
In its post-budget analysis
on January 30, 2009, the CCPA noted the following:
• Budget 2009 allocates over $2.6 billion in spending each year on additional EI and retraining programs in 2009 but does nothing to ease qualification restrictions.
• Most of the focus on unemployment is around retraining rather than income support. This includes $1 billion over 2 years through the EI program, another $500 million over 2 years for those who do not qualify for EI training, and another $200 million over 2 years for smattering of other programs.
• An extra five weeks of eligibility will be added to all claims, taking the maximum outside very high unemployment regions to 50 weeks. But only for the next two years, at a cost of just over $500 million per year (or one fifth the amount spent on personal income tax cuts).
• Nothing is done to equalize entry to the system across Canada
or to make more of the unemployed eligible for benefits.
• For the next two years, work-sharing agreements can run for another 14 weeks to a new maximum of 52 weeks. This may bring about a reduction in benefits.
• The duration for receiving benefits has been increased from 45 to 50 weeks, for a period of two years but there is no increase in benefit rates.
The cruel joke continued on September 16, 2009, when Human Resources and Skills Development Minister Diane Finley introduced Bill C-50
, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act, in the House of Commons. The bill gives laid-off “long-tenure” workers an extra five to 20 weeks of EI benefits, depending on their employment record. The change is retroactive to January 4, 2009, and is expected to affect about 190,000 unemployed people.
It took CCPA senior economist, Armine Yalnizyan, all of twenty-four hours to expose the shortcomings of the Harper government’s plan in an op-ed to the Ottawa Citizen
published September 23, 2009.
“Bill C-50 is a resounding bust for those whose benefits are due to run out just about now,” Yalnizyan said.
“No Canadian who was laid off before January 2009 will be helped by these measures. This despite the fact that the financial crisis hit in October 2008, and many Canadians in the forestry and manufacturing industries were laid off before that.
“Most Canadians won’t get anywhere near 20 weeks of extra help. They could get as little as two weeks extra help tacked on at the back end of the duration of benefits -- the amount of time that was proposed, a year ago, to be eliminated.
“To qualify for the full extension of benefits, Canadians must be employed and paying 30 per cent of the maximum annual contribution for 12 of the last 15 years.
“Even Canadians who have been steadily employed for a long time and not in need of EI for the past five or more years may not qualify for the maximum duration of help. If they worked part-time or casual hours (the plight of many Canadians who are just waiting for that opening in the full-time job department) they haven't paid enough into the kitty and will be ignored in this recession.
“Canadians working in sectors that have regular layoffs for purposes of retooling, maintenance, or inventory rebalancing are deemed responsible for their reliance on EI, and not worthy of additional help. There is a strange and cruel imbalance at play in Canada
today. The crime of being found guilty of unemployment comes with a hefty financial penalty -- and no help from the national unemployment insurance system -- but if you almost collapse the financial sector you get a government bailout.”
[New EI measures won't help most unemployed
, September 23, 2009)]
According to Statistics Canada the national unemployment rate
in January 2010 was 8.3%, 280,000 below the level of October 2008. With friends like Block and the Conservative Party the unemployed and working poor don’t need enemies.
In question #5 of her survey, Block asks, ‘Should Canada be investing more into clean energy technology?” Unfortunately, she doesn’t give any examples of what she means by clean energy technology.Chapter 3
of Budget 2009 shows that the Conservative Party’s primary focus in this area is on two things: carbon capture and storage (CCS) and nuclear. Both technologies require large amounts of energy and are prohibitively expensive, requiring taxpayers to pay to reduce the pollution created by industry. The budget does not mention pursuing green alternatives like solar or wind power. So when Block talks about clean energy she likely means CCS and nuclear.
In question #6 constituents are asked, ‘How should we reduce the debt after the economy recovers?’ The options presented are: Raise taxes, cut spending, or not sure.
The good thing here is that Block confirms what most economists have been saying, which is that the Harper government has only two choices. But it contradicts the prime minister who stubbornly insists that his plan better, and that the deficit (currently $56 billion) can be erased with restraint in Ottawa
, and without tax increases.
“The government’s approach will be clear. We won’t be raising taxes, but we will be constraining growth, making sure that growth is very much contained in the future, and that the tax base of the country can gradually recover,” Harper said in a year-end interview for CTV’s A Conversation with the Prime Minister
, taped on December 21, 2009, for a Boxing Day broadcast.
“And within four to five years, if we follow that path, we should be back to a balanced budget.”
Harper added: “The way to do it is to exercise sustained discipline, not engage in radical approaches of program cuts or tax increases, but simply to try and do it within a disciplined, constrained spending growth pattern.” [Harper’s stimulus exit plan: Get ready for five frugal years (Globe and Mail, December 21, 2009)
The prime minister’s comments are consistent with what he said in Calgary
in September 2009, during a radio interview with host David Rutherford: “We’re confident that if we restrain spending growth as we have laid out once the recession is over, without tax increases, in the next four to five years we should move back into surplus position.”
According to the Toronto Star
pressed Harper to say “categorically” he won’t raise taxes. This was the prime minister’s response:
“No, we’re not, well, let me say this. We will not – obviously this government has been lowering taxes. That’s one of our objectives in terms of being in a good long-term economic position. We’re going to have some of the lowest tax rates coming out of this recession of any country in the world. So if we can keep our long-term spending under control, we will have a very strong investment advantage position for that. Now, in terms of raising taxes, I will just say this, just to qualify, we have no – we are not going to raise taxes – this government is philosophically opposed to raising taxes.” [Leaders dance around debt and taxes (Toronto Star, September 7, 2009)
Should Harper’s plan fail – and with his government being philosophically opposed to raising taxes – that leaves only spending cuts, which takes us to question #10 of Block’s survey that asks, ‘Do you think the Federal Government should conduct a detailed review of all of its spending on social programs, Federal Grants, Federal Loans and Federal services provided to Canadians?’
Block doesn’t say why she’s asking the question or what the goal of such a review would be. It can only mean one thing – slashing costs (or in government-speak “finding efficiencies”).
With a staggering debt and a public worried about how to pay for it, Block still has the nerve to broach the subject of tax cuts. In questions #11 & 12 she asks, ‘How important is REDUCING taxes to you and/or your family?’ and ‘Do you think tax cuts should focus on: Families, Individuals [or] Businesses?’
Block doesn’t seem to have learned from past mistakes.
In an editorial published December 28, 2009, the Toronto Star
said “a big chunk” of the record high deficit can be attributed to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s “previous tax cuts, including the ill-advised reduction of the GST by two percentage points, at a cost of about $13 billion a year to the treasury.”
“Although he has been urged – by former deputy ministers of finance, among others – to reverse the GST cuts, Flaherty is having none of it. Indeed, he has vowed not to raise any taxes at all,” the Star
said. [Flaherty boxed in by own choices (Toronto Star, December 28, 2009)
It’s incredible that Block would appear to favour more reckless tax cuts while at the same time float the idea of cutting social programs and other federal services under the guise of a spending review.
The worst of the recession might be over but the worst of the Harper government is just around the corner.