Of leaders past and well past

October 29th, 2008
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If having the other guy be the news is a good thing then the Conservative government should be grateful over the last couple of weeks. Not only have the foibles of Stephane Dion generated a lot of spilt ink, but so has the self-righteous visage of Paul Martin plus the prospective Great Left Hopes™.

It will please at least one of our central Canadian readers that I read Rick Salutin again! From a momentary scan I could tell he was going to engage in some piling on of M. Dion. So I couldn’t resist. It was an above-average exemplar within the crowded genre over the last 10 days. Have a look at Salutin.

Added to the mix is the launch of Paul Martin’s memoirs which, CTV tells us, he has turned into a “partisan barn-burner”. Big surprise.

Mr. K. could never get past the to-him bizarre change in Martin’s face following his dental improvements some years back, which did roll back the years somewhat, but at the expense of an overbite that sometimes gives Martin a striving or slightly anxious look – which complements his standard verbiage involving his 600-odd “very, very, very important priorities”.

Despite the obvious question why Mr. Martin should be lecturing anyone on anything, he seems to be determined to do it. On the theme we raised last week – the Blue Liberal myth – he has a lot to say. Reports indicate he referred to the $12-billion surplus the Liberals “left to the Canadian people” when he left office – as if it was some great gift he conceived, nurtured and bestowed. Spoken like a true statist – in fact the surplus is exactly and nothing more than money looted from the pockets of Canadians and not returned in tax cuts. Now, according to Mr. Martin, the surplus has been “virtually gutted”. This is eerily similar to M. Dion’s remark about the “lost” $34 billion. As we suggested of the Liberals before, “blue” or “red”, same in the head.

Mr. Martin’s wording also betrays a faulty understanding of basic accounting. You can’t “gut” a surplus several years after the budget in which it was generated. A budgetary surplus exists exactly once, and then it’s gone. It’s not the same as an accumulated government debt or a company’s “retained earnings”; it’s simply the comparison of the amount of money raised in one year versus the amount of money spent that same year. You don’t “add to” or “subtract from” or “gut” a surplus year-over-year. Each year’s budget ends up with its own balance, whether positive, neutral or negative. What Mr. Martin meant was that Mr. Harper had failed to sufficiently overtax Canadians to keep on hauling in far more money each year than he was spending, i.e., to generate recurring surpluses of the magnitude Mr. Martin deemed just right. Some crime.

Similarly, Mr. Martin apparently “pined for the days when government played an activist role, rather than a laissez-faire one, in social and economic development.” Again, more nostalgia for taxpayer-funded public sector boondoggles. And as Mr. K. would note, misplaced, given that a government that hands out cash for buying particular vehicles and bans the incandescent light bulb, one of civilization’s greatest advancements, can be described with many terms but not “laissez-faire”. Translate the term: “let-do”. So, let us keep using the light bulbs we like.

The book reportedly also “berates the federal Tories for holding a ‘pinched vision of Canada’ and accuses them of trying to ‘turn the clock back on the achievements of previous governments’.” Well, no. As we know, the Liberals have such a broad, “un-pinched” view of Canada that they’ve alienated 73 percent of voters and all but a couple of regions, chiefly Metro Toronto, portions of Atlantic Canada and portions of Montreal. On the latter point I think it would be more a question of turning the page on the Liberals’ “usual operation”, as Jean Chretien so delicately put it.

One cannot fault someone for taking pride in his achievements, even if as in Mr. Martin’s case his deficit-slaying was done largely on the backs of the provinces and by cranking up revenues. The real challenge facing the Liberals is more like that summarized in this Norman Spector article. And uniting the Left doesn’t really leave a lot of room for Blue Liberals – assuming there is such a thing.

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By John Weissenberger