A government that aspires to less

Another budget, another omnibus bill.  And, another debate shut down prematurely owing to another – record-setting – time allocation motion.  Yes, the government calls Bill C-60 the “blueprint of our mandate moving forward,” but they “felt that five days was more than enough time to debate this Bill.”

That may sound like plenty to some, but this Bill amends almost 50 pieces of legislation and even invents a new one.  Five days leaves us with about an hour’s worth of debate on each of these changes.  That’s not a lot of time to discuss amalgamating Foreign Affairs and the Canadian International Development Agency, putting Treasury Board at the bargaining table with Crown Corporations, reducing the number of foreign takeovers subject to review, and so on.

Who would have imagined that these so-called champions of transparency and accountability – these parliamentary reformers – would ever justify such a limited level of scrutiny for parliamentarians, or that they would privilege what they feel is appropriate over the traditions and institutions of Canadian government and governing. It is most certainly a form of tyranny.

But this isn’t just an issue of principle, process or even of the details of the bill. It’s about a government that deliberately sets its sights below the potential of Canada and its citizens. Never mind reach exceeding grasp and all that sort of stuff – this is a government that aspires to achieve less than what’s possible.

This is the recurring narrative of the Parliamentary Budget Office’s ‘Economic and Fiscal Outlook’. The PBO estimates that over the next four years, “the net impact of Economic Action Plan 2013 measures and revisions to spending levels on real GDP and employment is contractionary,” that it will “push the economy further away from its potential GDP and delay the economic recovery.”

This is a perplexing response to an economic context in which 1.4 million Canadians are out of work, 240,000 more young people are unemployed than before the recession, the number of working poor and income polarization is on the rise, 50 per cent of jobs in our city are precarious and the trade deficit stands at $67 billion and is set to worsen.

This, I believe, is worth fulsome discussion in the House of Commons.  And answers are owed!

None are forthcoming, of course, so we do as Jack advised – proposition not just opposition.

So, on May 10, Tom Mulcair will have been to the Economic Club to unveil a different kind of action plan – an urban action plan that’s responsive to the economic circumstances of the country and understands that cities are the engines of economic growth in a modern economy.

As this edition rolls off the presses the following week, I will be accompanying Tom through Toronto on a two-day economic tour.  We’ll be visiting with green industries in the East End and West End and high-tech, creative digital media, biomedical and cultural clusters downtown and on the waterfront.  We’ll also be meeting with the representatives of the post-secondary institutions – college and university – that work with and, in certain circumstances, incubate these enterprises.

The purpose of this economic tour – the first of a number of themed tours over the summer – is to listen and learn about the role of the federal government in undoing that which constrains – or providing that which facilitates – the growth of innovative, creative enterprises so that the economies of Canadian cities can flourish.

Who would have guessed that those of us who occupy the House of Commons would have to reassure Canadians that we do indeed aspire to the full potential of Canada? At least some of us can and do.  The guys on the government benches, as long as they remain there, need to explain why they aim for less – why they aim so low.

Matthew Kellway
Beaches/East York

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