Harper’s fixes aren’t for the long term

TimesColonist.com – business
January 29, 2012.    By Iain Hunter, Times Colonist

Does anyone else find it odd that Stephen Harper should choose to go to a high town in Switzerland to deliver a speech from the Throne?

At least that’s the way the prime minister’s address to the other movers and shakers of the world at Davos seems to have been perceived by a good chunk of the Canada’s news media.

“Harper’s Grand Plan” proclaimed one front-page headline. Many others predicted “major changes” are ahead for a lot of us, bad ones for old-age pensioners, the sick, the halt and the lame, and good ones for those who seek to profit from Canada’s natural wealth.

Harper sometimes has to try hard to overcome his natural humility. It took a special effort from him to leave Parliament Hill (elevation 70 metres) to climb to Davos (1,560 metres) to deliver his sermon from a more appropriate mount.

It was clear his message was meant for home consumption. Other concerns of world leaders at Davos, such as the Euro rot, seemed hardly worth mentioning.

The founder of the World Economic Forum, Klaus Schwab, warned that today’s capitalism “no longer fits the world around us,” and pleaded for a return to “a global sense of social responsibility.”

Accordingly, Harper acknowledged that economic growth and jobs may not be every country’s “No. 1 policy priority.”

He wondered if developed nations have become complacent about their prosperity and so focus primarily on “services and entitlements.” He asked if there’s too much “willingness” to have standards and benefits beyond our ability and willingness to pay for them.

“I don’t know,” shrugged Canada’s prime minister, and moved on to what he really wanted to talk about.

It was about Canada and “the transformations necessary to sustain economic growth, job creation and prosperity.” It wasn’t about a global sense of social responsibility. It wasn’t about countries where there are more pressing priorities than economic growth and jobs.

It was a declaration by the leader of one of the richest countries in the world that today’s capitalism does so fit in parts of the world where it matters.

Some people have complained that Harper’s speech contained few clues about what he will do. But throne speeches are always padded with deliberate obfuscation and hyperbolic rubbish.

Harper has shown, most recently by inviting provincial governments to accept their constitutional responsibility for health-care delivery, that he’s prepared to rush in where others have feared to tread, while he has, still, a governing majority. It’s that knowledge that must scare the diapers off old folk and embolden the oil barons of the world.

Well, my cohort needn’t worry, I think. We won’t be required to work until we’re 80, or whatever age Harper deems suitable.

I don’t know, though, how many approaching the end of a hard-working life feel about being identified “as a threat to the social programs and services that Canada cherishes.”

Harper also says he wants to refine immigration laws to bring younger, active, educated people who know one of the languages and have job prospects to help launch us into a new era of prosperity.

That’s fine, but in bringing in new, eager and qualified workers, while forcing older folk to stay at their jobs longer, what’s that say to young Canadians who are having a hard time finding a job with meaning and a future?

I think I know. It’s quick. And Harper’s pretty good at quick fixes like cutting red tape, cutting off parliamentary debate and cutting corners.

He’s comfortable dealing with problems in the short term instead of tackling the more admittedly difficult causes of problems that might take a little longer and cost more to deal with. Filling jails with aboriginal youth does nothing for First Nations. Filling them with the mentally ill isn’t the way to make streets safe.

Efficiency and decisiveness are to be admired in government. But Canada is more than a network of pipelines and a repository of riches waiting to be taken.

It’s a community of people, many of whom, like those in less fortunate places, have more pressing priorities than economic prosperity and jobs.

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