Battle over stimulus money could force an election

Friday, February 27, 2009 Canada. The Globe and Mail reports:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is demanding MPs let his government bypass normal approval processes for $3-billion of stimulus spending, saying it's imperative to rush aid as the economy falters, and warning he's willing to head to another election should opposition parties block it.

The Tories are proposing the fund's cash be spent over 90 days between April 1 and June 30 and want to take shortcuts in allocating it – although they promise to report back afterward on its disbursement. Under normal procedures, money wouldn't have started flowing until June.

Liberal Finance critic John McCallum called the fund a “blank cheque” and his NDP counterpart Thomas Mulcair likened it to a “slush fund” – a charge that made Mr. Harper bristle yesterday while talking to reporters in Vancouver.

The Prime Minister said opposition MPs have “a job to do” now and that's to approve the funds, especially because they urged the Tories to move quickly on stimulus.

That last part is why the Prime Minister is so confident in saying that he's willing to go to an election again over this issue, because last December 1st opposition parties (Liberals, Bloc Quebecois, NDP) formed a coalition in order to supplant the government and make then-leader Stephane Dion the next prime minister...but the reason given for the coalition was:

It includes a "policy accord" to address the "present economic crisis," which states that the accord "is built on a foundation of fiscal responsibility."

An economic stimulus package will be the new government's top priority, while other policies include a commitment to improve child benefits and childcare "as finances permit."

Indeed, the official name of the accord launching the coalition was "An Accord on a Cooperative Government to Address the Present Economic Crisis". Their second document (here, pdf) stressed the need for a stimulus package now, that the Canadian economy couldn't wait and that it needed to be done as soon as possible. The document said:

Economic Stimulus Package

The top priority of the new Government is an economic stimulus package
designed to boost the domestic economy beginning with...


Rapid Support for those affected by the Economic Crisis

The new Government is committed to ensuring that the federal government has the appropriate programs in place to assist those most affected by the economic crisis so that all citizens will be in a position to fully participate in the economic recovery to follow, including the following measures...

and on top of that, the Liberal Party voted with the current budget (with a bit of a limp-wristed warning to withdraw support if they choose later on), so if all of a sudden the opposition decided to vote against this rapid release of stimulus money they would be put on the uncomfortable footing of explaining why:

1) (Liberals and NDP): they were so adamant about getting stimulus money out right now last year but all of a sudden aren't a fan, and

2) (Liberals only) in addition to this, why they voted for the budget and then all of a sudden have decided to oppose getting the money out quickly.

The only defence against this would be that the Conservative Party's priorities are wrong and that they're doling out the money in the wrong way, but that isn't really a platform you can run on in an election -- "Yes we voted for the budget and where the money was to be allotted but we think it's worth going to an election because we don't think they're distributing it as well as we could" <-- a pretty blah platform to run on considering that elections cost quite a bit of money in the first place.

One way they could win, though, is if Canadians are just sick of the current situation and viscerally decide that Ignatieff is the person to bring about change. I suppose an election could be won on a kind of ephemeral "this just isn't working, elect us and you'll get something different and awesome"-type platform. It would have to be done just right though to avoid backlash.


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