Arguing with Conservative voters is one of my favorite past-times because so many of them know so many things that aren’t so. Foremost among them is the prime minister’s handling of the 2008 financial panic and the massive spending involved in “Canada’s Economic Action Plan.”
The 2009-10 spending spree was, per capita, larger than even Barack Obama’s stimulus plan, which many Harper supporters believed to be “Marxism,” although nowhere in it was the workers taking control of the means of production advocated or funded. That’s all well and good if you’re a proponent of the Keynesian school of economics, but Harper and his then-finance minister, Jim Flaherty, spent decades arguing in public that they weren’t.
One of the constant refrains that I hear from partisan Tories is that the prime minister, heading a minority government during the relevant period, was forced to spend greater sums of taxpayer money than even the “socialist” Obama. He had no choice, you see!
The history refutes that assertion.
On September 15, 2008, Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy, precipitating what many clever folks thought might very well be the End of the World. The New York Stock Exchange lost half its value in one day. Trillions of dollars just ... vanished. It was the 9/11 of money.
At a campaign rally that day, Harper declared that the fiasco “could be a great investment opportunity,” a fairly clear indication that he had no idea what was going on.
On November 27th, after the election, Flaherty delivered the Economic and Fiscal Statement, which basically declared that everything was fine, and, boy, we delivered some pretty great tax cuts, didn’t we? Buried in the speech was notice that the government intended to end the public subsidies for the parties.
That got the attention of the opposition parties, who started negotiating a coalition agreement to topple the Conservatives at the earliest confidence vote. Although the agreement imploded in mere days, Harper responded by shuttering Parliament and leaking that he was going to spend a fortune in public stimulus.
By the time the budget was introduced in March of 2009, Stephane Dion had been replaced as Liberal leader by Michael Ignatieff, who had been instrumental in destroying the coalition. It was a dead issue, and had been for months, annihilated by Liberal arrogance, Conservative fear-mongering and an exceptionally lazy media.
But Harper spent the money, anyway. Actually, he was gleefully spending it. Signs declaring “Canada’s Economic Action Plan” appeared in such numbers that reasonable people became fearful that they might be soon affixed to the foreheads of the citizenry. And for two full years, they kept appearing. I took a trip to rural Quebec in the spring of 2012, and you could ever find the infernal signs there. For miles around, there was nothing but fields, cows ... and “Canada’s Economic Action Plan” signs, albeit in French.
Even after the spending stopped, it didn’t. Television ads showing all of the awesome things that the great and glorious Stephen Harper built for you and me ran on television well into the fall of 2014; millions upon millions of public dollars of them. You’d never know that the Conservatives only came to power in the first place due to the attempts of the Liberals to stimulate the advertising industry with public money.
If the standard partisan defense is correct, and Harper was “forced” to spend all of that money – increasing the national debt by 50% in the process – he sure had a strange way of showing it. Being humiliated by three guys I had just throttled in an election probably isn’t the kind of thing I’d spend millions putting on TV. I certainly wouldn’t be bragging about it five years later as a means of building public support for my leadership.
Harper wanted to spend the money, and he hasn’t stopped bragging about it to this day.
I don’t know why that’s so hard for his most fevered supporters to accept.
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