University of Toronto
3 min

No, we’re the party that listens!

We are now one week away before the kids are back in school – err, rather, Parliament resumes, with yet another Speech from the Throne, and then a budget. And it is this budget that has now become the full-time obsession of the pundit class in this country. Well, whenever they’re not still moistening their panties about the Obama inauguration.

But regarding the budget, there is a great show being made about the various consultations that are taking place from all across the country by both the government and the opposition. Not that I really expect anything to come of the government’s consultations at this point – with the budget eight days away, it’s done. It’s almost certainly off to the printers by this point, and if not, then they’re double-checking the math, and crossing a few “t”s and dotting a few lower-case “j”s, but the consultations by the government aren’t going to really make an impact.

This is largely what last week’s First Ministers Meeting was all about – so that Harper could put on a big show of listening to the premiers, so that when at least a few of them agreed with his position, he could use that as a cudgel when the budget debates happen.

The Liberals have been on their own cross-country “listening tour,” and I spoke to MP Scott Brison on Friday for an interview I was doing for another outlet. While the specifics of what he’s been hearing from across the country are reported elsewhere – and much has been translated into what Michael Ignatieff laid out in the media yesterday as for what the party expects to see in the budget – Brison did hammer one point home during the interview.

“The key is that Stephen Harper doesn’t listen, and Michael Ignatieff is listening to Canadians,” Brison said. “Stephen Harper always puts politics first, Michael is putting people first, and he’s not overly partisan. And as we travel throughout the country, Canadians are not used to political leaders listening, and the response has been tremendous, from Halifax to Surrey, we’re getting just a tremendous response.”

On CTV’s Question Period yesterday, Brison was pretty vocal about some of the things he’d been hearing – the problems the credit crunch is causing for small business, and that broad-based tax cuts could result in a permanent structural deficit because it means that fiscal capacity can’t be restored once the economy picks up speed again.

The NDP’s Thomas Mulcair, on the other hand, returned to his well-worn talking point about corporate tax cuts before he rolled out all the reasons Harper couldn’t be trusted. He did, however, add a new conspiracy theory to the "hidden agenda" collection, stating that the Conservatives’ plans to streamline the environmental assessment process to hasten infrastructure spending was part of a hidden agenda to destroy the environmental process in this country.

Having worked in an office that dealt with environmental assessments, I can say that it’s going to take a lot for the Conservatives to undermine the process. Part of the reason there are areas of differing jurisdiction between federal and provincial powers that these assessments trigger, and some are federal jurisdiction, others provincial. Add to that the fact that different provinces all have different standards for what constitutes environmental impact, as the federal government has their own standard, and it can be a trigger by any number of different departments, from Health, to Environment, to Fisheries and Oceans. It’s one reason why the process can be lengthy, as it requires a great deal of coordination between offices.

While Mulcair has the point that yes, we should beware, since the Conservatives traditionally have no love for the process, we should also realise that streamlining this process – or doing away with it entirely, as he seems to be suggesting – is not something that is likely to be able to happen without a great deal of wrangling from all sides. My personal red herring alert has gone off, so perhaps we should be paying attention to other things they’re conspicuously not mentioning.