Christmas may have come and gone, but Canada’s unrepentant Scrooge is still hard at work. Joe Oliver, successor to the late Jim Flaherty, recently found himself in a(nother) feud with the provinces, this time over funding for infrastructure. Ebeneezer Oliver sneered at the Premiers’ united demand for strategic investments in infrastructure and called it a “massive deficit program.”
Prime Minister Harper neglected to attend the meeting in Ottawa, but he sent Joe Oliver in his stead. Although Ontario’s Kathleen Wynne invited Harper, his absence comes as no surprise; since his appointment, Stephen Harper has met with the premiers only once. Such behaviour is a poor example to set for Canadian children. After all, we expect our kids to own up to their commitments.
Oliver did not enjoy dealing with 13 angry PMs. Early in the day, he stated, “this is precisely the wrong time to launch a massive deficit program that would undermine investor confidence, erode our credit standing, weaken our ability to withstand further international shocks, add to our debt burden, reduce our ability to support social programs and burden our children with our expenditures.”
Let us review those arguments. According to government reports, every province has underfunded infrastructure for decades. Since the Feds have done what they can to decrease the transfer payments they give to the provinces, the Federal government shoulders a hefty part of the blame. We have needed to update our infrastructure long before now. Had we done so long before the recession, we wouldn’t have eroding roadways, falling bridges, ill-equipped hospitals, shoddy transportation links, decrepit schools, or run-down police and fire departments. We also wouldn’t have the sickening deficit in military infrastructure that made headlines when the Royal Canadian Air Force used museum pieces in their aircraft.
Perhaps Minister Oliver is of the opinion that having poor infrastructure won’t erode investor confidence. He must also believe that Canadian businesses can still rake in lots of money, even if our infrastructure can’t handle their needs. As if all those manufacturing jobs would up and move to Mexico and the US…oh wait, they did. Oliver’s comment about infrastructure stealing from social programs is similarly laughable. After all, by continuing to decrease the transfer payments to the provinces, the Conservative government is already doing a fine job of robbing funding from social programs across the country.
Infrastructure keeps Canadians’ standard of living high. It makes the economy and the people prosper. If your car doesn’t start, you get it fixed. If your iPhone breaks, you get a new one. Why does this logic fail when it comes to necessities all across the country?
The provincial and territorial premiers—various denominations of Liberal, Progressive Conservative, New Democrat, and others—have all agreed that infrastructure is important. This agreement is astounding in itself. Then again, considering infrastructure affects every single Canadian every day of their lives (unless one lives as a hermit in the woods—which Mr. Harper might do after the next election), it is important to all Canadians.
Premier Robert Ghiz of PEI pleaded for the federal government to reconsider opening their hearts (or, barring that, their pocket books): “We must have these discussions and we need to look at the fiscal situation not only of the federal government today, but in the future.” Ghiz looked to the future, commenting that, with the universal awareness of the need for spending in this area, it will be quite interesting to see what the federal parties will promise on those issues come the fall.