Finally, it's crystal clear. When it comes to public spending, it's the public, not the spending, the Harper government is really out to control.
The budget that came down last week was a defining moment, though not the way anyone expected. Naturally, Conservative Canada widely assumed the new majority would be all about government austerity. That was a misconception.
There will be government jobs shed, of course, but the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and its ilk were quite disappointed, which was the best thing about this otherwise truly disturbing budget. Economists internationally are in near-consensus that drastically cutting government spending is the fast way to halt economic growth.
That old "c" approach that Flaherty and his friends unleashed on Ontario during the Harris days got ditched because the facts just don't support the acts. And for that reason, slashing wouldn't sell well across the pond in Davos, where the world's global corporate and political elite go to confer on the future of humanity.
It was no accident that Harper upstaged the budget by announcing his intention to raise the age for Old Age Security benefits from 65 to 67 over there first, in January, instead of here. It's all about priorities. Think how much Conservative political capital Harper was willing to spend to follow through on that "Davos promise" in this budget.
But it's worth it to Harper, because rolling back our population's sense of entitlement to government support in our older years gets gold stars from international finance and its credit rating agencies. This is the brand of Canada Harper is busy creating and selling to the world. But where does that leave those of us who live outside Alberta when it comes to Canada's economic and social future?
That was no federal budget last week. It was a Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms for Global Capital. I'm not just trash-talking. Flaherty was unapologetic about the fact that it was an open-arms embrace for the highly globalized resource sector and its deal brokers to come on in and get busy as fast as possible. He repeatedly invoked his cause: the $500 billion in investment over the next decade waiting impatiently to drill and deploy our natural landscapes.
Flaherty couldn't have made it any clearer. Nothing and no one is getting in the way of the bulldozers on his watch. Least of all the people. That's why so many of the budget cuts are aimed at institutions that research or foster citizen rights and information. Nothing will be allowed to impede Big Oil and mining.
Is the idea to become more like autocratic resource-rich Russia so we don't turn off Chinese-state power investors? History offers an amusing irony here, but not in a good way.
In Harper's dream Canada, regulatory hurdles to big capital investment get cleared away lickety-split. Charities are land-mined by new regulations to keep environmentally minded and other socially progressive donors away. So our once vibrant civil society that empowered citizens to evaluate the costs as well as the benefits of Harper's resource rush is starved and withers away under unprecedented government siege.
The Conservative plan calls for a docile public -- especially the distracted youth demographic that is facing all the environmental, health and safety risks while reaping few of the rewards -- that expects and asks little or nothing from government.
Hey, government spending is great! You can use it for oil and mining company incentives, venture capital funds and subsidizing private firms with the work of our best and brightest scientists. International development money can be used to wrangle up our finest overseas aid workers and force them to partner with mining companies to get funded. There's a happy face for the costly prison-expansionist crime bill, too, while penny-ante savings are achieved by slicing and dicing the CBC budget and axing the National Council on the Environment and the Economy, and the National Welfare Council.
What connects all the dots in this budget is not conservatism. It's the other two c-words that have been the hallmarks of Harper's prime ministership from the beginning. "Command" and "control." Now it is we the people who must fall into line.
It's clear what's going on. The only question is, what are we going to do about it?
Harper's recipe for control
1. Handcuff the critics
Crack down on charities' political action.
2. Stamp out eco controls
Limit environmental reviews.
3. Free the deniers
Ditch the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy.
4. End liberal claptrap
Cut the CBC by $115 mil over three years.
5. Delegitimize sharing
Chop 7 per cent from the foreign aid budget
This article was first published in NOW Magazine.