Landlord Canada

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The Paul Martin government has been out floating its budget balloon. Canadians are going to get new spending, funded by cuts, and new ways of operating. Public servants will not be hurt, unless of course, they fail to retool, and re-educate themselves.

A cabinet committee under Veterans Affairs minister, and former chief economist at the Royal Bank, John McCallum, has come up with a plan that Finance Minister Ralph Goodale will feature in his spring budget. The basic idea is that governments waste money because public servants are throwing away their time working on the wrong jobs. Instead they should be making money for us.

The big new thing is real estate. Public Works Canada is to become a profit centre renting out property aggressively, and seeking out more efficient ways of managing space. Expect public servants to be recycling themselves as real estate agents. The advertising campaign will bring us the new look — tartan blazers maybe — and prepare us for the good news to come.

How about a new government agency, say, Landlord Canada, ready to make a deal to save us all a buck? The rumour mill here in Ottawa has the government ready to roll out Services Canada, the one-stop shopping centre for people looking for something government has to offer: a passport, a pension, a parade or a pardon.

Wal-mart has it right after all, and what government has to do is emulate its formula. Use your size to buy low and sell widely.

Now it's true that governments have some advantages. For instance, Ottawa can borrow money for less than anyone else in the country. So, is the idea for Ottawa to borrow and invest in local communities so that local initiatives will have some support?

Well no, that is not the plan. No new borrowing; cuts instead.

Ottawa could decide to move an anchor tenant into smaller communities short of basic commercial services. Put up a post office, offer some space at low cost to a baker or a green grocer and watch the animation create new opportunities for the community. Even better, include not-for-profit activities in the new public facility, a theatre/art gallery, a hockey rink and a child care centre. Use the government financial clout to make life better for people. We should get nothing less.

However, Landlord Canada wants Wal-mart as a tenant, so it can get some of the action, even if the result is a low wage employer, a specialist in social dumping, getting the benefits, and Canadians paying the costs.

After provoking a strike of its employees, the government is readying itself to wield the ax. Goodbye public servants, welcome to real estate Disney.

The hot air for the trial balloon is certainly not what is missing. It's the ideas that are weak, and the vision that is lacking. Instead of pretending that Canada is a business with some 33 million investors in charge, how about trying another approach: improve the quality of life by investing today in what will benefit us tomorrow, and forever after.

Canadians do not expect their government to make a profit; they expect it to make a difference.

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