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Nova Scotia's NDP government finally setting sail

With this first budget truly its own, the NDP government is finally setting sail in earnest after nearly a year of preparation, delays and mishaps. It's heading into very rough seas, but in one essential way this ship is better prepared than previous ones for the voyage.

It has to do with the crew. I don't know if I dare say outright that it's more motivated, but it's certainly less prone to mutiny. The budget has announced a 10 per cent cut in the civil service over the next four years and has scaled back public sector pensions -- and no angry demonstrations in front of the legislature! If it stays that way, this is a noteworthy political feat.

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Columnists

Charest's budget attack on Medicare

In its budget last week, the Charest government mounted an attack on the principle of universal access to healthcare: it wants to charges citizens for visits to hospitals. At the time they file income tax, someone with cancer, going for weekly treatments in Quebec would be dinged $25 for each visit. Over a 30-week period they would run up charges of $750, plus the annual fee.

The Canada Health Act embodies an idea. Healthcare should be available to all those who are sick and in need, not just to those who can pay for it.

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Columnists

Aggressive pipsqueak of the north

Stephen Harper seems to be trying to convince us that, behind our pleasant, peaceful exteriors, we are an aggressive, warrior-like people.

In an interview with Sports Illustrated last month, the Prime Minister argued that the characteristics of hockey -- tough and aggressive -- are key elements of the Canadian national psyche.

It was an odd comment. Yes, hockey is Canada's sport, but there's been a national clamouring recently to get rid of its most aggressive aspect -- shots to the head. The Olympic tournament -- less aggressive than NHL games - was apparently no less thrilling to Canadians.

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Ontario's $63.5 million childcare question

The Harper government's first-ever budget, tabled five years ago, unleashed a ticking time bomb that is set to explode on Ontario's childcare sector this year.

That budget cancelled the beginnings of a national childcare program, leaving Ontario $63.5 million short of keeping its subsidized spaces open to low-income working parents this year.

The feds kissed off the childcare program with a one-time funding envelope, which Ontario used to sustain subsidies. As the envelope ran out last year, the province even stepped in with $20 million to fill the gap. But Ontario was clear that it held the hope that the federal government would do the right thing and reinstate the funding.

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Columnists

Stephen Harper devines a rosy future

Wow. A federal budget and an Ontario Speech from the Throne in the same week. A veritable feast of political divination is being offered up in these parts. And both governments are no doubt hoping their yummy fortune-telling will stack the cards for an election win.

Somehow, though, I'm pretty sure most of us share a gut feeling that we're being fed a load of bull, though if it's a contest for who wins the Stupid Award, the answer is obvious.

Let's remember how well all our political leaders did in foreseeing the crash that dominated 2009. But Stephen Harper, of course, was the thickest when it came to barely noticing the global crisis even after it had occurred. He finally pinched himself awake to stimulus spending. And, oh right, it took a prorogue.

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Columnists

Debt deflation danger

Canada's Conservative government, that does not believe in government, has a plan to reduce public services. As announced in the budget it intends to cut public service jobs, and reduce the rate of increase in our already reduced public spending. The projected deficit (aka the all purpose excuse) of over $50 billion was invoked as the rationale.

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Columnists

Deficit hysteria: Poor suffer most in deficit wars

One of the few iconic tales of Canadian politics revolves around how Paul Martin, as Liberal finance minister in the 1990s, wrestled the deficit to the ground with his bare hands.

While there's some truth to it, the legend sidesteps an important question: was Martin's ruthless "hell-or-high-water" deficit-slashing really the only thing that would have worked? Could a defter touch have solved the deficit problem without laying waste to much of our social infrastructure in the process?

All this is worth raising now that we've entered into another era of deficit hysteria, with governments and the business community making deficit elimination their top priority and shunting aside almost every other goal.

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| March 5, 2010

A war-free economy is possible

Federal budgets are about priorities. The numbers in this week's budget will underscore the Harper government's prioritization of corporate profits and war. Canadian military spending is now the highest it has been since World War II. Canada is one of the top 15 military spenders in the world and the sixth largest of NATO's 28 member countries.

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| March 3, 2010
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