Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A not-so-hidden agenda

The Globe and Mail discusses Industry Minister Maxime Bernier's anti-government views:
(S)ince being named to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's cabinet in February, the rookie 43-year-old MP from Quebec's rural Beauce riding has demonstrated a stern resolve to get government out of the way of business. It is a perhaps an unusual stance for an industry minister.

The holder of that post is commonly seen as the champion of government programs aimed at helping Canadian companies compete with global titans and foster innovation at home. That mindset is at the heart of Technology Partnerships Canada, the $300-million-a-year Liberal loan program that helped Bombardier Inc. become a world leader in regional jets and countless biotechnology and software companies develop new products.

Mr. Bernier is now considering abolishing TPC altogether, a prospect that is sure to bring catcalls from members of the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada when the minister addresses their annual meeting today. In the same vein, the new minister is largely unmoved by calls from the Ontario government to buttress with federal money its $500-million Automotive Investment Strategy. The fund has been a key factor in attracting $7-billion in new auto investment to Ontario...

Mr. Bernier, a devoted runner who often trains with Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day, joined the board of the Montreal Economic Institute shortly after the right-wing think tank was created in 1999, later working at the institute on a full-time basis as executive vice-president. He penned studies arguing for a flat income tax rate for all income earners (he even wrote a book on the matter in 2003) and pushed for more private sector involvement in Canada's health care sector.

“It's part of the process of politics that there are things that maybe in an abstract world you might want to push but political realities are such that you can't make them happen for now. Maxime understands that,” said MEI founder Michel Kelly-Gagnon, now head of Quebec's main business lobby group, le Conseil du patronat.
It remains to be seen just how far Bernier will try to push in the current minority Parliament, as even with the Cons' tenuous hold on power he seems eager to encourage selloffs in the telecommunications sector. But in the longer term, Canadians should take note of PMS' decision to hand a major cabinet portfolio to somebody who's just waiting for an opportunity to push toward nominal flat taxes and hand health care over to the private sector. And Bernier's willingness to try to push dangerous reforms even in a minority situation should serve as a stark warning of what may lie ahead if the Cons aren't removed from power soon.

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