Wednesday, December 31, 2008

On good governance

Robert Silver makes an excellent point about the distinction between "spending lots of money" and "progressive governance" which has sometimes been forgotten in discussions about stimulus spending. Fortunately, the problem is far from universal, and indeed some influential progressives south of the border have highlighted the need for Barack Obama's administration to emphasize good government principles as an essential element of its stimulus strategy.

But the distinction is even more important in Canada, where there's every reason to doubt that Harper's regime has the slightest interest in a similar focus on good government.

For now, it seems safe to figure that the Cons' budget will include an eleven-figure stimulus package. But it seems equally likely that the Cons' actual governing philosophy will stay effectively the same, rather than becoming any less focused on pork-barrelling or any more interested in good use of public money. And it surely can't be taken as a win if the opposition parties manage only to force Harper to funnel billions of dollars toward his own political interests without doing anything to help the broader economy.

As a result, a large part of the opposition message for the next month needs to emphasize that a shiny headline number isn't going to be seen as either a progressive policy, or a solution to anything.

Instead, in order to have any hope of winning back the confidence of the House, the Cons need to make a convincing case that any promised stimulus money will be put to the best uses possible, with a detailed description of how the money will be spent along with a discussion of alternatives. And equally importantly, they need to offer legislative safeguards which can't be undone by executive decree to make sure Canadians can test what returns they've seen on the stimulus - whether or not the result is flattering to Harper personally.

Now, it's possible that the Cons would indeed meet those terms - which would seem to me the absolute bare minimum to justify leaving them in power for a second longer than can be avoided. But if (as expected) the Cons try to pretend that a single large number on paper should force the opposition parties to claim progressive victory and leave, then the response has to be that Canadians have a right to better government than the Cons intend to provide.

(Edit: fixed typos & wording.)

No comments:

Post a Comment