Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Implications of Flaherty's Death

Flaherty passed away suddenly this week.  I did not like Jim Flaherty's politics - a follower of Mike Harris in the 1990s, and a minister to Harper since 2006, Flaherty has consistently subscribed to following political leaders that I fundamentally disagree with.

However, I'm not writing to speak ill of the dead - that's for another time and place when I can speak more clearly and fully on the subject.  Others have already done a far more succinct job of critiquing his time as Minister of Finance than I have time for.

Even his resignation from Cabinet and the House of Commons would not have erased his voice on parliament hill.  Flaherty had been part of the political landscape in Harper's Canada for too long to not remain influential even in private life.  However, with his death, a key voice in the Harper Government has been silenced forever, and that has significant implications for the trajectory of Harper's regime.

Philosophically, Flaherty and I wouldn't see eye to eye on much of anything.

However, that said, Flaherty may have been one of the few voices in Cabinet that Harper actually listened to.  While the budget legislation that the government has tabled repeatedly has grossly abused the notion of a budget implementation bill, Flaherty's budget speeches have told a story somewhat different than I would expect from someone of Harper's ideological stripe, and recent musings of disagreement over "income splitting" tax credits suggest that Flaherty may have had a somewhat different view on the matter than Harper.

In general, I have suspected for quite some time that on economic matters at least, Flaherty has been a moderating influence on a government with little to keep its worst instincts in check.  This government has now lost that moderator entirely.

Flaherty's replacement, Joe Oliver, seems to have been Harper's axeman in his war on environmental science - which suggests strongly that he is more of a puppet to Harper's predatory desires rather than a minister who advocates for his department(s) at the cabinet table.

At the moment, looking around the cabinet table, I see few who would dare challenge Harper even if they disagreed with him.  Jason Kenney certainly isn't likely to openly challenge Harper - he's spent far too much time and energy quietly building his position as future kingmaker when Harper steps down, and frankly if Harper is a vindictive authoritarian, Kenney is cut from the same cloth, with an added stripe of religious fundamentalism for good measure.  Nor do I expect much different from the other members of Harper's Cabinet.  A few are there "for show", and are seldom allowed to speak openly; and the rest repeat talking point scripts issued by the PMO on the rare occasions they are allowed near a microphone.  Not exactly a government front bench that seems likely to challenge Harper's most destructive instincts.

I don't expect the current budget bill to be pulled and amended, but I do expect that sometime in the future, perhaps around September, new legislation will be introduced which implements policies that Flaherty might have resisted more vigorously than others in cabinet.  The new legislation will be in response to a conveniently placed "economic update" which will show that the nation's finances aren't as "good as they thought", no doubt.  What will be in it is hard to say, but I imagine it will be destructive - with a "candy coating" wrapped around it to make it seem more palatable going into the expected 2015 election cycle.

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