Sunday, July 13, 2008

The make-work province

As London Mayor Anne Marie DeCicco-Best would have it, "the sniping between the federal and provincial governments over taxation policy has been an obstacle" to fixing the economic downturn in Ontario that has seen unemployment rise from 6.4 to 6.7 per cent between May and June. "'They could do one thing that would a make a huge difference and that's stop fighting.'"

For a senior politician who has made a career associating almost entirely among government actors at the political and bureaucratic levels, this fractiousness may assume a degree of significance or distress that exceeds the importance of taxation policy itself. For those of us on the ground trying to make a living, however, it is exactly the taxation policy itself that matters, and not the political grandstanding that accompanies it. Sniping by itself would be neither here nor there to the deleterious impacts of the Ontario government's tax-and-spend programs except that provincial Liberal vanity will only perpetuate them to spite the arrows of criticism.

DeCicco-Best might be grateful at least that taxation policy under her own administration is not up for scrutiny after London's unemployment rate was reported to have jumped from 7.2 to 7.4 per cent over the same period. But even if the debate on taxation policy has not really surfaced in her own jurisdiction yet, its existence elsewhere will always pose the potential for a problem for DeCicco-Best, which is why economic difficulties must be presented — defended, as it were — as the results of far-off personality conflicts rather than as the consequences of particular unmediated political programs, such as those of a majority government or of a city council.

On the other hand, the relative intransigence of the national government over appeals to extend subsidies to Ontario's manufacturing sector would seem to be a very real dilemma for a politician like DeCicco-Best whose difficulties in appearing to preside over a competent economy are compounded when unassessed external handouts fail to materialize in sufficient volume to sustain the free-spending lifestyles of Ontario cities. Of a free-spending provincial government presiding over an economy in similar decline, there can be no doubt of its sympathy to the need to dissemble at someone else's expense. Nor is it any coincidence that, having both governed on the principle of subsidizing profitless activities, both have already over-extended themselves in funding a bloated network of make-work obligations to much expand their mutually agreeable solution of cross-jurisdictional welfare benefits.

That sniping could be regarded as a cause of inaction on the extension of this front would be risible to anyone but those like DeCicco-Best and the Ontario Liberals whose careers have been built for and by the guidance of emotional responses. When success is bred entirely from emotional appeals, failure can only be explained either by resistance to them or by a contrary emotion. This is why politicians and the media in Ontario have played up the conflict over subsidization as much as they have, coming as it must at the expense of considering policy that would no longer support the sizable array of bought-and-paid-for constituencies that have drained the province's economy.