Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Good Policy, Bad Timing

I suppose I want to believe, but simple logic prevents me. The Liberals are once again promising national child-care. Ignatieff's emphatic promise sounds convincing, but realities suggest otherwise. On top of the logistics, there is also the optics, which has led to another round of snickering from critics who've heard this tune before.

To put this issue into context, Ignatieff's pledge comes at the exact time many Quebecers are reviewing their own child-care program, in the face of a relatively smaller deficit. The simple fact of the matter, the federal deficit precludes any big ticket spending initiatives. If Liberals are truly serious about offering new and expensive initiatives, then they must address TAXES. You can't scold Gerard Kennedy, runaway from him as though leper, while simultaneously offering more spending. I'd argue that the notion of balanced budgets without taxes is increasingly unlikely, reaching the level of absurdity when you factor in another 5-6billion for child-care. Yes, yes, I know you can argue the money is augmented by economic benefit, but that's a tough sell from here.

Liberals need to make a choice. We can present ourselves as the party that will deal with the deficit, in a compassionate and prioritized way, or we can try to be everything to everybody(see Paul Martin). Arguing we are in a structural deficit, while arguing we will focus on jobs instead of dealing with it, while arguing that we will greatly increase spending, amounts to GOO- nobody will buy it, it makes no sense on the most basic level, it is ripe for ridicule.

The same kids we want to put in child-care are the ones that will be saddled with this debt, it will be their burden. If you look at the situation in this way, which is simple reality, it nullifies any moral justification. Why not just set up loans for kids so they can go to child-care, because it is essentially what you are doing anyways, when you spend money you don't have.

Having just put two kids through child-care, I can say the Conservative's "check" program amounts to basic nothingness, of so little help to be insulting. Ideally, I would love to have a better program, one that recognizes the needs of modern parents. However, even with my intimate understanding, given the current dire economic situation, I can't justify the need, RIGHT NOW, for a national program- it isn't feasible until we get our house in order.

Politically, the Liberals gain nothing from another child-care commitment, past experience means it won't move votes. If anything, going down this road AGAIN only invokes cyncism and a sense of pandering. Additionally, this proposal presented as our signature "social justice" policy, provokes all kinds of other questions, which we apparently don't want to answer or have no answer. We can pound the table all day long, our emotions might be sincere, but they will always be betrayed by the facts at hand.

Until we are prepared to deal with the TAX side of this equation, there is no room for big promises. It's that simple and my personal want doesn't preclude me from seeing the pure folly. Sorry. Dust off Gerard or stop talking.


JimBobby said...

Maybe if we quit throwing $1.3 million per day at propping up warlords, opium merchants and torturers, we'd have a little more for the good things. Or, maybe we could stop giving the tar sands $5 billion a year in tax breaks.

You're right about the timing, too. Especially, when this broken record of a promise gets made on Groundhog Day.

Jesse said...

The temptation to do this has to come from the fact that the press and public are probably going to ignore the fact that the Cons will refuse to come up with a real plan. They'll rant about tax increases, and in the end, they'll just pretend the books will balance themselves.

Unless the Liberals can expect that the press will destroy the Cons on this issue, without "playing fair" or getting distracted, and that people will credit them for having a realistic plan...

Steve V said...

Our argument against the Con "non plan" is undercut when we give them big ticket promises to attack. When we criticize them on the deficit, the obvious and effective retort- how will you balance the books, when you have additional 5-6 billion in commitments? We just won't look credible, and by extension we let the Cons off the deficit hook.

Jesse said...

But was the attack on their non-plan going to work if we came out with a responsible plan, including tax increases?

Steve V said...

We can play the delusional game to, but it becomes ridiculous if we also boost big spending initiatives. I think we need to consider a 5 year plan that floats the idea that we will re-examine the books in year 5 and consider all options. That way, you don't hobble the recovery, but you leave a glimmer of realism, that if we are still in structural deficit year 5, we may have to consider raising the GST. That's risky to, but it's also realistic. You don't commit to tax increase, you keep the recovery on track, but you allow for a reassessment when we have a better idea.

For arguments sake, let's say the Libs stick to this jobs first idea, deficit second. You might be able to pull it off, primarily because the Cons are equally in avoidance mode. However, once you start making big commitments, you have now separated yourself from the government, they look fiscally prudent in a relative way. I think this is a major gaffe, which will only embolden the Cons to attack our fiscal credibility.

KC said...

Good post Steve. Regardless of what you think of this policy this is horrible timing and makes the Liberals look less credible as an alternative to the Conservatives. I do wish our politicians would have the honesty to acknowledge that a degree of austerity is going to be necessary over the next few years if we don't want to find ourselves back in the mess we were back in 1993.

Koby said...

Two things: One of the biggest threat to the Canadian economy is private debt. It is now over 150% of income and growing at an astounding pace. Remember that it was private debt crisis in the US that kick startered this whole mess and led to a massive increase in public debt everywhere.

Providing some kind of daycare system helps address this very issue.

That said, the Liberals need to spell out exactly what their program would mean to parents everywhere. A promise to work out separate deals with each province left the public dumbfounded this last time out and it will do so again.

Their proposal needs to be specific and straight forward. They could promise, for example, to provide all day preschool and kindergarten for every 4 and 5 year old in Canada.

Of course, it will be said that the Liberals can not do this; education is under provincial control. It is and so is health care, but never stopped Pearson from introducing Medical Care Act.

As for how to pay for it, cutting military spending is great place to start. I, for one, am loath to have my tax dollars being spent on an Afghan mission that does not improve my bottom line at all and accomplishes nothing well all the while making it more likely that Canada is attacked by homegrown terrorists (see the Toronto 18 for example) or otherwise.

Mark Dowling said...

For me the first question in respect of this is - why is childcare a FEDERAL responsibility?

Blaming Ottawa for lack of childcare takes provinces off the hook they deserve to be on.

Woman at Mile 0 said...

I disagree. The provinces are doing it anyway whether the Fed govt likes it or not (e.g BC, Ontario-all day Kindergarten, 4 year olds, etc Quebec-child care).

Fact is since the Cons got in they do it with a lot less help from the Federal government than they used to get after the Cons cut all the funds. To fund what -we still don't know? It's all just black ink turned red.

Woman at Mile 0 said...

Besides if the Fed Liberal's were not inclined to move in this direction, the NDP would get my vote and my donation money.