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January 26, 2009

Stephen Harper flip flops on economy

CANADA - Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has ditched his conservative principles and is pushing a Liberal-laden budget in an effort to keep his minority government in power.

The new Conservative budget, to be announced tomorrow will be including Liberal measures such as $2 billion to help train unemployed Canadians and $7 billion for Canadian infrastructure and public works projects.

  • $4 billion Infrastructure Stimulus Fund to help provincial, territorial and municipal governments push ahead with projects like roads, bridges and water and sewage treatment plants.
  • $2 billion to accelerate repairs and construction at colleges and universities.
  • $1 billion so-called green infrastructure fund.
  • $1.5 billion for job training for laid-off workers who are eligible to collect employment insurance as well as those who cannot access EI funds under current rules.
  • $500 million will be earmarked to help retrain laid-off workers who have job experience but are too young to retire.

    Stephen Harper also backpedaled on Senate reform and Senate elections and is spending $34 billion in tax payer dollars in an effort to stay in power and boost the economy.

    Conservative backbenchers and supporters see this as ignoring the party's funding base in Alberta which wants to see less government, not more. The $34 billion deficit is also an issue as Harper promised just months ago there would be no deficit.

    "We will not be running a deficit. We will keep our spending within our means. It is that simple. The alternative is not a plan. It is just the consequence of complete panic, and this government will not panic at a time of uncertainty," Harper told a Toronto audience on October 7th 2008.

    But that was before Harper was nearly overthrown by a coalition government and had to prorogue parliament just to stay in power. Harper's efforts now are acts of a desperate cowardly man clinging to power.

    Harper claims he is just trying to be pragmatic, but conservative critics accuse him of losing his way and sacrificing his principles.

    "Absolutely he has abandoned his principles ... I don't even recognize this person who is the Prime Minister of Canada," said Gerry Nicholls, who worked with Harper at the National Citizens Coalition.

    Harper is a one-time head of the coalition, a non-partisan organization for the "defence and promotion of free enterprise, free speech" and accountable government. "He was a principled small-c conservative who believed that ... conservative politicians should stick by their principles," Nicholls said. "I think he began to care more about public-opinion polls than his principles."

    Harper's flip flops include:

  • The Senate. He was adamant he would not resort to the old politics of stacking the upper chamber with party cronies. But faced with the possible defeat of his minority government, Harper moved fast before Christmas to fill 18 vacancies with loyal Conservatives, many failed candidates or with party ties.

  • Fixed election date. In May 2006, Harper proposed fixed election date legislation that would set the next election date in October 2009, to stop political leaders from "trying to manipulate the calendar." Instead, Harper called an election last September, saying that Parliament had reached an "impasse." But he was also hoping to capitalize on his own promising poll numbers and a weak official Opposition before the economy worsened.

  • Supreme Court appointments. In December, Harper appointed Thomas Cromwell of the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal to the Supreme Court, bypassing a parliamentary hearing process he championed to more openly scrutinize nominees.

  • Government appointments. The Prime Minister had promised to implement a public appointments commission to eliminate cronyism in such appointments. It was to be part of the government's much-vaunted Accountability Act. It never happened and, since winning its first minority government in January 2006, the Tory government has made some 1,500 appointments, many based on political pedigree.

    Tom Flanagan, a former Harper campaign organizer/Conservative strategist, said Harper has transformed into a political survivor on his last legs. Harper has "lost the initiative by provoking the other parties into this potential coalition against him ... and now he finds himself having to put together a budget which is really a coalition budget ... the government's hand is fairly weak right now," says Flanagan, author of the book "Harper's Team: Behind the Scenes in the Conservative Rise to Power".

    There's the also the matter of United States President Barack Obama. With so much hope and change in the USA... its not surprising Canada wants to follow suit. Harper is under enormous pressure both in Canada and from the new Obama Administration to back economic stimulus even when he doesn't want to.
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