Thursday, February 17, 2005

Promises, Promises

Promise them anything and hope they forget, especially if there's a vote attached. That has been the Liberal credo in federal politics since at least 1993. The problem with that strategy is that, sooner or later, people start remembering the promises that were made and expect that they might be kept.

In the past, the promises that have been kept are the ones that should have been broken. The prime example of that was Jean Chretien's petulant 600 million dollar cancellation of the EH-101 and the subsequent decade of political meddling to preserve a legacy that was tattered anyway.

The Shawinigan strangler is gone now, but he has been replaced by someone just as puzzling and enigmatic. Paul Martin has carried on the practice of buying votes with money or promises, but the promises are coming home to roost.

The Premiers of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia have much better memories than the Prime Minister had counted on. A fair settlement with those two provinces was justified, but the whole affair was so clumsily handled by the master ditherer that some of those other pesky provinces took notice. Now, Ontario, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick are banging on the door with their hands out. How much will that cost us?

The most feel good and ill-advised political promise of all is the Kyoto agreement. The clock has ticked and the time is up and where is our plan? This is another promise that should never have been made in the first place. It is projected to cost us an initial 3.9 Billion dollars, to absolutely no real effect. To mask his failure to plan, the Prime Minister has now grandly announced that he'll host a conference in Montreal to make more promises that shouldn't be made and can't be kept. How much will that cost us?

Paul Martin promised to fix the democratic deficit and has only deepened it. Paul Martin (and Anne McLellan) promised to protect the traditional definition of the word "marriage". Damn that guy Hansard for helping us remember. Paul Martin promised to get to the bottom of the corruption under investigation by Justice Gomery. Then, he continues to plead ignorance under oath, even though he was the Finance Minister, Vice Chair of Treasury Board (he attended only 17 out of 222 meetings) and Chief Cabinet Minister for Quebec. That, after applauding the arrogant spectacle of Jean Chretien toying with his golf balls in public. Now, the Auditor General identifies the billions of dollars that have been stashed away in foundations, doubtless to pay for future promises, above or below the table. How much will that cost us?

To satisfy the socialists who think that the State is a much better parent than parents, Paul Martin promised universal daycare and will deny parents real choice. One of the few good things the Liberals had done with promises, to this point, was to break the similar daycare promise that was made in 1993. The dollar promise is large and the plan is short-term and, quite probably, unsustainable. How much will that cost us?

The Liberals promised to take guns out of the hands of people who shouldn't have them. All they have done is to criminalize thousands of honest Canadians with zero impact on real criminal firearms activity, and at the cost of billions of dollars and counting. How much will that cost us?

Paul Martin promised to fix healthcare for a generation. A generation is currently considered to be 32 years, and he has promised about 15 billion dollars over five years, which will only delay the hard decisions and honest planning required to truly preserve healthcare in Canada. How much will that cost us?

My real concern is the promises that Paul Martin has made to the military and our allies and which have never been kept, despite smoke and mirrors statements to the contrary. During the last federal election, an embattled Prime Minister knee-jerked a promise to increase regular force strength by 5,000 and reserve forces by 3,000. What was missing, as usual, was any plan and any funding and any appreciation that this would be a multi-year project, even if properly planned and funded.

The budget is around the corner and there are pressures from many quarters for the Prime Minister to keep his promises. One promise that must be kept is the beginning of the rescue of the Canadian Forces. The rumours are that DND will get an additional $750 million. If that is a one-time sop to the demands of national and international responsibility, it will do little more than put a small Band-Aid over a sucking chest wound. If it's a permanent addition to the base budget of the CF, it's a start, but only a start. The recovery of the CF will realistically take at least twenty years of disciplined execution of a well thought out plan that is properly funded; meaning year-over-year permanent increases in the defence budget.

Which promises will be kept and which will be broken? If there's a vote attached, the chances are much better that the promise will be kept. Since feel good fuzziness tends to buy more votes than supporting real world responsibilities, I don't expect that the Liberal Promises for Votes Program will change much. All that's missing is United Nations oversight of the program, since that seemed to work so well in Saddam Hussein's Oil for Food Program.


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