Friday, January 18, 2008

Another Take on the Bailout

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I saw versions of Mr. Steeves letter regarding Harper's billion dollar bailout (enticement) in both the
Telegraph Journal (Jan. 16) and the Times & Transcript (Jan. 17). I asked for his permission to post it on the blog and he sent me the original version which appears below with links.

To the editor:

Given the way Stephen Harper's billion dollar 'bail-out' for the forestry industry plays, I think I would prefer Gilles Duceppe as Prime Minister of Canada. At least, with Duceppe, everyone would know that he represents his own province's interests first. And Canada's second.

And I'm almost as angry with Shawn Graham and a variety of opposition federal Members of Parliament who are now pondering over whether to accept a bad deal (with a few bucks upfront) or to face really tough times (without the few bucks).

The Harper billion should be rejected. For a variety of reasons. Most of all, because it's as bad a deal for Canada and New Brunswick as anything that Brian Mulroney and Karlheinz Scheiber may (or may not) have dreamed up.

Unless I misunderstand the concept, the billion is supposed to alleviate the social and economic problems faced by 'one-industry' towns (especially forestry towns) faced with mill and plant closures. As such, I would think that resource communities in forestry-dependent provinces such as New Brunswick, Quebec, northern Ontario and British Columbia would be targeted for special attention. Instead, the deal rates the provinces on a 'by population basis. The Harper billion will be divided among the provinces by a 'per capita' formula.

Which means, among other things, that Alberta will get about three times as much money as New Brunswick. And almost as much as British Columbia.

Asked about this, Harper correctly pointed out that Alberta does have a forestry industry that is hurting. He failed to point out that Alberta's forestry centres such as Grande Prairie are not 'one-industry' burgs: they also have thriving economies reliant on both agriculture and oil and gas.

The Prime Minister also accurately noted that Alberta deserves money because it is becoming the front-line in the battle to stop the very real threat of the mountain lodgepine beetle. He failed to also note that, when (and if) Ottawa decides to kick in money for the battle
against the beetle, few Canadians would object if that money is spent where it belongs. In Alberta!

Which brings me to my main point. If this billion is supposed to help Canadians in need, it should be directed at the people who need it. The people of Dalhousie and Miramichi. Or Dryden and Fort Frances, Ontario. Or LaTuque, Quebec, and Port Alberni, British Columbia.

In other words, this federal money should be targeted at a specific problem It should not be handed over, with basically no strings attached, to provincial governments that 'can' (I am not saying will) spend it any bloody way they want.

Of course, my concerns are based on the premise that Harper is trying to help people in need. If that's his plan, it won't work.

If, in fact, his program is designed to encourage regional rivalries in a fractious nation while at the same time weakening federalism, I think he's bang-on.

I have my own theories. I've read his Montreal speech (
and his Alberta ''firewall' letter ( ).

As I said, I think I would prefer Gilles Duceppe as Prime Minister. I wouldn't agree with him. But I don't think he would pretend that he had suddenly stopped being a separatist.

John Steeves

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