Budget season is just about over, and the earth really didn’t move very much in Canada. Saskatchewan is the only province with a balanced budget, but Brad Wall and company made life miserable for quite a few people, for reasons that just don’t yet make sense.
In Ottawa, Jim Flaherty and Stephen Harper promised that ‘the times they were a-changing’, but what they delivered on budget day was pretty much the same old song. I visited recently with a couple of people who used to be part of Harper’s main constituency of solid support. They believe in smaller government, lower taxes, and reducing public debt. Jim Flaherty is touting his budget as a longterm plan. If we are to believe his projections, at the end of that five year outlook, the public sector sector in Ottawa will still be considerably larger than it was when the Conservatives were first elected with a minority six years ago. Those two people I mentioned startled me. They said a better result last May would have been a Liberal victory.
You know something is amiss when the most innovative measure in the budget is the end of the penny. It costs the Royal Canadian mint about a cent and a half to produce a penny, and most of them wind up gathering dust in jars in the closet. The annual saving is estimated at 11 million dollars, but hopefully they won’t stop there. More annoying than pennies are dimes. They’re smaller and lighter, and therefore they hide more easily in your pants pocket when you’re trying to do laundry.
Ironically, the man who has been the biggest champion of cutting down the coinage has been NDP Member of Parliament Pat Martin.
He was my MP before I moved to Saskatchewan in 2006. His riding is Winnipeg Centre. It is, by some calculations, the poorest constituency in Canada. But good old Pat doesn’t have to face those mean streets very much between elections. When he’s not in Ottawa, he lives mostly in Vancouver. Pat is different, to say the least. He has been prevented from flying into the U.S. on many occasions because there’s at least one other Pat Martin on the loose who’s on a watch list as a possible terrorist. Before getting into politics he ran the Carpenters union in Manitoba. During the 2004 campaign he almost got into a punch-up with his Liberal opponent while both of them were on a radio talk show. He basically called Brian Mulroney a liar on national television. It was during a committee hearing as Mulroney was being questioned about his relationship with Karl Heinz Schreiber. He spoke the words that many others around the table also believed, but were afraid to say it.
Lester Pearson never wanted to be identified as Canada’s only winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, nor did he want to remembered as the Prime Minister who gave us Medicare. He would rather have been known for Canada’s Maple Leaf flag. I’m not sure what Pat Martin would like to be remembered for. It’s probably not for persuading a Tory government to scarp the penny. But he could do a lot worse.
Roger Currie is a writer and broadcaster who will soon be moving back to Winnipeg, after spending the past six years in Regina.