Inequities in the do-nothing budget of 2014



For proof that George Orwell was right, look no further than the 2014 federal budget. There, indeed, all men are created equal, though some clearly appear to be more equal than others.

As, increasingly, modern legislatures confer “personhood” on multinational corporations, we may reasonably consider car and truck makers direct, if not actual flesh and blood, beneficiaries of Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s munificence. How else would you characterize the $500-million top-up to the Automative Innovation Fund, created in 2008, the last time Chrysler and General Motors came poor-mouthing to Ottawa, caps in hand?

“The automotive industry is among Canada’s leading employers and exporters and is a key contributor to our economy,” the budget sonorously declared. “The sector also directly employs more than 115,000 Canadians in Southern Ontario and across Canada from automotive assembly to parts production.”

Never mind that successive Federal and Ontario governments have had to repeatedly bribe the major manufacturers into keeping their operations in Canada more or less intact. Or should we forget the $3 billion in loans and “non-repayable contributions” both levels of government arranged for the carmakers, courtesy of taxpayers, in 2009?

Back then, the companies complained bitterly about the financial meltdown and the great vanishing act of ready credit. But that was a smokescreen, and not a very thick one. North American automakers, then and now, wouldn’t know good productivity tools if they arrived at their front doors in a fleet of Nissan Sentras.

And, still, their temerity is breathtaking.

Apparently, an additional five-hundred-billion bucks might not be enough to satisfy the ravenous appetite some corporations have for found money. As the Globe and Mail reported this week. “Chrysler Group LLC is seeking a contribution of at least $700 million from the federal and Ontario governments in high-stakes negotiations about the future of its Canadian operation.”

Naturally, that’s a threat – the standing operating procedure of businesses that have grown too big and self-important to fail. They strap governments over barrels because, while they may enjoy legal status as people, they’re the sort of people we typically recognize as sociopaths who have no expectation of ever growing consciences. If they can get away with something, they will.

Alas, twas ever thus and ever thus shall be.

Not so, perhaps, for some of the pricier talent – the genuine humans – who actually occupy the upper management ranks at the car companies. Mr. Flaherty now seems less committed than several of his Cabinet colleagues, to the absurdly wrong-headed and patently unfair income-splitting device for rich folks, for which the budget was overtly paving the way.

“I’m not sure that overall it benefits our society,” he said to his eternal credit this week. “It benefits some parts of the Canadian population a lot, and other parts of the Canadian population virtually not at all. . .I think income splitting needs a long-hard analytical look.”

In fact, it’s already had at least one. Back in 2011, the C. D. Howe Institute concluded, in a special commentary on the subject, “The gains would be highly concentrated among high-income one-earner couples: 40 per cent of total benefits would go to families with incomes above $125,000, and the maximum annual gain from federal splitting would exceed $6,400. The maximum gains from provincial splitting would range from zero in Alberta to $5,750 in Ontario.”

What’s more, the Institute said most households wouldn’t see a dime, while the annual cost to the national accounts would likely exceed $2.5 billion. In other words, “income splitting would fail to achieve its ostensible horizontal equity goal.”

That’s economic-speak for “not fair”.

Still, Mr. Flaherty’s deathbed conversion on the issue (he is widely rumored to be drafting his exit strategy from federal politics) is not likely to convince many of his confreres. The ghosts of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher are far too comfortable haunting the Conservative corridors of Parliament Hill to brook any collective change of heart among the living.

For them, all men are not created equal.

They never have been and they never will be.

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