In praise of laziness

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Cathy Rogers, MLA for Moncton and the province’s social development minister, is exactly right when she says, in so many words, that hiking the provincial portion of the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) is the easy way out of New Brunswick’s fiscal fiasco and economic swamp.

So what’s wrong with that?

Why must we endlessly review our options through the nearly Calvinist lens of public sacrifice (do better, be better, go forth and die in penury and virtue), rather than embrace the rather obvious, less dramatic proposition that a two-percentage point hike in the HST – boring though it may be – would, in four years, help balance the budget and send our international creditors into a well-deserved, deep and abiding slumber.

Ms. Rogers, by contrast, would rather we first figure out how to run ourselves as a proper citizenry than pay the bills. As for the HST, she says, “it’s like asking for a bigger allowance without first learning how to manage our allowance better.” Calling it a “quick fix” and a “lazy way to find a solution”, the minister would rather we put our shoulders to the wheel just as the wheels fall off the semi-tractor trailer that is the rusting, heaving, wheezing truck of state.

Of course, she’s not the only one in this Liberal cabinet who’s willing to stand in the middle of the road, proclaiming loudly, only then to skirt to the curb, squeaking quietly.

There’s also Donald Arseneault, Minister of Energy and Mines, who thinks that a year-long examination into things we already know about shale-gas development in the province is a profoundly responsible use of public money and time, (though he has allowed in his quieter moments that just such an exercise might actually hurt New Brunswick’s economic prospects).

Ms. Rogers’ conundrum is, however, particularly perplexing. On the one hand, she declares that she is opposed to raising the HST today, but is willing to consider the prospect a year from now. Meanwhile, so-called “wealthy seniors” should be prepared to pay more for their nursing home costs to. . .you know. . .help balance the books before the government musters the political courage to do the smart thing: boost consumption taxes for everyone on discretionary items (not food, not fuel oil, not shelter, not kids’ clothing or daycare).

Still, who are these “wealthy seniors” of whom she speaks?

“We know that based on income 87 per cent of seniors cannot afford the daily cap (of $113 a day),” the Saint John Telegraph-Journal quoted her saying last week. “We can take something from this, but not everything. It is an indicator. We have to wait until we get more data to get more details on liquid assets.”

And while we wait for “more data”, New Brunswick’s new, wholly invented, politically contrived demographic – the wealthy senior – lives in fear of a government that has not yet determined who or how best to bilk him.

Nice work, if you can get it.

Always trust Government of every ideological stripe to render the straightforward, complicated; the clear, obfuscated; the fair, inequitable.

It’s called spin and it stinks.

More than this, it depends, for its effectiveness, on enormous amounts of energy, busy work and low cunning. In other words, it’s the opposite of “lazy”.

Somehow, in this universe, the sin of lassitude means telling the evident truth, doing the obviously right thing without breaking a sweat, and smiling easily without ever worrying about night terrors.

If these are my choices, I’ll take lazy man’s way out every day of the political week.

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