My favourite voice in the run-up to Ontario's election so far belongs to Liberal MPP Bob Delaney from Mississauga. He's the guy who blurted -- when criticized over last month's budget that will go into deficit in order to provide child care and similar benefits -- "With respect, bulls--t … We have tripled (the debt) and we're proud of it, because we can afford it. It's the responsible thing to do. It's the correct thing to do, it's what people have asked us to do and I would do it again and do it proudly."
You're not supposed to say stuff like that because it sounds "fiscally irresponsible" and it may be why Delaney has never been beatified into the cabinet. You're expected to fuss and tut about going into debt and the burden it lays on future generations.
Meanwhile, the most doughty cabinet hands, like Eric Hoskins and Deb Matthews, have been swimming away frantically before the election, as if they hope to be far off when the vortex hauls down Kathleen Wynne's rickety ship on June 7. Three more jumped this week.
True, Delaney has a record as a motormouth. He compared the money that Liberals wasted on gas plants to the cost of Apollo moon missions, for which he was ordered to apologize. More recently, he called the cops on the mom of an autistic kid planning to protest at his office. He apologized again. But he got it right on the budget, like a stopped clock, though he initially denied it.
An undergrad I know, who's immersed in economics, says thoughtfully -- as if he's preparing the thesis for a term paper: "I'd argue that it's fiscally irresponsible not to go into debt for benefits like health care, public schools, mental health or debt-free tuition."
What kind of monster would choose to balance a budget over having those things? Haven't these people heard of mortgages? You put your family in debt so they won't be on the street. What comfort are your kids supposed to get from being homeless (or badly homed)? That you're thinking about the welfare of their kids? What kind of parents will they make if they've been badly housed and educated, or unhealthy?
Last year Wynne's government balanced the budget, proving they could. They "reneged" on doing it again this year -- though they'd "promised," i.e. said they would -- in order to provide some useful programs. What's the point? If you really need to, you've shown you can. Once is enough! Move on. Or are balanced budgets a value in themselves, exercises in virtue?
I know Keynes said governments should go into debt in bad times and pay it down in good. But like all good generalizers, he didn't specify what's bad and good, knowing that definitions change with their eras.
What times are we in now? Are these supposed to be good times, with worse inequality than feudalism and young people entering an utterly insecure job market, sometimes with hundreds of thousands in debt from their post-secondary years -- and fully expecting never to live as well as their parents?
How do you get to good times for this era? Restore a diminishing middle class (with the collateral benefit of reviving democracy which, if you hadn't noticed, is looking sickly) that can be the bedrock of tax revenues, while pulling the new, financialized barons back toward Earth, where they can do less harm.
Greater equality and an expanded middle class would be the most immediate effects of expanded government spending on social programs -- and then you wouldn't even need deficits!
It's a pity Wynne hasn't had the guts to raise taxes, versus borrowing from bloated banks. And I don't think it matters whether she or Andrea Horwath take ownership of Delaney-style argumentation.
One of the political secrets of this society (and others) is that ordinary people register as more "progressive" than experts and columnists think they are. In fact, recent polls show a small post-budget uptick for Liberals and a dip for Tories. Or is that illusory while the far more accurate internal party polling shows it moving Doug Ford's way, leading to those Liberal desertions?
As the jocks say: that's why we play the games. Unmuzzle Bob Delaney!
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