Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Editorial: Canada needs four years of stability

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Canada needs political stability to grow its economy and sort out its affairs, particularly its finances and soaring health-care costs. The most certain way Canada will get the stability and policies it needs now is by electing a majority Conservative government on Monday.

The case for the Conservatives begins with an examination of the alternatives. Jack Layton might be the flavour of the moment because former Liberal supporters like him more than they like the fourth Liberal leader in seven years -- Michael Ignatieff -- or the stale leader of the Bloc Québécois, Gilles Duceppe. On a personal level, in fact, there is much to like about Mr. Layton, as his moniker Smilin' Jack and his focus on the less-advantaged attest. Personality, however, is not Mr. Layton's problem -- his platform is.

Assuming it is even implementable, the assumptions it was built on are outrageous -- that corporate tax increases will increase revenue and not kill the goose that lays golden eggs; that pensions can be increased lavishly without hurting job growth; that pulling supports out from under a pillar of the economy, the oilsands, won't set back the West; and that slapping on a $3.6-billion cap-and-trade regime will not cripple the recovery when the dollar is soaring and we need to create jobs while competing with America, India and China. All in all, Mr. Layton's plan is a recipe for economic stagnation. It shows he and his party have not moved past the discredited tax-and-spend fantasies of yesteryear.

Which is not to say Mr. Layton should not become a greater force in Parliament. He appears to have set the Bloc and its separatist agenda back on its heels. The apparent Liberal slide, meanwhile, signals that the centre-left might well be realigning in Canada, something it will have to do if it is not to go on fracturing its support as conservatives had done until the right united. A stronger NDP and weaker Liberal and Bloc rumps also should put an end to talk of coalitions -- it would be suicidal for a weakened Liberal Party.

Mr. Ignatieff, it would appear, has never been able to shake the Tory tag that he's "just visiting." That he acquired it as a result of Tory attacks in the face of all evidence to the contrary does not explain why he seems unable to shake it off, to convince Canadians he is committed for the long haul. For all his civility and intelligence, he seems to have been unable to connect in this election, perhaps because the platform he presents is not much different than the Conservative platform, and this after a record of supporting the Harper government. That Mr. Ignatieff revealed he would entertain leading a coalition after losing the election (as legal as that might be under certain circumstances) didn't help his campaign, signalling as it did that he really wasn't expecting to win the contest he forced on the country at a cost of $400 million.

That the country even talks about coalitions composed of weak parties focused on buying votes, instead of focusing on the fragile economic recovery, is all the evidence Canadians should need to conclude that seven years of minority government, of the posturing and name-calling and brinksmanship that results when no one ultimately is in charge, must end. Canada must get more serious about its present predicaments and future prosperity. That leaves only the Conservatives.

To be sure, Conservatives over the past five years, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper in particular, have contributed much to the rancour that today sours our polity. But just as surely, over the past five years no political party or leader has shown more disciplined commitment to the engine that makes all else possible -- the economy. For all the talk of a hidden, right-wing agenda, none has emerged over five years and there is no evidence it will over the next four. Mr. Harper has shown he can be flexible (the stimulus package) compassionate (affordable increases in pension benefits for seniors in the last budget) and that he has come to understand the needs of all parts of the country (the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Manitoba, loan guarantees for Newfoundland's hydroelectric project). He has grown in office and could grow more in the absence of the need to fend off endless attacks on three flanks.

Given the often ruthless discipline he has shown by surviving while governing for longer than any minority government in Canadian history, Canadians should be confident he will get a better health-care deal with the provinces than the free-spending, no-strings-attached deal the former Liberal government fecklessly signed and which expires in 2012.

They can be confident, too, that he will continue to reinforce strength -- the private sector -- corporate tax cuts that encourage domestic and foreign investment. Only economic growth will enlarge the pool of tax revenue needed to eliminate the deficit, tackle the debt and free money for program spending -- a lesson the Liberals taught the country 15 years ago but which they now seem to have forgotten and which the NDP never learned.

Four years of stable government will provide the time that Mr. Ignatieff and, especially, Mr. Layton need to find their feet. Mr. Harper already knows where he stands, and why that's best for Canada.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 30, 2011 A18

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