Harper promised he would “hit the ground running” upon returning to Ottawa with a majority mandate. But judging from the recent speech from the throne and federal budget, Harper seems content with a light jog, particularly when it comes to economic issues. Canadians will wait at least a year to find out how the Conservatives intend to slice $4 billion annually from government spending; Harper says he needs a review to find budgetary excess. Meanwhile, the Conservatives offer reassuring words but no clear plan of action on the creation of a national securities regulator and introduction of pooled retirement pension plans (PRPPs).
Perhaps most troubling, the Conservatives have grown timid on issues where, as a minority government, they appeared to be taking bold strides. Fifteen months ago, the government’s last speech from the throne pledged to “open Canada’s doors” to foreign ownership in telecommunications and mining. The recent throne speech merely said the government “will continue to welcome foreign ownership that benefits Canada.” These are complicated issues, and the government’s approach ought to be driven by the need to provide clarity, consistency and a level playing field, with rules that apply to all competitors. So far, we have no clarity and no promise of consistency. It is not an encouraging start.
One might argue that with a guaranteed four-year mandate ahead of it, the Conservative government has time to mull its approach to difficult issues. This is true, but the government must never forget that while bad policy would have negative consequences for the country, delaying policy has its own repercussions. As Joe Castaldo’s examination of PRPPs demonstrates, there are still far too many questions surrounding Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s overhaul of the pension system. Indeed, for those currently contemplating how to fund their retirement (and really, isn’t that all of us?) the government’s decisions on everything from program cuts to the national securities regulator will have an effect.
Furthermore, the government has set itself a second to-do list to accomplish once the budget is balanced. From expansion of tax-free savings accounts to the introduction of income-splitting for families, these policies will also shape how Canadians plan for the future. Having been elected on promises that may not take effect until after the next election, the government must show a real commitment to achieving those goals. Standing still now will only increase the risk of stumbles for them—and us—down the road.