Some background on the cheques. A Conservative MP writes, and the political impact is measured.

Received in my inbox this afternoon from a Conservative Member of Parliament (published with permission):

Thanks for the email, [name withheld]! MPs and anyone else are always welcome to send tips.

This issue is a bit of a tricky one when measuring political impact. Yes, Stephen Harper ran on accountability with respect to public money going to public interests. And while he hasn’t allowed public money to be funneled into the pockets of his friends — unlike the Liberals — the Grits are crying foul that partisanship is too closely linked with government.

And yes, they do have a point. On one cheque. Yes, that cheque; the one handed out by Gerald Keddy.

However, I think the Liberals have overplayed their hand. Having made a small crack with Keddy, they’re trying to ram through 181 other “examples” of cheques which actually pass the sniff test.

Stephen Harper or MPs may have signed the cheques, but they have done so in their respective roles as the Prime Minister and as MPs — not as Conservative candidates.

And therein lies perhaps my biggest disagreement with wire reporter turned opinion maker Bruce Cheadle. The CP reporter argues that the Prime Minister is a partisan entity. In his story about the Economic Action Plan website, Cheadle argued that Harper’s mere image connotes “Conservative Party of Canada”. I would suggest that the office of the Prime Minister (and its occupant) supersede partisanship and he his first and foremost the Prime Minister of Canada (and therefore an agent of the government). Likewise, Members of Parliament act in the same capacity: as government representatives.

Again, the only lapse was the logo on that one cheque.

If we are to take Cheadle’s argument further, the Prime Minister’s presence at international gatherings such as the G20 and the G8 are merely expensive Conservative Party photo ops. Further we’d presume from Mr. Cheadle that Members of Parliament have no official role at all, they are merely hucksters for their own party brand. While this may be the opinion of some, it is not the constitutionally-outlined fact.

The Liberals did score a bit of a coup last night when they were able to wedge that one cheque to make an argument for their 181 cheque slideshow on the CBC’s National. Yet, some reporters are taking note. This cheque affair reeks of opportunism; Keddy’s of course, but also by the Liberals who not only mastered the process of taxpayer-backed partisanship, but now also make a 181 photo mountain out of a 1 photo molehill.

As we all throw mud at each other in our Ottawa sandbox we occasionally look up to see how we’ve done in the eyes of Canadians. So, how does this show play out on Main Street? Canadians will be disappointed in Keddy’s lapse to be sure. The Liberal partisans may become a bit more partisan. And the conservative ideologues never loved fiscal stimulus anyway. But Liberal partisans and conservative ideologues represent a minority of Canadians. As for the 99.99% of Canadians that don’t think of politics more than 7 seconds a week, how do they feel about the issue?

Their perceptions of Stephen Harper and of Michael Ignatieff matter most. Let’s take Ignatieff out of the equation because he’s removed himself from jockeying on this issue. For Stephen Harper, this incident takes a bit of the shine off of the “accountability” image he won upon in 2006. However, for those that listen to the Liberal complaint that the Conservatives aren’t doing enough to stimulate the economy — that the money isn’t getting out of the door fast enough — the Liberals are banking on the sustained outrage of Canadians over one bad cheque, while hoping that Canadians ignore that Conservatives are satisfying any complaint of sluggish stimuli demonstrated by those other 181 cheques.

This is will be difficult as the Liberals have created a slideshow. After all, wouldn’t it be terrible for Conservative electoral chances if every local paper printed up their local MP’s photo with a big cheque with a headline that read: “SCANDAL: local MP spends your money on you in your community”?

The trap is set

The latest news is that the potential of Bloc-Liberal-NDP coalition government in waiting is shrinking a bit now that the Conservatives have promised to remove required confidence from the party welfare issue.

This is bait of course.

If the BLN coalition backs down now, Canadians will understand that their opposition to the economic statement really wasn’t about the “lack of stimulus”, the rescue of Canadian jobs, or the “protection of rights of women and workers”.  The opposition and brinkmanship that was threatening a fresh election or constitutional crisis would have been about parties that are so fresh out of ideas, so unable to inspire, that they were ready to go to political war over their $1.95-per-vote handout from the Canadian taxpayer.

So, have we seen crisis averted? Better yet, has the PM been successful in floating a very useful trial balloon over the heads of the opposition? If we don’t see the government fall, or a new one form, will this have instead put the issue of campaign welfare to the fore and have raised the cynical ire of Canadians to know that in an economic crisis, the ones ready to burn the house down were the Liberals, the NDP and the Bloc?

Over their entitlements?


UPDATE: Have we seen a crisis averted? No, not yet. The PM has pushed confidence votes back to December 8th and parties will have a chance then to bring down the government.

Liveblogging Flaherty’s economic statement

4:09pm: Persuant to a standing order I do not recall, the Minister of Finance tables his economic statement.

4:10pm: Time of unprecedented economic deterioration. Uh oh, this sounds bad.

4:11pm: IMF projects global growth weakest since ’93. Good thing the IMF puts Canada in the best fiscal position of the G7.

4:13pm: CTV reports that the Liberals will not support the economic statement. This statement is a matter of confidence and if defeated would precipitate an election.

4:14pm: Reformation of global finance will be done with global partners.

4:15pm: Trade will be expanded.

4:15pm: Opposition mocks Flaherty for saying the government planned for the downturn last year.

4:15pm: Taxes have been reduced by $200B. Investments have been made in infrastructure, S&T and training.

4:16pm: Funding for infrastructure projects. Taxes down by equivalent of 2% GDP. Sustainable and permanent tax relief.

4:19pm: Canada will come out of the crisis in a strong position because it went in a strong position.

4:21pm: Will not engineer a surplus just to say we have one.

4:21pm: Budget is balanced for now, but future injection of government stimulus may move Canada into deficit.

4:22pm: Days of chronic structural deficits are behind us.

4:23pm: Tax dollars for political parties and tax credits for donations brought up. Flaherty talking about the $1.75 per vote subsidy. Political parties should pay their own bills without excessive tax dollars.

4:25pm: $1.75 subsidy gone as of April 2009.

4:26pm: Spending growth will follow sustainable track.

4:27pm: Spending review will also look into crown corporations. Government will save $15B over the next five years because of expenditure management system.

4:28pm: re: public sector… New legislation will put in place “annual wage increases for the federal public administration, including senior members of the public service, as well as Members of Parliament, Cabinet Ministers, and Senators, of 2.3 per cent in 2007–08 and 1.5 per cent for the following three years, for groups in the process of bargaining for new agreements.”For groups with collective agreements already covering 2008–09, the 1.5 per cent would apply for the remainder of the three-year period starting at the anniversary date of the collective agreement. In addition, the legislation would suspend the right to strike on wages through 2010–11.” Some honourable socialist members: “oh, oh”.

4:32pm: Largest increase in infrastructure spending. $6B in spending. Aim is to provide new jobs.

4:33pm: Flaherty wants more power to help sustain the banking industry. These powers would include:
– Funding in the unlikely event that there is a draw on the Canadian Lenders Assurance Facility.
– The Canada Deposit Insurance Corporation (CDIC) to establish a bridge bank as a further resolution tool to help preserve banking functions.
– An increase in the borrowing limit of CDIC to $15 billion to reflect the growth of insured deposits since the last increase in 1992.
– The Minister of Finance to provide the CDIC Board of Directors broader scope of action when systemic risk concerns may result from the potential failure of a member institution.
– The power to direct CDIC to undertake resolution measures when necessary to prevent adverse effects on financial stability.
– The provision to CDIC of greater flexibility in the timing of preparatory examinations.
– The Government to inject capital into federal financial institutions to support financial stability, with appropriate provisions to protect taxpayers.

4:37pm: taking action to allow RRIF holders to keep more money in their RRIFs.

4:40pm: increase available credit to the exporting sector. $350 million injection of credit for these businesses.

4:41pm: Inject an additional $350 million of capital to the BDC to help SMEs.

4:44pm: “The greatest histories are written in the toughest times”

4:45pm: Scott Brison to respond for the opposition. Demands a “real action plan”. Brison accuses Conservatives of symbolism over substance. Conservatives have provided gimmicks instead of a game plan. “Nothing for manufacturing, autos”.

4:46pm: Brison: PM wants to change the channel from economy to politics. Canadians are hurting. They want talk on economics rather than politics.

4:48pm: Brison bringing out the personal anecdotes describing real Canadians and real concerns. Liberal are making this statement out to be about that $1.75 vote subsidy cut.

4:50pm: Brison accusing the Conservatives of huge spending and huge cuts at the same time.

4:51pm: Brison: government is selling the house to pay for the groceries.

4:51pm: Brison calls Flaherty “Deficit Daddy”.

4:52pm: NDP will not support economic statement.

4:53pm: CTV reports that the government is digging in their heels on the $1.75 subsidy.

4:55pm: Brison brings up Obama and speaks about his economic team and accuses the Conservatives of schemes.

5:00pm: Brison calls for “a new deal”. Brison’s seat mate earlier called out “FDR”

5:01pm: Gilles Duceppe responds for the Bloc. Duceppe: hat was presented was not an economic statement but an ideological statement.

5:02pm: Duceppe: government blind to urgent need to stimulate the economy. Government is attacking democracy, women’s rights and worker’s rights. Government has attacked Quebec.

5:03pm: Duceppe: government has sparked a democratic crisis.

5:03pm: Duceppe: economic statement runs against Quebec’s interests.

5:04pm: Duceppe: Bloc will not cave in on its principles.

5:06pm: Duceppe: Bloc ready to support the reduction of the size of the state.

5:12pm: Bloc Quebecois will oppose the economic statement.

5:13pm: Layton responds for the NDP. He’s got his wounded face on.

5:14pm: Layton: government has failed to act on the economic crisis. Layton is speaking quietly and slowly to show concern and disappointment.

5:15pm: Here comes the anger. Now Layton is doing some finger pointing.

5:19pm: Layton applauds Duceppe and Brison for “standing up to ideology”.

5:21pm: Layton reiterates NDP’s position that they will vote against the economic statement.