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Life Off-the-Grid

My Government is Bankrupting My Country

By Cam Mather

Michelle and I are driving to Kingston General Hospital every day for her radiation treatments and it seems like every street in Canada is under construction. No really, you can’t drive two blocks without some construction going on, and every construction site is identified with one of those ubiquitous “Canada Action Plan” signs. They’ve used an interesting shade of blue on these signs so that they look like blatant ads for the Conservative Party of Canada –  the same party that is spending my tax dollars like a drunken sailor.

In the last election in 2008 the Conservatives insisted that our economy had avoided the global economic collapse. Then they took power, with a whopping 37.65% of the popular vote and within weeks they announced that we were in the worst economic crisis since the great depression and we had to spend $55 billion to avoid tumbling into the fiscal abyss. Well hold on, shouldn’t we have discussed this during the election? Isn’t that the purpose of elections?

I used to believe in the Keynesian concept that governments should spend during economic downturns and save during upturns to reduce the extremes of the economic cycle, but no one in Canada voted for a “fiscally conservative” government to not only increase the daily expenditures of the government by an outrageous amount, but to blow their brains out on an infrastructure program no one voted for. $55 billion! Hey Jim Flaherty, how did you come up with that number? Your lucky number? Your age? First digits of your drivers’ license?

So now every construction worker in this country is employed, as is every dump truck operator and cement truck operator, but next year when the orgy of infrastructure spending stops, I sense we’re in for a huge spike in unemployment. We Canadians are being so cocky about how we’ve missed the worst of the economic downturn. Our economy is better. We’re smarter than everyone else. Are we, or do more of us just work for the government and no one has cancelled their credit cards yet? I read how the Canadian economy has created 300,000 jobs in the last few years, but 220,000 of them were in government. If you lump in all the others who already worked for the government, and then add the construction workers who basically are government employees right now it’s like we’re living in Russia in 1970.  And you know what? We can’t all work for the government. Somebody’s actually got to make something people want to buy to keep an economy going. That grand social experiment of everyone working for the government failed.

This infrastructure money reminds me of a crack dealer, handing out samples to get people addicted. My municipal government, the Township of Stone Mills, saw this pot of money and decided they needed to grab their share of the pie. We had a 6-bay garage to house our trucks and snowplows that was 5 to 10 years away from needing to be replaced. So what did we do? We built a 21-bay garage! I don’t think the township even owns 21 large vehicles. So why do we suddenly need 21 bays? For growth? Let me tell you about peak oil someday.

So the federal government kicked in 1/3 of the cost of the new garage and the provincial government kicked in a third, and we local taxpayers pay for a third. Let me remind you that there is only one taxpayer, and so the federal money and the provincial money came from us as well. But no level of government actually had this money. It’s all debt. The “fiscally conservative” feds are trying to bankrupt the country, provincially our per capita debt is much worse than California, and now locally we’re on the hook for another million for this new garage. As peak oil increases the cost of fossil fuels, I doubt we will ever have 21 trucks to fill it. Thanks Stephen Harper. Thanks for getting my local government addicted to your free money and debt for something we really didn’t need. Good move Steve. You’re an economist right? So how long could I could run my family budget like this? Just keep spending as if I never had to pay it back? Did someone change rules? Can I just ignore my credit card statements now?

Frankly Steve I’m pissed. It’s bad enough you’re screwing up my country, now you’ve got me on the hook for higher property taxes for the next 10 years to pay for a garage we don’t need. If the fiscally conservative party of the country governs like this, what are my choices? Vote for what you call the “tax and spend Liberals” or the Socialist NDP? Oh you’re not the “tax and spend” party, you’re just the spend party, and you’re actually “reducing” our taxes. Great. Increase spending. Reduce taxation. Sounds like a recipe for bankruptcy. What economics school did you go to again?

In the meantime we Canadians are getting more and wider roads that will fit more and more cars, that in the near future will no longer be affordable as we fall off the backside of the peak oil depletion curve. Can you imagine what would have happened if we’d spent $55 billion on our trains and our transit infrastructure? If we had put that money into wind turbines and solar farms? If we had subsidized people to make their homes more energy efficient?

I believe there are certain givens in the world today. We’re at 380 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere on our way to 450 ppm soon. Maybe we’ll even hit the “life on earth ending 500+” level in the decades ahead. We really need to get down to 350 ppm to avoid catastrophe. The year we discovered the most conventional oil ever was 1964 and we’ve discovered less since then, and now we discover significantly less every year and use many more barrels than we discover. So we probably hit “peak oil” in 2005 and are on the rocky plateau that is the top of the bell curve before we begin our descent. If only someone in Ottawa could put their destructive quest for personal power and glory aside long enough to make some tough decisions. It’s time to turn things around and get off our present collision course for disaster.

In the meantime we can all sit in our shiny metal boxes and look at all the wonderful new roads our government is building for us, while running our collective credit card up high enough that we can all go bankrupt together. Move over Greece. Make room Ireland. The Conservatives are gonna show you how to really burn out brightly!

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6 Comments

  1. Cindy

    We have been asking for years for a streetlight to be installed in a really dark parkette we walk through at night when we get off the bus. The Canada Action Plans signs went up a few months agao and we got so excited as we thought we were finally getting some lights. They did an entire landscaping and paving job trhough the entire park and not one light…When I called I was told that the lighting was a different department, different budget…seriously??

  2. Good post. Thanks for sharing this, it contains a lot of what many people are thinking but not stating.

    Keep up the good work.

  3. Cory

    You forgot to mention that they attempted to pass a no stimulus spending zero deficit budget but the opposition threatened to bring down the government and take power through a coalition if they didn’t run a deficit to pay for stimulus.

  4. isaac

    When it comes debt, the reality is that more debt must be created just to service/pay back the existing debt.

    Getting into debt in itself is okay, provided that the real economy grows (not government “make work” projects) sufficiently to service the debt created; the problem is see that there simply will not be much growth in the future due to peak oil (as soon as the economy “recovers”, will the price of oil shoot up and cause another recession?), leading to defaults and bankruptcies.

    I’m convinced that the debt based monetary system itself is completely unsustainable and has outlived it’s usefulness (it worked well in the 20th century when we had practically unlimited resources) and is completely unsustainable.

    There’s plenty of talk about energy “solutions” (most discussions revolve around running the cars on some alternative storage medium which requires more energy to produce than what you can get out of it – ex: hydrogen, biofuel), however we have failed to actually define the problem – Is it global warming or peak oil? (or both?) Air pollution? Peak gas? Is our banking system still working in our best interest? Does making it easier to get into debt will solve anything?

    It’s human nature to attempt to solve problems based on information acquired from previous experience, however what’s occurring now is completely unprecedented. The economic impact the coming energy shocks may shatter every pre-conception we had with respect to energy and economic issues (ie if the price is high enough, oil production will increase – law of supply/demand based on < 200 years of history), only once the censuses is reached, the capital and organizational structure required to solve our problems won't be there.

    • isaac

      *I should really read my own comments prior to posting

  5. Robert-Yves Mazerolle

    Right on the nail!

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