For the better part of the program I watched the National Conservative Party Vice President dance all over the issues like a trained ballet dancer. On the issue of Conservative MP's Bill Casey recent decision to vote against the government on a budget item which was promptly followed by his being turfed from the Conservative Party the best argument he could muster was "It's a confidence issue."
On further prodding about this same Conservative's previous comments way back when the sides were turned and Joe Comuzzi voted against the former Liberal government on a "confidence issue" he could hardly hide a smile as he responded that Mr Comuzzi knew what was in the budget full well before he voted, while Mr Casey did not. That lead some knee slapping laughter from the Liberal on the show.
The argument is as hollow as a Liberal Party fundraiser right now. MPs should be allowed to vote against budget items especially over issues as unique as the fiscal imbalance.
Further I'd like to quote a letter from Stephen Harper dated February 8, 2002:
"The structure of federal transfers creates real problems for how provincial governments deal with the resource industry. If the Newfoundland or Nova Scotia governments receive new revenues from resource developments, Ottawa may take up to 100% of this money by reducing equalization transfers."Although Harper may never have explicitly promised that 100% of resources would not be included in the equalization deal from now ad infinitum, he did certainly flirt with the idea going back to 2002.
"Whatever the right technical solution may be, it is also well past time to raise broader questions about the functioning of equalization."
Mr Casey and others in the Atlantic Provinces would have good reason to believe that their party had made a clear promise not to include non-renewable resources from the equalization formula forever. And seeing that, it's clear that they can not be morally expected to vote with the party on such an issue. In many cases they may have told voters that a vote for them was a vote for a fix on the fiscal imbalance that would be much of a better deal than they got.
Apparently this is a "confidence issue." I respectfully disagree. Harper should have made it clear before the election that he was not guaranteeing that non-renewable resources would be excluded from the equalization formula for the Atlantic provinces from now into infinity.
What he did say about the fiscal imbalance at the time was that he viewed fixing the fiscal imbalance as merely a "deal." It was about negotiation. That's why he was criticized by the Liberal Party at the time for not including numbers in his fiscal plan that included expected costs of fixing the fiscal imbalance. In truth all Harper did was run around the country promising to "fix it" without actually saying what he would do and not costing the numbers. How could he? It was something to be negotiated.
In one sense you could argue he should have done just that - make a plan and present it to the public. In another sense you could argue that there was no way for him to do just that until he got into office. One premier may agree to one thing, while another premier may agree to something different. Negotiation of the issue seems the only realistic way forward.
But I think it's clear that over an issue so ill defined as the fiscal imbalance that expelling an MP for not liking the "deal" because it's a "confidence issue" is a shallow argument to say the least.
If I wanted butter, I'd ask for butter. So stop giving me butter for arguments. If the absence of any other given reason, the only issue I can see here is caucus solidarity. The only conclusion I can draw is that Harper's office made a tactical decision to punish one MP in the hopes that shear pressure will convince them to do otherwise. If that's true it's bullying and it shouldn't have happened.
It is truly a shameful time for the Conservative Party in Ottawa right now.