Cardus says 'big tent' Conservative party moving very slowly towards less federalism
By Nathan Rumohr
The B.C. Catholic
After years of catering to the opposition, the Conservative federal government released its first budget as a majority government March 29.
Left-wing organizations feared the worst from a government that has been quick to criticize Canada's overspending ways. However it was a Canadian Christian think-tank that described the budget as an "array of disappointments."
"Prime Minister Stephen Harper's federalism is a long, long time coming, and the interminable wait may fracture the governing party," read the Cardus 2012 budget analysis, titled "The Long, Slow, Nail-Biting Crawl to Harper's Federalism," by Ray Pennings and Robert Joustra.
"Politically the Conservatives have lowered expectations," Pennings said. He thought the Harper government played it safe with this budget, and while it made steps towards a "thinner, classical federalism," it may not keep the Conservative factions under Harper's "big tent" happy.
The report divided "the tent" into Libertarians, Democratic Conservatives, Social Conservatives, Liberal Conservatives, Fiscal Conservatives, and Red Tories.
Pennings thought fiscal conservatives would be the happiest with the budget, since the government talks about balancing the books by 2016. The group thinks social conservatives will dislike the budget the most because the government is failing to regulate moral issues, and has taken aim at private charitable institutions.
"For those who share Cardus's belief that a renewed social architecture will be enhanced by seeing institutions other than government grow in capacity, there is little encouragement to be found."
The report said organic charitable movements are stifled by a complex array of tax credits. This puts the control of not-for-profit groups in the government's hands, with enforcement by the Canada Revenue Agency.
Organizations that exceed a "10 per cent limit on political engagement" could be suspended by the CRA for a year.
"Charities should be following the rules," Pennings said, but he warned that there's a grey area between education and political expression. "This could wreak considerable havoc."
"The priority given to increasing the regulation rather than the capacity of the charitable sector is a regrettable trend in the wrong direction, even if there are some legitimate short-term concerns being addressed," the report stated.
However, Charles Lammam, associate director of The Fraser Institute's Centre for Tax & Budget Policy and Centre for Studies in Economic Prosperity, said increased regulation is necessary to make charities transparent and accountable.
"Charities shouldn't be involved in political activities," he said, but did admit that the line between education and political action is thin.
Lammam also said the budget wasn't aggressive enough about instituting reforms in government spending. He noted that the mainstream media's accusation that the budget was imposing austerity is false. "This budget is not sufficient to get Canada back into the black."
Cardus thinks this budget might be enough to temporarily rally the factions inside the Conservative party, but said that's mostly because of the lack of an alternative choice. The factions know it's better to "lobby in the halls of power than swelter in the ignominy of a scattered and defeated opposition," like the once mighty Liberals today.
Pennings also brought up the destruction of the "Pan-Canadian Consensus" and its impact on the future of Canadian politics.
"The next decade will redefine Canada's political paradigm."
He said the days of unilaterally defining Canadians as peacekeeping, multi-cultural, charter-loving believers in a strong central government are dead. While the Conservatives continue down a united path with this budget, the truth is the country is not in a state of consensus, contrary to the appearance of government.
The full budget analysis by Cardus can be read at here.