Resolve to live differently

A New Year naturally brings New Year’s resolutions. It’s a subtle admission that all wasn’t perfect in our lives in 2007 and we could benefit from setting a new course based on lessons learned. Yes, I gained a few pounds and I don’t exercise enough. That’s going to be on my list. I wonder if the testimony of Brian Mulroney and KarlHeinz Schreiber before the Commons committee will generate any resolutions on their part.

Now, Brian Mulroney has many likeable qualities as a person. His testimony does raise some questions though. What I didn’t understand is the shrinkage factor than affects money placed in safety deposit boxes. Karlheinz says he gave $300,000 to Brian who only found $225,000 by the time he reported the amount to the Canada Revenue Agency five years later. Perhaps Mila did some shopping and accidentally took the money out of the wrong envelope in the safe. But that wouldn’t explain how Karl also gave $30,000 to Jean Charest’s brother as a campaign contribution but Premier Charest only found $10,000. Obviously, somebody just can’t count and who would that be?

We shouldn’t be surprised that money is paid to influence politicians. Politicians spend large sums of our money and if a contract happens to be directed in a contributor’s direction, who would ever know? In fact, it is amazing when an incident is actually made public.

Another lesson I’ve learned from the former PM’s testimony that it is possible to call income in cash a retainer or an expense account and not report it for tax purposes. The letters I’ve gotten from the Canada Revenue Agency are borderline nasty at times. Maybe I’m just too sensitive and they really won’t waterboard me if I’m slow in paying. Canada’s tax regime may be a kinder and gentler place than I imagined.

It appears that the PC party was giving Mr. Mulroney a $4,000 a month salary in addition to his other government income and expenses. Many other premiers and prime ministers have taken this route. The problem with receiving money from sources other than your job is that loyalties may conflict.
Wouldn’t it be better to double or triple our leader’s salaries and prohibit all payments from other sources? Would you prefer to pay our political leaders very well and punish ethics non-compliance with severe penalties or continue on the present course of government by corporate agenda?

This brings us to the old pork barrel politics here at home. The latest New Brunswick capital budget is the largest ever according to spin. Should we believe this is a good thing? Given the approaching decline of our oil-based economy, one would think that our policy makers would be making investments in items that have a payback, reduce costs of operation or promote sustainability. New highways are just corporate welfare for road builders. Once route 1 is twinned to Saint Stephen at a cost of $80 million, the focus will likely turn to twinning route 7 to Fredericton. Will we get to our driving destination any sooner? Not appreciably. The minister indicates that this is a real requirement of our self-sufficiency agenda. Any return on investment here? Not really.

So the capital budget is mostly road expenditures (67%) and buildings (22%). Any transformational change here? Not really, it just the same old path.

They’ve brought back the public-private partnerships of McKenna. We’re now into renting rather than owning courthouses and psychiatric facilities. With the new courthouses, are we going to put more bad guys in jail? Not likely.

If the capital budget is any indication, it looks like the self-sufficiency agenda is definitely postponed a year.

Shawn Graham has set a major goal of reducing dependence on the federal government, yet will direct major capital spending into the same poor investments such as highways. Naturally, he wants the federal government to give him extra money to become self-sufficient. Should Stephen Harper contribute to the plan before Shawn applies his own provincial money in a creative way? Transformational change begins with transformational thinking.

There isn’t anything wrong with renewing facilities that are antiquated or grossly inadequate, but if we are truly embarking on a transformational change exercise, then we should ask ourselves the following questions: The amount of world oil production in 2026 is likely to be 50% of today’s levels. Are you going to be able to live with 25% of your present fuel because essential services will have 100%? How are the public investments, particularly on highways, going to improve the likelihood of a sustainable society when the private car may be no more? And more importantly, why do we continue to invest huge amounts of money in highways?

What has the government learned in 2007? Shall we make a New Year resolution to ask our representatives about their plan for 2008?

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