Stephen Harper, finally freed of the constraints that of the minority years, had no need to deliver anything in his 2012 budget to placate his political opponents.
So, unfettered, he delivered big time for big business and carved a path for a resource-based economy shorn of impediments for years to come.
He has stacked the deck in favour of resource exports at the expense of environmental opponents, the so-called “radicals” who have been in his crosshairs, and now largely kicked to the curb.
Anyone who lays pipe hit the gusher and anyone who mines hit the motherlode in this budget crafted by a government which sees old-style resource riches as the path to 21st century prosperity.
Anyone who opposes with the help of foreign cash is caught in a tightening government vise administering charities, as of Thursday.
The Conservatives even changed the rules mid-game, “streamlining” the hearing process underway in the biggest project of them all, the $5 billion Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline project traversing northern British Columbia.
But, in typical Harper style, the Prime Minister has foregone the opportunity to leave a true Conservative legacy, despite Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s claim that the budget looks beyond the immediate future to future generations.
And, once again Harper’s bark – or what we believe to be his bark – is far worse than any bite.
Some of the tough moves were undertaken as expected from a government in the first year of a majority mandate.
The seeds for a 2015 Conservative election campaign featuring a balanced budget have been firmly planted.
The Conservatives are eliminating public service jobs, but far fewer than had been predicted by those who saw an imaginary machete in the government’s hand.
Virtually all of the jobs will be lost in Ottawa, the city the rest of the country sees as spilling over with a bloated bureaucracy typing away in endless cubicles in non-descript government buildings.
It would be heartless to categorize the layoff of 12,000 persons (including 600 executives) as an asterisk, and, indeed, on its own it is a major story.
But the actual number of layoffs is about 20 per cent of some of the wildly conflated pre-budget numbers being tossed around, and about 20 per cent of the carnage inflicted on the public service by the Liberals of the mid-1990s.
These are not numbers that will cause any pain in Vancouver, Toronto or Halifax. Most importantly, Harper has removed the regulatory shackles that slowed mining and energy projects in this country and he moved on the aboriginal and immigration fronts to ensure a larger labour pool for big business.
To provide workers for this resource boom, skilled immigrants who once waited eight years to arrive in this country can now arrive within a year.
By earmarking $275 million for First Nations education and pledging to build reserve schools, Harper is not only making good on a promise (although short on expected funds), but looking down the road to fill another labour gap.
In short, he is getting out of the way and paving the way for the private sector to deliver for years to come, with an estimated $500 billion in resource projects coming down the road over the next decade.
Environmental assessments will be wrapped up in 12 months, and more complicated panel reviews will be over in 24 months.
Flaherty, in his speech, signaled the job potential in the resource sector in every province and region in the country, including the giant oil sands of Alberta, but also Quebec Premier Jean Charest’s ambitious Plan Nord and Dalton McGuinty’s Ring of Fire in northern Ontario.
“We will streamline the review process for such projects, according to the following principle – one project, one review, in a clearly defined time period,’’ Flaherty said. There is, however, one legacy of Harper’s first majority budget beyond the boost to the resource industry and the gutting of those nagging environmental impediments.
He is also gunning for institutions which define Canada, both here and abroad.
Harper has gone after the CBC disproportionately, is selling off official Canadian residences abroad, extending diplomatic postings and promising to “re-examine” participation in unspecified international organizations.
He is carving hundreds of millions from Canadian aid abroad, directing the Canadian International Development Agency to streamline its operations and ensure that we get better bang for our limited bucks overseas.
This budget, in effect, was delivered by Harper in a speech in Davos in late January, where he deemed Asian energy exports a national priority, promised to reboot research and development and signaled the changes to Old Age Security enshrined in Thursday’s budget.
The only thing he held back was the plan to eliminate the penny, of which, according to Flaherty, there are too many on our dressers.
And that might have been the only big surprise in a widely-telegraphed budget – how does Flaherty know what’s on my dresser?