(This column was published in the North Shore News on Jan. 26, 2000)


NHL game a tax smokescreen

By Leo Knight

FEDERAL Industry Minister John Manley took one for the team on Friday when he was cross-checked in the back by Canadian taxpayers fed up with a government so incredibly out of touch with the people who pay their freight.  


In doing so, Manley also euthanized his own political career. The Ottawa-area MP might as well kiss any chance of re-election goodbye once the ramifications of his failed NHL aid package result in the Senators (the hockey team not the failed politicians with their snouts in the public trough) packing up their pucks and heading for the more friendly environs of the Excited States of America.  


Barely 72 hours after announcing his government's ill-conceived subsidy plan for the Canadian-based NHL teams, Manley flipped faster than Gordon Wilson looking for a new political party.  


"Canadians have made their views known on taxpayers' assistance to professional hockey," said the grim-faced minister.  


"My caucus colleagues have echoed their constituents' opinions. The prime minister and I want them to know Friday that this government listens and takes their views very seriously," Manley said as he tried to rescue his tattered career.  


As if!  


The next time Chretien and his trained seals listen to the public's viewpoints and actually take them seriously will be the first time.  


This is the same bunch who, while in opposition, howled like stuck pigs at the Mulroney government's GST and promised to eradicate it when given power.  


What about a refugee system leaking like a sieve? Tax relief? A failing justice system? Victim's rights? Hospital waiting lists? Welfare fraud?  


What was truly amazing in all of this was the rather piddling amount offered by the Liberals. In the great scheme of things it was only $20 million. External Affairs spills that much claret on consulate Persian rugs every year.  


Manley also had the unmitigated gall to point at provincial ministers of finance in attempting to allocate blame for the disaster.  


One of his targets was Alberta treasurer Stockwell Day, whose inherent philosophy is probably what really galls the Chretien crowd.  


The day after Manley's public humiliation, Day was quoted in the Calgary Sun as saying such blasphemous things as: "The feds should lower their taxes now. Canadians are more sophisticated. They can't be fooled anymore.  


"People know we can lower taxes by getting out of things government shouldn't be doing, by delivering essential services in the most efficient way and by paying down the debt."  


He went on, "It used to be politicians held the citizens of this country together by saying: You want to lower taxes, you'll be paying through the nose for services. Decade after decade, the politicians paralysed the Canadian people with fears that if taxes were lowered we would all die naked, uneducated and starving on unpaved streets. They were wrong."  


Day ought to be careful when he speaks in those terms. Chretien's boys might try to charge him with treason.  


In the same week, news emanated from Ottawa exposing the crass mismanagement of Human Resources Development Canada, rather clumsily run by Minister Jane Stewart.  


HRDC has evidently, according to the news briefing given by Stewart, frittered away over $3 billion on so-called job creation grants.  


An internal audit determined that 87% of the money given away was never monitored. Twenty five percent of the files didn't state what kinds of jobs were being funded.  


Fifteen per cent didn't even have an application form on file. And, in the majority of cases, more money was given out than was asked for.  


Stewart's response to this insanity: the public expects better of government, she told the press conference.  


Thanks for sharing that particular insight minister.  


Good Lord! Three billion dollars wasted and that's it? Not a rolling head in sight. Even to the Liberals $3 billion must seem like a lot of money. And there's been barely a peep thanks mostly to Manley and the NHL thing. Hey, wait a minute. You don't suppose there's a connection do you?  


A substantial bit of that $3 billion was given to various projects in Shawinigan, the prime minister's riding. Some of it to a hotel that Chretien himself used to own. Hmmmmm.  


The Liberal spin doctors were conspicuous with their silence in the wake of Manley's announcement. Equally, it's unlike Chretien to make a major announcement without lining up his own backbenchers and cracking the whip to ensure everyone is onside. That doesn't seem like it was done in the case of the NHL subsidy.  


Surely Chretien's storied polling machine would have let them know the people were against subsidizing multi-millionaire hockey owners with any taxpayer dollars.  


So how could the groundswell of public outrage have caught them by surprise as Manley would have us believe?  


Is it possible the whole thing was created as a political smokescreen to ensure the focus was on the rather paltry NHL subsidy and not on the HRDC debacle?  


Surely not.  


Even the federal Liberals aren't that diabolical. Or are they?  


Could it be that this was all very carefully coordinated to head off a taxpayer's revolt.


Just asking.  





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