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Maxed out

Stevie the Magic Liberal

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Well, I've never seen a magic act to quite top the one in Ottawa Tuesday. I've seen lots of elephants disappear, women sawn in half, doves flying out of top hats, coins pulled from ears, billions of dollars vanish without a trace and even J.J. Geddyup pick up a bar tab. But in all my long years and broad travels, in all the books I've read and newspapers I've scanned, I've never seen nor heard about a bunch of redneck, card-carrying, "fiscally-responsible" Conservatives changed before my very eyes into - Liberals?

My astonishment pales next to the dismay of real conservatives, and real Conservatives for that matter - if any are left - who, for decades, watched the queer-bashing, tax-hating, pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps, let the liberal eastern bastards freeze in the dark, right wing whackos of the Alliance, née, Reform party, frozen out of power like so much spittle on a bum's chin, snap at the government's heels while real conservatives dreamed of the day a miracle would happen and people who believed in the things they believed in would actually become the government. They suffered the indignities of social outcasts as the Natural Governing Party kept them divided and powerless, limp members with no Viagra.

Having deceived and co-opted the old Regressive Conservative party through the lies and betrayal of Peter "The Weasel" McKay, they finally reached the nirvana of unity. Having grabbed power when Big Jean - the last Canadian leader who actually understood how to use power - turned the growing sponsorship scandal over to Paulie "Amateur Hour" Martin, they rejoiced. And having gotten the chance, regardless of how minority that chance was, to govern, what do they do? They morph into Liberals.

Oh the humanity. Oh the pathos.

Okay, Liberals may not be completely accurate. Maybe liberals is closer.
Within modern Canadian history, it's still only the Liberal party who showed the political skill and fortitude to balance a budget and grow a surplus while paying down the national mortgage, something the Conservatives may never grasp in our lifetimes.

Yeah, yeah, all the genius economists are saying, "Don't worry; be happy; run deficits to attack the recession." And there's probably much to recommend their topsy-turvy theorizing.

Like cholesterol though, there are good deficits and there are artery-clogging, heart attack-inducing, goodbye cruel world deficits. Naturally, Little Stevie Hapless embraced the latter to at least the extent he grudgingly paid homage to the former.

When you're trying to stimulate an economy, or more accurately trying to keep an economy from completely imploding, the best thing to do is to put people to work. There's nothing like a paycheque to bolster someone's confidence in the future, make 'em feel good about buying something and even buoy their neighbour's spirits. This is especially true if the way you're going to put them to work is to build lasting improvements to your country by investing those tax dollars on infrastructure, health care, education and other things whose benefits you can enjoy even after the crisis passes.

Imagine, if you will, infrastructure projects as mundane as improving Canada's third-world national highway. The Trans-Canada highway is a cruel joke. With notable, and short, exceptions, it's barely better than most tertiary state roads south of the border. Much of it is two-lane. Much of it runs through the middle of dinky towns. All of it is in disrepair. The amount it costs the national economy in squandered efficiency and unproductive hours of gridlock dwarfs what it would cost to turn it into a real highway.

And that's one tiny example.

The worst way to stimulate an economy is to cut taxes. Tax cuts are inefficient and disproportionately "help" the people who need help least. No one fearing the loss of their job is going to do anything with their illusory tax savings other than stuff them into their mattresses. Net effect on the economy: zero.

That's not entirely true. The net effect of tax cuts is negative. When the economy eventually rebounds, the government of the day will be stuck with a reduced tax base, an overhanging annual deficit and a country who will feel betrayed when taxes have to start to rise back to where they were before the misplaced largesse was doled out.

But tax cuts are popular. They're popular because most people aren't smart enough to know what a con game they are. Take, for example, the highly-touted $1,350 tax credit for home renovations. Arguably, it might encourage people already planning a reno to move ahead and it will marginally benefit people who make their living off home improvements. But it only affects homeowners - small slice of the pie - and the full benefit only kicks in on $10,000 renos, smaller slice still. And how many homeowners who want new kitchens are going to undertake that job right now... when they're seeing their neighbours' jobs disappear daily?

For a Conservative economist, Stevie's got a lot of 'splainin' to do. I'm not holding my breath waiting.

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Okay, no tortured transitions this week. This is an unabashed plug for next Wednesday's Turn Up Winter film. If you saw this week's film, Stop Making Sense, you already know what a sonic treat it is to watch and hear a great concert at Millennium Place. You can't shake your bones like that at home without raising the neighbour's ire.

In 1969, the British Invasion stopped importing sweet rock 'n' roll bands singing about holding hands and blew our minds with another group, more in the mold of, say, Cream. With their first album, Led Zeppelin brought rock back to its bluesy roots and simultaneously moved it towards the take-no-prisoners stadium monster it would become.

Surprisingly few of their live performances were ever captured on film. But the film of their three-night stand at Madison Square Garden in 1973, The Song Remains the Same, is legacy enough. And that's what we're playing next Wednesday.

Notwithstanding the self-indulgent fantasy sequences - imagine, rock stars being self-indulgent - the concert footage shows Plant, Page, Bonham and Jones at the height of their raw, driving power. The extended versions of the title track, Since I've Been Loving You, Whole Lotta Love and, yes, even Stairway to Heaven, go a long way to understanding how, 40 years after they burst onto the scene, a town like Whistler can support a band like Whole Lotta Led. Their music was that good and that timeless.

Miss it if you dare. But if you're going to catch it, catch it quick; because of its length, about two and a half hours, we're only showing it once, at 8 p.m. The tickets are cheap, the profits go to a good community cause and, oh yeah, Grateful Greg, who channels Robert Plant better than Plant himself does these days, is going to do the introductions. Who better?

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