Published Sep. 9, 2013, in The Waterloo Region Record.
The wheels of government grind exceedingly slowly, as many citizens can attest from personal experience. And the more senior the government, the more slowly its wheels seem to turn. Decisions that might require a few days can take weeks or months, if not years.
Sometimes it takes a firm push, or a boot in the posterior, to get a government moving. Here are a couple of recent examples.
First, climate change. Back in 1997, the Liberal government of Jean Chrétien signed on to the Kyoto Protocol, committing Canada to the reduction of greenhouse gases. True, the Liberals never made a serious effort to meet the emissions targets, but at least they paid lip service to the notion that global warming was a bad thing. Not so Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. To them, climate change was fuzzy socialist thinking that intruded on the healthy capitalist enterprise of resource extraction.
Last week, however, word was leaked that Harper had written to U.S. President Barack Obama offering a deal. If Obama would do what he had become reluctant to do — approve the stalled Keystone KL pipeline, a $5.3-billion project to carry crude oil from the Alberta oilsands to refineries on the U.S. Gulf coast — the Harper government would get serious about greenhouse-gas emissions. Harper proposed joint action by the two governments to reduce emissions.
The pipeline provided the push. Whether it will actually lead to anything is matter for another day, or month or year.
The second example is the Senate. Senate reform has been stated policy of the Conservatives since they came to office in 2006. The Tories have been ragging the puck for seven years, going nowhere. Now, however, a combination of ill-considered appointments and the cynical use of celebrity senators (and their expense accounts) to promote the partisan interests of the Tory party has created a problem that will not go away.
It is distracting the government, making it look sleazy in the public’s eyes, and providing fuel to the opposition as the political cycle turns toward a general election in two years’ times. Now, Harper needs to be seen to be doing something about the Senate. After seven years, he has only himself to blame for his dilemma.
There are other examples of inaction. Thirty years ago, the CF-18 went into service with the Canadian Air Force. The government knows these aircraft must be replaced, but it cannot get its act together. When the Harper government took office in 2006, it decided to order 65 sophisticated F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters. Production delays, performance problems and a constantly inflating price tag played havoc with the proposed acquisition. Initially, the all-in cost was given as $16 billion. The figure kept rising in various reports — to $25 billion, $30 billion, then $40 billion. The latest figure circulating within the government: $71 billion (or more than $1 billion per plane).
So now the government is looking around for other options. Guess what they are looking at: the F-18 Super Hornet, the updated version of the aircraft Canada purchased 30 years ago. It still does the job.
Next, the search and rescue helicopters — an even longer story than the CF-18 replacement. Canada’s Sea King helicopters are routinely described as “aging.” That’s an understatement. The Sea Kings went into service 50 years ago, in the summer of 1963; 27 of the original 41 are still in service.
Back in 1986, the Mulroney Conservative government began looking for replacement choppers, and in 1992 it signed a $4.4-billion contract with European Helicopter Industries for 48 EH-101 helicopters. In 1993, however, Chrétien, keeping an election promise, cancelled the purchase, incurring $157.8 million in penalties. A new search began. These things take time. In 2004, Ottawa announced it would spend $3.2 billion for 28 Sikorsky CH-148 Cyclone helicopters.
Deliveries were to be made between 2008 and 2012. Sikorsky couldn’t make the deadlines, so Ottawa is looking around (again). Meanwhile the venerable Sea Kings keep chopping along.