Big government is unfair
Maxime Bernier, MP for Beauce
Barrie, Ontario, March 19, 2016
Thank you very much Alex for organizing this exciting conference and for inviting me.
It’s a great pleasure to meet again so many Conservative friends from Ontario. And to share this stage with my esteemed colleagues. It’s interesting to see that the number of “future Conservative leaders” keeps going up. We Conservatives like competition, don’t we!
So, to get to the topic of today’s conference: How we can ensure that Conservatives have a bright future? And that the future in Canada is Conservative?
It’s obviously very important to defend the values of individual freedom and responsibility, the principles of small government and free markets.
You know that I am a big fan of these ideas. I have been fighting for them for many years and I will continue to do so. They are the reason I went into politics. They are central to who we are.
But defending these principles is not enough. Today I want to argue that to ensure their success and our success, we have to make them inseparable from the idea of fairness.
We live in an era of unprecedented wealth, of incredible technological feats. We live longer than any previous generation, and in better health, thanks to the rule of law and the free markets that are the basis of Western civilization.
Yet, many Canadians are dissatisfied with their lot. They see unfairness everywhere. They think the one percent have it too good at the expense of the poor and middle classes. They resent the power of big business. They think their region or province is not getting its fair share.
I believe they have a point. But they are wrong when they blame the rich and capitalism for all this unfairness. And when they support those in the Liberal Party and the NDP who promise to solve these problems with more government intervention. Because the real culprit is big government.
Take the issue of government subsidies to businesses. Free-market economists unanimously decry them as inefficient and a waste of taxpayers’ money. They bring a misallocation of resources. They create a constant demand for government intervention in the economy.
We know that they make no sense from an economic point of view. In a free-market economy, either a business is profitable, and then it doesn’t need government subsidies. Or it’s not profitable, and in this case it should be restructured, or sold, or shut down, so that it stops destroying wealth instead of creating it.
Yet, governments continue to distribute billions of dollars to businesses every year.
Subsidies are also grossly unfair. They favour some businesses at the expense of others.
Is it fair that a small entrepreneur here in Barrie should be forced to pay taxes to funds subsidies to Bombardier, or GM, or any other business run by millionaires? Is it fair to have struggling businesses across the country compete for resources with well-connected or trendy industries that can outbid them with the help of government grants?
No it’s no fair. But the culprit is not the free market. It’s big government.
This week, the Trudeau government will unveil its first budget. Its deficit could be as big as 30 billion dollars. There is no end in sight to this red ink. Some analysts are predicting that 150 billion dollars will be added to the debt in the next five years.
The government says it has to invest in infrastructures to kick start the economy. But we are not in a recession. And in any case, only a fraction of the proposed spending is going to be for actual infrastructures, capital improvements that will boost productivity and provide long-term benefits. The rest is for social spending that the Liberals call “social infrastructures.”
Because it wants to please everyone, to answer the demands of every special interest, and to solve every problem, this government has already lost control of its finances, barely a few months after its election. And who will have to pay for this? Young Canadians of course.
Already, 10% of government revenues goes to reimbursing the debt. When they are born, Canadian babies already owe many tens of thousands of dollars, which they will have to reimburse in one way or another in the course of their life. Perhaps this is why they start crying as soon as they arrive in this world! Is it fair to burden them with our irresponsible spending?
Big government is fundamentally, irrevocably unfair. A bigger government means a government that taxes more, spends more, gets deeper into debt, and regulates more.
It’s a government that forces consumers to pay more for goods and services by protecting industries from competition and creating barriers to trade. Is that fair?
It’s a government that forces citizens to be content with inefficient government services by preventing private alternatives to emerge. Is that fair?
It’s a government that crushes private initiative and the dreams of young entrepreneurs by creating barriers to entry and making capital scarce. Is that fair?
The more a government pretends to solve problems with these reckless policies, the more injustice, inequality and unfairness it creates.
Defenders of big government keep saying that we need more government programs and more government spending to help the poor, because they are being unfairly treated in a free economy.
But that’s complete nonsense! Hundreds of millions of utterly poor people have been lifted out of poverty in China, in India and other third world countries in recent decades. Is it because they have bigger governments? No, it’s because big government has receded. And these countries have finally adopted the basic free-market policies that we in the West have had for two hundred years.
The only way to help the poor is to give them the means to take control of their own lives. Not to send them bigger cheques and keep them in their dependent status. As John F. Kennedy said, a rising tide lifts all boats.
Those who claim that the way to help the poor is through bigger government are completely misguided.
Big government hurts the poor by slowing down economic growth and wealth creation. Is that fair?
Big government reduces opportunities for the poor by killing job creation with excessive taxes and regulation. Is that fair?
Big government creates poverty traps and treats the poor in a paternalistic way instead of like responsible citizens. Is that fair?
Fairness means that everyone has a chance to succeed.
As Conservatives, we don’t believe that government intervention is a solution for everything. For us, government should ideally set up and enforce the basic rules of life in society. And then, leave individuals free to cooperate among themselves to provide for their wants. Government should not intervene to solve each and every problem on the road to a utopian and unrealistic vision of society.
We want smaller government because ultimately we support individual freedom and personal responsibility. We have faith in people. We have faith that they have the ability, the dignity and the right to make their own decisions and determine their own destiny.
We should proudly claim the moral high ground when it comes to offering the vision of a more equitable society. And never let anyone tell us that Conservatives don’t care about fairness, don’t care about redressing injustice.
On the contrary, small-government principles and policies are the only way to guarantee equal rights and opportunities for all. They are the only way to offer a fair deal to all sectors of the economy, to all regions of the country, to all Canadians.
But to convince Canadians that this is the case, we have to defend these principles consistently, openly, with passion and with conviction.
Then, and only then, can we ensure that the future will be Conservative.