If you read government press releases, and for my sins I do, you will notice something odd. The Harper Administration, praised by friends and pilloried by foes for its free-market, libertarian leanings, cannot watch a sparrow fly by without boasting that they subsidized it.

Seriously. They can’t note the 140th anniversary of the first indoor hockey game in Canada without touting the Child Tax Fitness Credit (March 3). They cannot note the coming of a Biathlon competition without praising themselves for giving it $100,000 (March 2). They do not flinch from admitting, indeed they shout, that they have helped a PEI firm open ”œa new open joist flooring and beam factory in Eel River Crossing” with a ”œrepayable contribution” of half a million bucks (March 3.)

I won’t bother you with my whole distressing list of these things from, say, the past week alone. It is surprisingly long. But do please try to imagine the dudgeon of one S. Harper, when president of the National Citizens’ Coalition, at a government whose meddling hubris led it not just to subsidize firms but to pronounce on the wisdom and economic virtues of individual factories producing products about which, it is safe to say, they know next to nothing. But something has happened to let him and his ministers see themselves as limited-government types while inserting government into almost literally everything.

Part of it is sheer, crass political calculation. Money buys votes, so any festival, snowmobile club or joist factory that extends a hand gets your cash. But I do not think it is garden variety hypocrisy. I think they have bought into a theory of society in which government should stick to essential tasks like providing infrastructure but everything is infrastructure, social if not in the old sense physical. They even subsidize business associations and ”œexport workshops” on the theory that, apparently, knowledge is public infrastructure rather than a private asset.

Again, what expertise exactly they possess on the question of effective exporting without subsidies is not obvious. But thus do they buy votes with a clean conscience.

Unfortunately it’s still our money, from an increasingly dirty balance sheet in which non-market loans increasingly do the work of properly scrutinized spending. And when you invest in community halls, snowmobile clubs and arts festivals on the theory that it’s social rather than physical infrastructure, what does it make you besides a social engineer?

Social engineering is bad economic policy, bad social policy and political hypocrisy. And the Tories know it. Yet they sleep like babies after doing it.

John Robson
John Robson is a documentary filmmaker, an Invited Professor at the University of Ottawa and a commentator-at-large with News Talk Radio 580 CFRA in Ottawa. He holds a B.A. and M.A. in history from the University of Toronto and a Ph.D in American history from the University of Texas at Austin. He has worked in academia, think tanks and politics as well as doing print, radio and television journalism in Canada, and produced and hosted the documentary The Great War Remembered for Sun News Network in 2014. He is married to Brigitte Pellerin.

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