Monday, March 19, 2007

Business community's misplaced irk

Generally speaking I have a lot of time for the points of view expressed by Canadian Federation of Independent Business and their local director, Bradley George. He usually puts forward a moderate point of view taking on some of our sacred cows more shortsighted government policies in a sensible sort of way.

Definitely he has been able to vigorously represent his member's point of view unlike some of the other local general business associations whose relationship with government could most charitable be described as cautious bordering on craven.

So I'm surprised at Mr. George's public reaction to government borrowing $1billion to put it into the pension plan. He called it "irresponsible" saying:
"This is a big black hole, that's what this is," George said of the announcement. "Fifty per cent of the taxpayers don't have this kind of pension plan, but here we are now — government is focusing on dealing with its pension problem instead of improving the economy."
I'm sorry to say that, in this case, he's dead wrong.

First, it makes good sense to bring this unfunded and open pension liability under control. This liability has been acting as a big black cloud over the province's finances and it would as long as it was not brought under control. Borrowing the $1billion and then transferring it to the pension liability does not overall increase the indebtedness of government but does make the indebtedness concrete and predictable.

Second, I'm not really sure what Mr. George is complaining about or what he's implying as an alternative. Surely he can't be suggesting that the money should have gone into grantepeneurs or make-work projects? Or is he suggesting that the government let the public pension liabilities fall into the abyss?

Surely both of those ideas are far more short-sighted and irresponsible than putting this pension liability issue to bed.

The other thing worth noting was the miserable response from government defending this $1billion decision. I would have thought that Premier Williams could have provided a more illuminating defence than an off-the-cuff response like, "I think his comment is nonsensical. I think it's ridiculous."

Not an impressive exchange on anyone's part.

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