A Con­ser­va­tive wolf in seal­skin clothes

The Compass - - Editorial - Rus­sell Wanger­sky East­ern Pas­sages Rus­sell Wanger­sky is TC Me­dia’s At­lantic re­gional colum­nist. He can be reached at rus­sell.wanger­sky@tc.tc — Twit­ter: @ Wanger­sky.

In St. John’s on Thurs­day morn­ing, Tory lead­er­ship can­di­date Kevin O’Leary slipped into an ap­par­ently bor­rowed seal­skin coat to make one more con­nec­tion when speak­ing with the lo­cals.

But bor­rowed or bought, the move, in all its sim­ple prop-pop­ulism, re­minded me of a wealthy New­found­land cabi­net min­is­ter who used to drive a Jaguar to work at the leg­is­la­ture, but who put that car away and rented a cheap sedan when­ever he was on the campaign trail.

The mes­sage? “I’m one of you” — when, re­ally, you’re not.

O’Leary’s stump­ing in the At­lantic prov­inces this week, tak­ing his mes­sage of gross do­mes­tic prod­uct growth and his mixed bag of con­ser­va­tive and not-so-con­ser­va­tive ideas to po­ten­tial Tory party mem­bers as he seeks the lead­er­ship of the fed­eral Con­ser­va­tive Party.

In Pooles Cor­ner, P.E.I., on Wed­nes­day, he’d had much the same mes­sage that he brought to St. John’s: only the econ­omy and jobs mat­ter.

O’Leary talked about the need to keep up with the Amer­i­can Jone­ses: “We should have waited to see if we could have been com­pet­i­tive. If (U.S. Pres­i­dent Donald Trump) low­ers cor­po­rate tax, we match it. If he low­ers per­sonal tax, we match it.’’

O’Leary sees Trump’s prom­ises of things like low­er­ing per­sonal and cor­po­rate taxes, re­duc­ing reg­u­la­tion and re­mov­ing the en­vi­ron­men­tal re­stric­tions on in­dus­try as good things.

“He was pro growth, pro cap­i­tal, pro jobs in ev­ery state of the coun­try. He is go­ing to be com­pet­i­tive.”

We should, ap­par­ently, take those kinds of changes to heart and match the low­est com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor.

Fight for the bot­tom may work well as a campaign sell­ing point, but it’s not with­out per­ils: trick­le­down eco­nom­ics, along with the idea that in­creases in gross do­mes­tic prod­uct lift all boats, doesn’t re­ally hap­pen to the ex­tent that those who reap the bulk of the flow like to pre­tend.

Just look at a dif­fer­ent kind of boats: thou­sands of mer­chant ships, cruise ships, freighters and tankers op­er­ate un­der “flags of con­ve­nience” from coun­tries like Panama or Liberia.

Why? Be­cause those coun­tries have lit­tle or no in­ter­est in over­sight or reg­u­la­tion of ves­sels, their own­ers or their crews. Reg­is­ter a ves­sel in this coun­try and you have to meet Cana­dian guide­lines, in­clud­ing Cana­dian crew­ing re­quire­ments and pay scales.

A dearth of ship­ping reg­u­la­tions — and the abil­ity to pay crews a frac­tion of what they would get if the ves­sels were reg­is­tered in coun­tries with stricter rules — means that a small coun­try like Panama can end up with the largest regis­tra­tion of ves­sels in the world.

But does that mean that, in or­der to “com­pete,” we should lower all of our marine safety stan­dards and wages to match Panama’s? We might in­crease O’Leary’s all-en­com­pass­ing GDP, not to men­tion big­ger prof­its for those own­ing ves­sels reg­is­tered in this coun­try, but the only trick­le­down would be bad wages and dan­ger­ous crew­ing con­di­tions.

Should we lower safety reg­u­la­tions for coal min­ers in Cape Bre­ton to com­pete fi­nan­cially with ac­ci­dent-prone and deadly Chi­nese coal mines?

Get­ting rid of reg­u­la­tions to stay com­pet­i­tive has clear down­sides; giv­ing com­pa­nies fewer en­vi­ron­men­tal rules means they will be able to pol­lute. Lower taxes means ei­ther money com­ing from some­where else, or less med­i­cal care, fewer road re­pairs, and sec­ond-class ed­u­ca­tion for our kids.

Be­ing com­pet­i­tive does mean more jobs and more money — but most of that money isn’t go­ing to ben­e­fit you or your fam­ily. It does mean less pro­tec­tion. It’s just a com­fort­able suit of clothes for another busi­ness­man who wants you to be­lieve his sales pitch.

That seal­skin coat? If O’Leary didn’t slip it back off again be­fore head­ing home to Bos­ton, U.S. cus­toms agents would seize it.

But I doubt he was wear­ing it any­where else but here any­way.

Be­ing com­pet­i­tive does mean more jobs and more money — but most of that money isn’t go­ing to ben­e­fit you or your fam­ily.

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