Maxime Bernier’s bid to lead the federal Conservative party is, from all appearances, a quest to tear down Big Government. He promised to end corporate subsidies. He signed a pledge to balance the budget within two years. He wants to deregulate the telecommunications industry, privatize Canada Post, and end supply management. Earlier this month he declared that “the maple syrup cartel must also be abolished.”
His campaign stands in stark contrast to those Conservatives who mistakenly insist that federal economic policy during the Harper decade could be labelled as free market. One example is Tory MP Pierre Poilievre, who described Stephen Harper in a recent Ottawa Citizen op-ed as a “steely-eyed, hard-nose Conservative economist whose stated purpose was ‘more freedom through less government.’”
The problem is that this “stated purpose” was never accomplished. Even before the recession began, the federal government under Harper was spending more and more. In 2005–06, federal program spending (which is a more relevant statistic than total federal spending since it excludes debt interest payments) was 12.6 per cent of GDP. It increased to 12.8 per cent in 2006–07, and reached a high of 15.8 per cent in 2009–10 before falling back down to 12.9 per cent in 2014–15.
In other words, federal program spending as a percentage of GDP was higher every year ...