The federal government recently poured $36.3 million into the Northleaf Venture Catalyst Fund the first of many soon-to-come government-sponsored funds comprising Ottawa's $400 million Venture Capital Action Plan. The plan, conceived with the view that Canada's lacklustre venture capital industry requires a government solution, ignores Canadian evidence that shows government-sponsored venture capital is ineffective. More fundamentally though, it represents a further blurring of the lines between pro-market and pro-business government policy.
In the land of government plenty that vast landscape populated with the tax dollars of Canadians there is no shortage of politicians willing to hand out and defend subsidies to business and no dearth of corporations willing to take the cash.
In his 1946 essay, Politics and the English Language, George Orwell argued that, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible. Orwell's quip came to mind again recently after reading Bombardier's defence of taxpayer subsidies to business, this in response to my recent study on the matter.
Back in 1962 John F. Kennedy had been president of the United States for one year, four lads from Liverpool were about to hit it big in the music world, and a Saskatchewan lawyer, John Diefenbaker, was in his fifth year as Prime Minister of Canada.
In retrospect, 1962 was also notable for another reason: it was the start of a trail identifying corporate welfare recipients, many of whom have sought subsidies from the federal government ever since.
Canada is a superb creation and initial credit for that must, obviously, go to Canada's fathers of Confederation. How we came about is a fascinating tale of seemingly intractable regional disputes resolved, at least for a time, by new institutions and a new country.
Canadians who dont regularly track how governments spend money might be surprised to find how myths crop up about government expenditures. Exhibit A is a new report that claims Canada needs even more industrial policy, academic lingo for subsidies to business, and this as if governments had not already long practised such policy, and at a considerable cost to taxpayers.
Back in June 2009, the federal and Ontario governments decided to use massive amounts of taxpayer cash to rescue General Motors and Chrysler, two corporations deemed too big to fail. The cost to Canadians was US$13.7 billion: $10.8 billion to GM and $2.9 billion to Chrysler.
The taxpayer bailout was part of the court-supervised restructuring process for the two companies, egged on by the Obama administration. Behind the scenes, the White House made clear that any restructured versions of the companies might leave Canada if taxpayers in this country did not ante up.
If business leaders ever wonder why a chunk of the public disdain business and call for higher corporate taxes or sector-specific increases (higher royalty rates for energy and mining, higher stumpage fees in forestry) or just increased business taxation in general, heres a clue: too many companies are addicted to corporate welfare.
Crony capitalism is problematic all on its own. Addiction to it only reinforces the perception that businesses cant be bothered to compete on merit, in an open market, but prefer to plead for political favours and protection at taxpayers expense.
There is apparently no shortage of politicians with a not-so-secret Hollywood love affair: they love to throw tax sweeteners and direct subsidies at the film industry, this in an effort to lure film production to their province or state.
The latest starry-eyed politician is the British Columbia opposition leader, Adrian Dix. In his run-up to that provinces May election, the B.C. NDP leader has promised to up the film tax credit for labour costs to 40 per cent, up from 35 per cent.