In 40 AD, the Roman Emperor Caligula appointed his horse Incitatus to the Senate. On reflection, the emperor may have been an early Keynesian, who suddenly realized that Rome required economic stimulus to aid in the creation of jobs.
Whether the appointment of Incitatus to high office improved the empire's approach to economic policy-making is not known. What is known is that the horse's high status did lead to the creation of a number of jobs. Praetorian guards were posted around his stables to ensure that he was allowed peace and quiet before competitions. Eighteen servants attended the horse full-time, drawing salaries and this helped generate greater demand for goods and services in the imperial capital.
In Ottawa, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, the Caligula's horse of the Harper government, delivered an Economic Statement only nineteen days ago that already is so outdated that it feels as if it could have been written in ancient Rome.
How's this passage from the Economic Statement as an indicator of the government's sheer inability to assess what is going on in the Canadian economy: "Our sensible Canadian approach is paying off.
Our country will come out of this economic crisis in a strong position, because we are going into it in a strong position."
During the recent election campaign, the Harperites assured Canadians that there would be no recession and no government deficit. Now, less than three weeks after the self-satisfied Economic Statement, Stephen Harper himself is speculating that we could even face a depression.
With warnings on the front pages about the severe danger that a collapse of the auto industry would pose to our economy, including the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs and an economic depression in Ontario, the Harper government is still waiting on Washington before it takes action to address the crisis in our key manufacturing sector.
All is not lost where jobs are concerned, however. Between now and Christmas Day, Stephen Harper will be appointing 18 Senators, an entire cavalry squadron of Caligula's horses. Ottawa is agog with speculation about who might get the nod from a prime minister who, as a matter of principle, was opposed to making any Senate appointments, at least before the Liberal-NDP coalition reared its ugly mane. Now, Reform and Canadian Alliance warhorses are polishing their resumees and indundating the PMO with entreaties.
The pay is good, $130,400 a year, and the job is not onerous. Check into the Red Chamber several times a year and this pay cheque will keep coming until you turn 75.
P.S. For those determined to get their facts right, I'll concede that some historians believe that Caligula appointed Incitatus a Consul not a Senator.
James Laxer is a Professor of Political Science at York University in Toronto.
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