A Canadian's perspective on domestic and international issues. Independent coverage of Canadian federal, provincial and municipal elections and anything of interest in Canada.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Sneak preview of the Harper election plan

In case there is anyone out there who can’t figure out what Stephen Harper is up to, let me explain.
Gay marriage, human rights in China, Quebec nationalism, Senate reform, well, that stuff is all a smoke screen designed to do two things: 1. Keep parliament from voting on any economic issue or any matter that could result in non-confidence motion; 2. To keep the electorate thinking the current government is actually doing something to fix what is wrong with Canadian society and keep our minds off the real issues of the day: healthcare, environment and our foreign affairs policy, especially where it relates to Afghanistan.
You see, all Mr. Harper really wants to do is keep his government in tact until parliament breaks for the holidays so he can come back in the spring and institute his real plan.
What’s his real plan?
Listen up kids, here it is!
In the spring, when parliament resumes, Harper will introduce a budget full of tax cuts. He’ll come up with a further cut to the GST, raise the bar on the amount people can earn before they are taxed, cut taxes to medium and high wage earners, allow for primary household wage earners to share their tax burden with their spouses, increase the child tax credit and or the GST rebate, and increase the daycare rebate, among other things. This tax cut package will be so good that even the opposition will have trouble justifying a non-confidence motion over it.
The opposition however, for their own survival, will have to introduce a non-confidence motion, and they will do so on the grounds that Harper will not explain how these tax cuts will affect government services and revenues.
Harper will counter explaining the plan will be to create a user-pay system. It will seem to make sense to people. They’ll only have to pay for government services they actually use. For example, we could see a steep rise in the cost of getting a passport, which will only affect those Canadians who require a passport. People wanting to view their files under legislation such as the Freedom of Information Act, will find themselves paying more for such services. Again, it will only affect those who wish to use those services, or so Harper and his party will claim.
This will all make sense to those Canadians whose primary concern is how much money they have left in their banks accounts at the end of the work week, and will win over a lot of voters.
It will also divert a lot of attention away from the real issues of the day, healthcare, foreign policy, and the environment, thus making tax cuts the major election issue.
This plan will in many ways echo the US Republican Party’s election platform of 2004, where the issue should have been Iraq and government integrity, but became tax cuts and gay marriage.
Will it work? Well, yes, if the Canadian people are in fact more concerned about their individual bottom lines than they are the welfare of our society!
When the election call is finally made, if all goes according to Harper’s plan, we can expect the current PM to campaign on tax cuts with a liberal smattering of the politics of fear thrown in. Harper will harp on how corrupt and bungling the Liberals were and go on and on about how he tried to introduce a budget that was good for the “average Canadian” but the opposition was against it. If he has his way there will be nary a mention of issues like the environment, and when there is, he will refer to his “Clean Air Act” and say, ‘Well folks, I tried to bring in a clean air act but the opposition made me send it back to committee.’ He’ll say, I tried to fix the fiscal imbalance but the opposition wouldn’t let me. I tried to put more money in people’s pockets but the opposition didn’t think we should do that. I tried to cut the GST but they wouldn’t let me.
Of course, Mr. Harper will say nothing about how his proposed cuts will affect government revenues, the national debt such cuts will create, or how much service fees will increase. Instead he’ll just keep hammering away at how he tried to do all these wonderful things but the other guys kept getting in the way.
In the end Mr. Harper will fight his campaign on the political theory that all you need to do to win a vote is convince the voter that he or she will have more money in their pocket at the end of the day, and if you can convince them of that they will ignore what is best for the society at large.
On the other side of the aisle the opposition will be scrambling. They will be tempted to come up with some tax cutting proposals of their own in order to steal some of the PM’s platform out from under him. If they do this, they will be falling right into Harper’s trap, because the moment they start talking about tax cuts is the moment the debate shifts in Harper’s favour. On the other hand, if the opposition ignores the tax cut issue and pounds away at the real issues; healthcare, foreign policy and environment, than all Harper has to do is adopt the mantra “At what cost?”
The only hope the opposition have of keeping all this from coming down, the way I describe, is to launch a preemptive strike of some sort. In short, they have to find a way to bring down the Conservative minority before Harper can introduce his tax cutting budget, and they have to do it over an issue that is close to the Canadian heart. I believe that issue is Afghanistan, although it could be either healthcare or the environment, but in those instances it would have to be something specific, like a clear plan to immediately end wait times in surgical wards or dramatically reduce harmful emissions in a manner that does not affect the working persons’ wallet.
Unfortunately, with parliament about to recess for the holidays, the opposition seems to have already missed the boat. Unless Harper dallies, which he is far too smart to do, the dye is already cast.
The only real question that remains is: Will the Canadian people buy it?
This will depend on several factors. Are Canadian’s really more concerned about their own personal wealth than the are the overall wealth of the society? Will they be blinded to the certain debt creation that will result from dramatic tax cuts? Do we really believe that Harper’s recent introduction of issues such as the gay marriage vote, the Chinese human rights issue, Quebec nationalism, and senate reform are for real, and not just subterfuge? Are the environment, healthcare and foreign policy only surface issues and is our real concern high taxes? Do we really buy the assertion that all the problems the current government faces are the result of previous government bungling?
One other factor that will play a large role in determining whether the Harper strategy will be successful will be voter turnout. How many people in this country are just going to walk away believing their vote doesn’t really matter? Statistics show that most people who vote are from middle to upper income tax brackets, the same people who will benefit most from tax cuts. If, as in years past, the lower income householders, the ones who benefit most from things like universal healthcare, do not show up at the polls, then the scale will most definitely tip in Harper’s favour.
Like almost every government before them, the Harper Conservative focus has shifted from serving the people of Canada to getting reelected, not that the current Conservatives were ever really interested in doing anything but gaining power. This is something the Canadian voter admonished Harper’s predecessors for, being more concerned about maintaining power than serving the people. Last year, we punished the Liberal Party for their power-hungry ways, and for the corruption that results from power. Now we’re faced with a minority government that’s only focus is gaining a majority. What are we going to do about it? That’s the million dollar question!
Personally, I would like to believe that Canadians are well enough educated, skeptical enough of their politicians, and seriously enough committed to our national interests and institutions, to vote our consciences, not our bank statements. I want to believe that, I really do, but I’m not sure, not by any stretch of the imagination.
Our next election may be fought over tax cuts. It may be fought over healthcare, environment and foreign policy. But our next election is really going to be about the kind of Canada we envision for ourselves and our grandchildren!
How’s it going to turn out?
Well, that’s a decision you and I are going to have to make for ourselves!


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