An election platform awaiting an election

Once again the Tories opportunistically use for their own gain what should be an honest update to the public about the country’s finances. OK, the Liberals did that too, but that does not make it right. Along with the Economic and Fiscal Update 2006 comes Advantage Canada, the Tories’ blueprint for prosperity. If the metaphor is tennis, this document makes me want to get back to Deuce.

The document is silent on major issues of importance to most Canadians: first, inequality, poverty and homelessness (one exception is a stated intention to move ahead with a Working Income Tax Benefit that the Liberals proposed last year at this time); second, climate change; third, health care, including waiting lists and pharmaceutical drugs; fourth, affordable housing; and fifth, expanding a high quality early learning and child care system. Instead, the document aims to reduce the capacity of government to engage on those issues by keeping spending growth below GDP growth (albeit much more modestly than the Manning-Harris slash-and-burn plan).

As one might expect, the Conservatives’ answer to everything is a tax cut: the GST, personal income tax, and corporate taxes will all be cut under their plan. However, strangely absent, given rumblings in the press, is any mention of income splitting outside of that already mentioned for seniors’ pensions. Also of note is that the next GST cut to 5% will not happen until 2011, as they must have read the CCPA’s Economic and Fiscal Update which found that the Conservatives could not afford to pay for all their promises and still balance the budget.

Debt reduction is a big part of the plan, and the proposal to make the federal government debt-free by 2021 is sure to be a front-page headline tomorrow. The savings in interest payments as we get there will be allocated to tax cuts, too, which you have to admit is very clever of them. But their fortitude with regard to debt reduction seems in contrast to the pressing issues I suggest above. Here’s one refrain from page 27 of Advantage Canada:

Debt reduction is about fairness and equity toward future generations of Canadians. Debt represents a tax on future generations. It is only fair that those who benefited from the run-up in the debt assume responsibility for bringing it down. To do otherwise is to mortgage the future of our children and grandchildren.

Yet, when it comes to CO2 emissions that threaten the ability of those grandchildren to live on the planet, between the lines the document basically says “screw them”. There is one line on page 65 that says the government will “increase Canada’s capacity to adapt to a changing climate” which I take to mean that since there is no meaningful plan to reduce our emissions (called mitigation) we will just have to get used to a warmer and warmer planet.

The whole document leaves no platitude left unsaid. But while it may be true to the principles of the Tory faithful, it is a very disappointing plan whose only anchor is to make the Conservatives a majority government. But having all but abandoned the issues stated above, I doubt that there is enough here for them to get that majority if the Liberals come out of convention with a leader who can articulate those concerns in a compelling fashion.

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