A disconcerting trend is establishing itself in Canadian politics. Political parties are showing essentially no interest in the merits of a policy proposal beyond its potential as an element of some shrewd communications strategy.
From the Conservatives, we have the never-to-be-sufficiently-denounced cuts to the GST. They will never admit this was a mistake, because the policy was a winner according to only criterion that matters to them:
“Despite economic evidence to the contrary, in my view the GST cut worked,” Brodie said in Montreal at the annual conference of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada. “It worked in the sense that by the end of the ’05-’06 campaign, voters identified the Conservative party as the party of lower taxes. It worked in the sense that it helped us to win.”
From the Liberals, we learn that they're thinking about canceling corporate tax cuts. Not because it's a good idea, but because it'll fit into the narrative they want to sell:
Some senior Liberals contend that vowing to roll back the corporate tax cut might actually help Ignatieff, who's been trying to position himself as the leader most in tune with the priorities of hardpressed middle-class families.
"Guess what? Every time some big moneybags kicks up a fuss, it's going to prove to John and Jane Q. Public that we're actually on their side," says one senior Grit of the potential backlash among business leaders.
And the NDP wants to cut the GST on heating costs. This is dumb for at least two reasons:
- Making heating oil cheaper can only increase greenhouse gas emissions.
- If the NDP wants to help low-income households deal with heating costs, they should give them money.
But once again, the merits of the proposal don't matter. What matters is being in a position to have this passage appear in news stories:
Layton said the government can't evade ownership for the [HST], even though it was imposed by the provinces, since Ottawa has been pressing provinces to harmonize their sales taxes with the federal GST, even offering billions of dollars in inducements. The resulting HST imposes taxes on many items previously not covered under the provincial version, including services such as hair cuts, phone bills and dry cleaning.
"This is his tax, it would not have happened without the Stephen Harper initiative. He can run but he can't hide from this one," he said.
All three parties have now decided that the path to power is paved with stupidity. We won't have good government, but at least we'll see cunningly-crafted communications strategies.
And that's all that matters, right?