Right before an election begins, most political staffers and commentators can be heard saying “anything can happen in an election.” They say it because it’s true. This election, so far, has been no different – exhibit A, the events popularly known as the Brownface Scandal. However, this election should not be remembered only for its opposition research and archived photographs, but rather for some of the obvious policy inconsistencies each party has seemingly embraced.
The Liberal Party – Family Supports and Camping:
It should be very clear that political parties of all stripes have subsidized camping, whether they realize it or not. The Ontario Progressive Conservatives under Doug Ford recently created a means tested childcare tax credit in their first budget that explicitly covers camps. The federal childcare expense deduction has long covered “boarding schools, overnight sports schools, or camps where lodging is involved.” For anyone who thinks it is ridiculous that Trudeau is offering to cover the cost of camps for low-income children or that Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives are offering to cover the costs of camps through a tax credit, they should realize that their governments already do this.
What makes Trudeau’s $150 million promise to cover camps for 75,000 low-income children hypocritical is the inflexible nature of the program. The Canada Child Benefit that Stephen Harper’s Conservatives created, and the Trudeau Liberals have increased, is a hands-off grant to cover the costs of having a child. The money recognizes that families, especially low-income ones, have different needs and could use the extra help to get by. In fact, when the Liberals increased funding for the program, Minister Jean-Yves Duclos lauded the flexibility of the program stating, “It all helps pay for quality food, for grocery bills, for summer camps … for the cost of clothing.”
On May 6th, the Trudeau Liberals espoused the merits of a policy that allowed families to choose what costs they needed help with through the Canada Child Benefit. On September 26th, they decided that the principle of family choice wasn’t enough anymore, and instead would only offer government assistance to low-income families if they did exactly what the government said.
The Conservative Party – Retrofits and Tax Cuts:
The Conservative approach to home energy costs and green retrofits is quite hard to follow. First, the party has taken an affordability stance by pledging to remove federal sales tax on home heating, including on fuels like natural gas and the emissions heavy source of heating oil. Then, the Scheer Conservatives have pledged a refundable tax credit worth up to a maximum of $3,800 for green retrofits that cost between $1,000 and $20,000.
On the surface, both pledges can work together. They fit traditional Conservative principles by lowering the cost of living and returning money directly to taxpayers. However, the tax cut incents increased gas usage by making it cheaper, while the other policy claims using more gas is a bad thing – to the point that the government should incent you to use less. As Andrew Coyne succinctly tweeted about the promises, “So, Tories pay you to burn fuel, then pay you again to cut back.”
What makes the logic even harder to follow is the Conservative response to the Liberal promise of interest free loans for energy retrofits. When Trudeau made the promise, the Conservative release stated that, “Canadians who are struggling to make-ends-meet can’t afford a loan to renovate their house…”
Whether or not that is true is up for debate, but the Conservatives have to realize that for any household to be eligible for their tax credit they would have to incur the costs of renovations up front, file with receipts, and wait for their year-end tax return to get their money back. If Canadians cannot afford an up-front interest free loan that has no immediate impact on their pocketbook, then they cannot afford to incur $20,000 plus of home energy retrofits.
The New Democratic Party – Approach to Corporate Taxation:
The NDP has long taken the approach that corporations and businesses do not deserve tax breaks since they “have not translated into more business investment or good jobs for Canadians.” Contrarily, the other side of the aisle argues these policies stimulate business investment or lead to pass through price reductions to consumers.
Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the NDP is promising to return corporate tax rates to their 2010 levels of 18 per cent from the current 15 per cent. This general approach to taxation is consistent with the NDP’s broader ideology and past positioning. However, this approach simply is not carried throughout the document.
Earlier in their platform, the NDP promise to remove the federal sales tax from the construction of new rental units to “help get new units built faster and keep them affordable for the long term.” Reducing the cost of taxation on rental builds may encourage more housing starts, but it is ideologically inconsistent to suggest that this will lead to cheaper rent.
Since the builders of rental units only have one way to recover costs – by charging rent – the logic here is that a tax break for them will mean savings passed along to consumers. However, those builders are free to determine an initial rent that they see fit. Since the NDP has always argued that businesses just line their own pockets when they receive a tax break, why would businesses suddenly change their habits now and return that money to consumers in the form of cheaper rent? Cutting taxes on construction could be good policy, but not if you also believe that businesses never pass along benefits to customers.
The Bloc Quebecois – Energy Out but No Energy In:
The Bloc Quebecois has always been guided by a singular focus – more independence for Quebec. If the government is creating a national program the Bloc will want Quebec to be exempted or, at the very least, be given the money and authority on the topic with the ability to design the program themselves to fit their own interests. For example, the Bloc is supportive of national leadership on fighting climate change, but they insist on Quebec designing its own carbon pricing system rather than being forced into any federal programming.
On the national energy debate, it is no different. The Energy East pipeline would merely pass through Quebec and – in the view of the Bloc – provides more potential for risk than benefit. But a pipeline is obviously a real asset and not a high-level policy goal that can be manipulated to fit Quebec’s unique needs. The position could never be “you can have a pipeline from Alberta to New Brunswick as long as it doesn’t pass through Quebec,” so it has quickly become a clear position of “no to the Energy East project.”
While the Bloc takes exception with other provinces exporting energy in the form of oil, they support Quebec’s ability to export its surplus of hydroelectric energy to other provinces and the United States without issue. The Bloc platform even takes exception with previous federal support for Newfoundland’s Muskrat Falls hydro project on the grounds that it made it harder for Hydro Quebec to compete outside its provincial borders. The Bloc is supportive of energy infrastructure and exports through other jurisdictions when it benefits Quebec, but not when it benefits anyone else.
The Green Party – Costed Platforms for All:
The Green Party has an ambitious platform, to say the least. They plan to increase spending and revenue by nearly $60 billion annually. Considering the government brings in around $330 billion annually, that is a massive increase of almost 20% in new tax revenue without any savings on the spending side of the ledger. Adding that additional burden to Canadian taxpayers and businesses will have knock on effects that their platform simply fails to estimate.
Knowing what political parties are planning to spend is critically important, especially if the number is anywhere near what the Green Party is planning to do. Ultimately, that is why the platform promises that a Green government would “Require all parties to submit their campaign platform cost estimates to the Parliamentary Budget Officer for review.”
Sure, this is a laudable goal, but it is an inherent contradiction by the fact that the Green Party did not send all of their new spending or revenue commitments to the Parliamentary Budget Office. Worse yet, the Green Party platform got a failing grade of 30% from the Institute of Fiscal Studies and Democracy, a University of Ottawa institute that is evaluating each party’s fiscal costing. Simply to say, calling out other parties for a lack of fiscal transparency is quite the contradiction when you are failing to show that discipline yourself.
Election 43 is not the first time a political party has contradicted itself to gain traction, and it will not be the last. However, it is worth noting that each party is guilty of the offense this time around. It is also worth paying attention to see if abandoning long-held principles for short-term gain turns into a full-on strategy, rather than the simple tactic it appears to be presently.