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Monday, September 15, 2008

What do the Leader's Promises Really Mean?

It’s week number two of the federal election campaign and the promises are beginning to pile higher than dung in a cattle yard.

The mainstream party leaders (Harper, Dion, Layton and May) are crisscrossing the Country looking for four more years of employment at the taxpayer’s expense.

Meanwhile, the newly minted Newfoundland and Labrador First party has named a second candidate in its bid to elect representatives who aren’t constrained by a federal party machine controlled in the larger provinces.

In an effort to shed some light on the truth behind all the promises I’ve compiled a few from each of the party leaders and humbly offer them in conjunction with my take on what they really mean to us mere mortals. Not that they actually matter a great deal since party leaders hold their election promises about as well as a fork holds water.

To start, the Conservatives, or as I like to call them the Conservative/Reform/Alliance Party, CRAP for short, are promising a two-cent-per-litre cut to diesel and aviation fuel taxes. The projected cost of this promise: $600 million a year.

What they won’t tell you is that the actual savings to individual truckers, airlines, fishers, farmers and others will be very minimal at best. When you consider that a two cent a litre swing in fuel prices, either up or down, can and does happen on an almost daily basis anyway these days, there is no real gain to be had here.

The other side of this coin is the fact that the $600 million dollar cost of the Harper promise will have to be made up somewhere along the line, either through tax increases or program cuts and that's something that might have a deeper impact down the road.

Money doesn’t grow on trees, not even in Ottawa.

Another Harper promise is the “near-complete” withdrawal of Canadian troops from Afghanistan in 2011.

What does that mean exactly? Will there be troops there or not? How many will be left, if any, and exactly where will they be posted if they are there?

A motion passed in the House of Commons not so long ago said the troops would be out of Kandahar by 2011, it said nothing about taking them out of Afghanistan completely.

The Conservatives can try to dress this dog up as simply reaffirming their commitment but it isn’t. This is something completely different but thanks to the ambiguity of the statement itself nobody but Stephen Harper is sure exactly what it does mean.

Whether or not you support the reason Canadian soldiers are in Afghanistan the fact remains that they are there and more of them are dying all the time. To make an announcement about troop deployments in an off the cuff press briefing, for pure political advantage during an election campaign, is the lowest form of self serving crapulence I’ve ever seen a politician stoop to and believe me I’ve seen them stoop pretty low.

Finally, before moving onto the next gang of federal job candidates, the Liberals, the Conservatives have also promised to ease foreign ownership restrictions on Canadian firms by increasing the allowed level of foreign investment in airlines to 49% from the current 25% and allowing foreign companies to own Canadian uranium mines.

It may seem like a good idea when you think about the potential job creation that might come with all that foreign investment but consider that even a 49% stake in an airline will allow those investors to have a great deal of say in how things are done, from outside the borders of Canada, and without regard for whether customer needs here are truly being met.

Do I even need to go into the possible problems that might occur by allowing a foreign entity to own vast quantities of Canadian uranium?

Moving on…

The Liberals are next on the list.

A key promise of Stephane Dion’s is a ban on semi-automatic assault rifles outside of the military.

Not a bad move, in and of itself, but we’ve all seen the boondoggle of the gun registry and how much of our tax dollars were sucked down that sink hole. I don’t have a problem with banning semi-automatic weapons but in reality the biggest problem with guns in Canada comes from illegal weapons entering from the U.S., not those locally purchased, and this law will do nothing to curb that illegal trade.

No discussion of Liberal promises would be complete without a look at the much talked about and often maligned Liberal "Green Shift".

According to the Liberal party their plan would place a tax on fossil fuels in an attempt to cut emissions. The complete opposite of a conservative promise to cut taxes on diesel which, I can only assume means the Conservatives want to increase emissions.

The Liberals claim this new carbon tax will be revenue neutral in that consumers will get “much” of the added cost back through personal and corporate income tax cuts.

It’s an interesting concept but just how revenue neutral can the “Green Shift” be when you consider that the Liberals, who have apparently abandoned any talk of former PM Paul Martin’s national child care program, are also promising to pay parents more money out of those carbon revenues simply for having children.

That’s right folks, Stephane Dion has promised to extend the $1,200 child care allowance brought in by the Harper government as a bribe to anyone who had hoped the national child care program would actually more forward. Dion says he will add an additional $350 a year to that amount plus another 1,225 a year for low income families, all of which is to be paid for with funds from the Carbon tax.

That doesn’t sound too revenue neutral to me.

It also sounds like the tax cuts that are supposed to offset the carbon cost for all of us are going to be a far lower than promised since a large chunk of them will apparently be going into this child care plan.

The Liberals have also promised to spend our tax dollars on (among other things) a $50 million upgrade to Canada's food safety system, no doubt in an attempt to highlight the problems that recently took place there during the Conservative watch. Never mind that $50 million is a drop in the bucket to an agency that size and will accomplish nothing in the long term, the promise has been made.

They’ve also promised $600 million in energy retrofit tax breaks including up to $10,000 in tax breaks for home retrofits and another $10,000 in interest-free "green mortgages" to help homeowners fund environmentally projects. All of which will have to be paid for through the "Green Shift" carbon tax that is supposed to be so revenue neutral.

Oh, by the way, if you’re planning to build a new home then you probably already realize how expensive building materials are these days. Even a modest home will cost you as much today as a larger one would have just a few years go. So, if you plan to build you might want to get on with it right away just in case the Liberals actually win.

If the Liberals take this election, and actually keep their election promises, they plan to change Canadian building code standards for energy efficiency, a move that may be in the best interests of the environment but is also guaranteed to hit you right in the wallet when you start that new home.

Moving on once again…

So, what are the NDP and Jack Layton up to you may well ask?

First of all Jack and the dippers plan to slash greenhouse gas emissions by a whopping 80% by 2050.

I’m not sure how possible that is but it’s a worthy goal.

The problem is that it makes me wonder what it will mean to daily life 40 years from now if Canadians can only emit 20% of the CO2 we pump into the atmosphere today.

I truly hope such a plan is possible but I suspect success would see everyone living in log cabins, growing their own food, walking everywhere and going to bed at sundown to conserve power.

That actually doesn’t sound too bad to me but I’m not so sure everyone else will be as willing as I am to live an eighteenth century lifestyle in the twenty-first century.

Mr. Layton has promised to help Canada reach this lofty goal by placing a moratorium on expansion in the Alberta tar sands, spending 8.2 billion to foster the growth of “green collar” jobs in manufacturing, and creating a cap and trade program for corporate emissions.

What Jack doesn’t tell you is that stopping the growth of the tar sands is not a move that is likely endear him to many Alberta who work in and around that industry or to the Alberta government which is highly dependent on tar sands royalties. It's a good move Jack, don't get me wrong, but I'm not sure how popular it will make your candidates out that way.

On the subject of “green collar” jobs, I’m sure Jack will be more than happy to tell the good folks in central Canada, if not those in the Atlantic region, that when he talks about the $8.2 billion dollar investment in manufacturing that this money will be spent almost exclusively in Canada’s manufacturing hub, Ontario and Quebec. Don’t expect to see any hybrid car plants springing up around Harbour Breton, Newfoundland any time soon.

Next on the list comes the Green Party of Canada.

The Green Party promises to tackle poverty with:

A “Guaranteed Livable Income Supplement”;

The creation of a national student loan program that would forgive half the cost of loans for those who get a degree or certificate; and

Making locally grown organic produce available to food banks at no cost.

As a side note, this last promise makes me wonder why no locally produced products containing any traces of beef, poultry or pork were included in Ms. May’s plan. Either she hopes to turn the poorest in our society into a vegan army under her complete control or there is something else behind this omission.

Likely Ms. May decided to avoid the subject of supplying meat or dairy products because of her longtime friendship with Sea Shepherd Society leader Paul Watson and her days as a member of the board for that animal rights group.

Whether you agree or disagree with the annual Atlantic seal harvest, you might want to consider how Ms. May will likely affect the annual event, or other issues that impact the cattle, poultry or other similar industries should she win support.

Where was I, oh yes...

In their very own version of the “green shift” the Green Party promises to gradually raise consumption taxes on products and services such as fossil fuels and toxic chemicals;

Provide more money for post-secondary institutions with a focus on renewable energy and conservation; and

Cut corporate taxes by $50 for each tonne of carbon-emission reduced, which, when combined with the carbon tax avoided by the cut, would mean a savings of $100-a-tonne for those corporations.

So what’s the end result? Who the hell knows?

No costs have been provided in connection with implementing any of these promises, either to fight poverty or protect the enviornment but you can bet your bottom dollar (and under any of the federal party platforms it just might be your bottom dollar) they won’t be cheap.

Can you say “new taxes” boys and girls because that's what we'll be in for. Don't get me wrong, I'm more than willing to pay taxes, even high ones, if I feel like I'm getting fair value in return but when was the last time anybody actually felt like they were getting their money's worth when they checked out their tax bills?

Last, but by no means least. The fledgling Newfoundland and Labrador First party has a list of promises of its own. Not that a party based solely in Newfoundland and Labrador can claim any hope of forming government (a reality that someone should try to explain to the NDP and Greens parties as well). Instead the NL-First say they are running on the premise that they can leverage a handful of seats to the Province’s advantage should a close minority government be elected in Ottawa.

In a close minority situation, something that seems highly likely in this election, even a single vote in the House of Commons can potentially hold the balance of power and untold political influence. For anyone who doesn’t believe me let me just respond by invoking the name of Chuck Cadman. Enough said.

If elected the Newfoundland and Labrador First party has, among other things, promised to fight for:

The 8.5% stake in Hibernia to be turned over to Newfoundland and Labrador;

To have the Marine Atlantic ferry service officially considered an extension of the Trans Canada Highway system and have fares lowered to a level that would be the equivalent of the price of gas if you could drive your car the 90 miles or so the ferry covers from Newfoundland to Nova Scotia;

A power corridor through Quebec;

Extending Canada's 200 mile economic zone, custodial management of the Atlantic fishery and placing the fishery off the Newfoundland and Labrador coast under Provincial control.

I know this won’t sit well with some of my readers and indeed it would be nice to have the 8.5% Hibernia stake flowing into provincial coffers rather than the federal one, but just how reasonable is this request abnd how important is the issue today?

Indeed the federal government has already recovered far more than its original investment in Hibernia. Yes, the Atlantic Accord calls for the province to be the primary beneficiary of its resources, not Ottawa. That aside, in all fairness, Ottawa stepped up and invested millions of dollars to gain that 8.5% stake at a time when other investors were pulling out believing the project wasn’t feasible. That was a critical decision that affects Newfoundland and Labradro profoundly today, as most of the decisions made in Ottawa tend to do.

Without Ottawa's investment at the time the oil industryas we know it would not have started in Newfoundland and Labrador when it did and we would not have the thriving industry we have in the Province today, at least not at this point in our history.

Perhaps, just perhaps, under those circumstances, the investors (all of the taxpayers of Canada) deserve to reap the rewards of that sound, wise and timely investment.

As for Marine Atlantic, if the NL-First succeeds in having it recognized as a part of the Trans Canada Highway we all better pray the fleet doesn't end up in the same sad condition as much of the TCH is today. Holes in a road are one thing, holes in a ship are another thing altogether.

When it comes to the fisheries, custodial management is a step that should have been taken decades ago but no federal party will do it unless forced. Good luck on that front.

As for the placement of the fishery itself under Provincial control that’s an idea that might need a little more thought.

Successive provincial governments have shown us that they are not the best managers of fisheries issues. In fact there is nothing to say that they would be any better than the federal government and that’s not a very hard target to aim for.

Provincial control of fish processing over the years has led to the building of enough fish plants in Newfoundland and Labrador to process the entire world’s catch several times over. This was done to appease voters and win elections, plain and simple.

The large number of fish plants and resulting numbers of fish plant workers has led to generations of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians subsisting on low paying, seasonal jobs that are highly dependent on the EI system as a crutch rather than in the creation of a more efficient fishery that provides more work for less plants all year round.

A lack of fish to fill the large number of plants has also led to a great deal of pressure being placed on federal fisheries ministers to keep quotas high or even increase them as the stocks continue to suffer. This doesn’t bode well for what could happen if local politicians actually controlled the issuing of those fish quotas.

I wish the NL- First Party all the best in their first run at federal politics because I know the folks involved are a bunch of straight shooters who have nothing but the best of intentions (which is perhaps one of the reasons the party has not prospered), but if I may offer a few words of advice to those involved in the Party.

Don't expect too much this time out but don't stop battling either;

When it comes to all things political, pick your battles wisely by focusing on only the ones you can hope to win;

Take your time and conserve your energy, political climates change and political fortunes do as well; and

Be careful what you wish for or one day you may actually get it;

This election day every adult will be asked to vote for the candidate (or party) of their choice. Let’s hope we all make the most informed decision on that day, not necessarily the easiest one.

1 comment:

" Secession Now " said...


As some must learn. Paybacks are a bitch.