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The "do anything, say anything" Conservative Party

By John Williamson
web posted June 13, 2005

Deputy Conservative leader Peter MacKay and party leader Stephen Harper: What will they promise this week?
Deputy Conservative leader Peter MacKay and party leader Stephen Harper: What will they promise this week?

Deputy Conservative leader Peter MacKay last week accused the Liberal government of having a "do anything, say anything" strategy to cling to power. Conservative MPs believe - along with a good number of Canadians - the Liberals are guilty of trying to bribe voters with tax money. But Mr. Mackay might have been describing his own party.

The Official Opposition has been busy jettisoning and twisting policies they fear the ruling Liberals might suggest are controversial. Conservative members, it seems, pull policy from a hat to win applause with no concern for contradictions or inconsistencies.

Last month, for example, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) launched its 7th annual Gas Tax Honesty Campaign to inform Canadians of the high gasoline taxes they pay at the pumps - it is currently 38 per cent - and ensure fuel taxes are dedicated toward road construction. Rahim Jaffer, a Tory MP, issued a news release entitled, CTF Report Mirrors Suggestions Put Forward by Conservatives. It read, "Many of the recommendations put forward by the CTF are similar to those made by the Conservative Party of Canada over the past several years. These include reducing the excise tax on gasoline, eliminating the GST on the excise tax and putting more money into infrastructure." According to his release these ideas were outlined in a June 2003 motion advanced by the party in Parliament. But who is mirroring who here? The motion Mr. Jaffer cites was based, in large, part on the CTF's 2003 gas tax report.

Imitation is the greatest form of flattery. If, however, the party is going to crib good policy it should trumpet it during election campaigns, not only when it is convenient. And here Mr. Jaffer's statement falls short. In the last election the Conservative party vowed to "axe the tax on the tax" and "remove the GST on gas prices above 85 cents per litre." Missing was any promise to lower the excise tax. And what is the Conservative policy on a gas tax transfer today? That's another story. Ottawa has already promised $5-billion over five years, but little will be spent on roadways. Yet the Opposition will not alter any federal-provincial deals and the party, says Mr. Jaffer, "has made the commitment to not only match but possibly even exceed the amount of spending the federal government does on infrastructure."

The Conservative position on daycare is also mind-boggling. Not so long ago, the Opposition favoured treating all parents with young children equally; if elected to government, they would not discriminate against parents who decide to stay home to raise their kids or choose other care options outside of the home. The Liberal proposal will provide financial support only to families that put their kids in a government-run daycare program.

Yet this spring - with all politicians in pre-election mode - Conservative MP Rona Ambrose announced a policy U-turn. Her party, she told the Commons, "will honour the child care agreements with the provinces." If the Conservatives are now committed to honouring the Liberal's child care agreements, which will cost $5-billion over five years, how much more will they spend on stay-at-home parents?

Things are no better on the Kyoto file. When Ottawa tabled its $10-billion Kyoto implementation plan in April, Environment critic Bob Mills retreated. "We can't get out of Kyoto," he concluded (incorrectly), but the Conservatives "would achieve those targets in a realistic fashion." Yet only days later he claimed, "Canada's emission reduction targets under the Kyoto Accord are unattainable," and more to the point, "The Conservative Party does not support the Kyoto Accord." So which is it? Will the party spend billions on Kyoto implementation?

Opposition to corporate welfare and supply management were once bedrock policy issues for the party. Yet when Ottawa announced it would hand $350-million to Bombardier a spokesman for Conservative leader Stephen Harper outlined the party's latest thinking on government handouts: "We are Conservatives and we respect contracts." Subsidies will flow whichever party forms government. And a Bloc Québécois motion supporting Canada's marketing-boards backed by Conservative MPs marked another policy breach.

To date, the Conservative Party has tabulated Liberal pre-election spending at over $26-billion. Yet the Opposition has matched Liberal spending promises, and, in some areas, the government-in-waiting is willing to push the spending envelop further still. Mr. Harper it is time for a timeout and some clarity. A party willing do anything and say anything will not have much success: Look at Mr. Martin's performance as prime minister.

John Williamson is the Federal Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

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