When it comes to the Liberal party’s election platform, let us say this off the top: less would definitely be more. Do Canadians really need a $2,000 “bursary” to go camping? No, they do not. Do kids need a $200 tax credit when they turn 12 to go to a museum or the theatre? Not really.
These and other questionable goodies (like the vague populist promise to cut cellphone bills by 25 per cent) clutter up the Liberals’ voluminous bid for re-election and drive up the cost of their program. The silly camping bursary, for example, isn’t a big-ticket item when listed among the party’s 48 specific promises. But it would add up; by the party’s own estimate it would cost $525 million over four years. As they say: half a billion here, half a billion there, and soon you’re getting into real money.
That’s too bad because the governing party has put forward some good ideas for the next four years. The Liberals would do better to focus on those rather than trying to answer every unmet need, and a few that Canadians never realized they had.
The party’s best proposals build on the solid successes of their first mandate — reducing the tax burden on lower- and middle-income people, lifting hundreds of thousands out of poverty, and taking action on climate change.
So the Liberals would exempt more of the working poor from paying any income tax at all. Make the Canada Child Benefit richer for parents of kids under one. Fatten student aid programs to make post-secondary education more accessible, and do more for seniors over 75. They would put serious money into fighting guns and gangs. And persevere with carbon pricing, the most effective way to reduce emissions and fight climate change.
This is a serious program — not as novel as the 2015 version that featured legalizing pot (check) and reforming the electoral system (not check). But a substantive plan nonetheless, tempered by the Trudeau team’s experience in real-life government. We wish it went further in some areas. On pharmacare, the Liberals are taking a cautious approach, in the knowledge that this can’t be implemented unilaterally by Ottawa and conservatives now control most important provinces. And on gun control, we would have preferred to see a national ban on handguns. Still, they’re moving broadly in the right direction.
All this comes at a big cost. The Liberals say the federal deficit (referred to euphemistically as the “platform fiscal projection”) would top $27 billion in the first year, and still be running at just over $21 billion four years later.
Those who recall the tough days of the 1990s, when an earlier Liberal government tamed a federal deficit at great cost to jobs and social services, will swallow hard at those numbers. But there are no deficit hawks these days, even among Conservatives who acknowledge they would run in the red for at least five years. The Liberals are clearly counting on the fact that the last deficit scare is now a quarter century ago and many voters (anyone under, say, the prime minister’s age) has only a vague recollection of the damage that can be inflicted by runaway debt.
In the Liberals’ favour, they are promising to pay for some of the extra expenses they would rack up as they go, by increasing taxes in some key areas. Kudos to them for pledging finally to tax the revenues earned in Canada by the big international tech giants like Google and Facebook. This is long overdue.
Now it’s up to the Conservatives to put forward their full program, cost and all. Voters will finally be able to compare, and choose.
An editorial from the Toronto Star