Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Dion And The GST

The fact the Conservatives immediately jumped all over Dion's comments on the GST, speaks to the widely held notion that any proposal, that involves raising a tax, is political suicide. The Conservatives saw an opening, approaching taxes as they always do, as a matter of good retail politics. The posture assumes that you win the tax debate on a superficial level, paint yourself as putting money into people's pockets, your opponent as a thief. The detail is irrelevant, because the public is generally disinterested, optics rule.

However, what we have seen in the aftermath of the Conservative's tax announcements might suggest an opportunity, that first blush dismisses. Two points today that underscore that sentiment. First, talk that the Conservatives own polling shows no real bounce from the GST cut, in fact the reaction is mostly bland. The second point, the entire media class, fed by the economists consensus, has panned the GST cut, with a defacto endorsement of Dion's plan. When you have a Sun Media column ripping the GST cut, it speaks volumes to an almost universal opinion.

I think Dion is actually fairly well positioned to challenge the government, meet the attack ads head on and try to engage people into a honest debate. It has to be done forcefully, it has to be done clearly, but the GST issue isn't necessarily a losing one. When question period resumes, what if Dion were to directly mention the attack ads? Speakers love to hold a piece of paper from an editorial that shows support for a position. Dion could rise, address the attack, then pickup a stack of editorials, from every major media outlet, coupled with report after report that details why the Liberal approach is sound. Frame the debate as substance over flash, acknowledge the political risks, but argue that principle trumps a sales pitch. The retorts from the government are obvious, but the jewel in this whole scenario, the Conservatives now have no backing with the media, which means there is a sympathy for the Liberal point of view. Couple the direct confrontation with the government, with a simultaneous plea to the media too be heard, and you stand a fighting chance.

The Conservatives think they have the Liberals on the defensive when it comes to taxes. I would argue the Liberal reaction will dictate whether that sentiment is accurate, because when you seperate the wheat from the chaff, the Liberals are right on the issue, the Conservatives irresponsible for not listening to the expert opinion. Dion doens't want to raise your taxes, it is up to the Liberals to demonstrate the misinformation, in a way that forces a real engagement. A real discussion, with substance- stranger things have happened.


Sean Cummings said...

The Tories didn't experience a bounce after announcing the GST cut not because people are in favor or against a tax cut, but rather, for the same reason they sit in the polls precisely where they were when they became elected:

Canadians haven't yet warmed to Stephen Harper. I'd add that in the twenty odd months since they came to power, Harper has shown himself to be a petty, vindictive, calculating control freak and that reinforces the publics coldness toward him in the polls. He is providing a competent and relatively scandal free government and I suspect most voters would like to see that continue. The bigger story for me and one I hope that voters latch onto is this:

Stephen Harper made Stephane Dion's leadership an issue. We've seen the multitude of problems Dion has faced and yet, Stephen Harper, in spite of his best efforts, does not seem to be benefitting in the public opinion polls. Pure conservative supporters should be asking themselves what it's going to take to get their party over the 40% mark. If they can't do it after Harper has painted Dion as a weak leader, then the problem lies with Stephen Harper himself and it might be time to take a closer look at their own leader.

ottlib said...

Would that not be great?

An actual debate on the merits of two different approaches on how Canadians are taxed.

Why stop there? Why not real debates on how to reduce Canada's ghg emissions? Or how to reduce poverty? Increase productivity? The possibilities are endless and it would be great to see it.

However, it is not going to happen.

With the exception of you and I and a few in the political and chattering classes no one is really interested in such a debate. It would take no longer than the phrase "increase the GST" for the debate to degenerate into just another partisan mess.


Steve V said...


You sum up the circumstance well.


I hear you, believe me. The only reason I propose this now, Harper has no backing, from any corner. The economists are completely onside, and now we have the media joining the chorus. I'm idealistic here, but the alternative is too simply let the Cons frame Dion, on an issue which he has solid backing.

ottlib said...


If Liberals had not been giving the media a big fat juicy "Party disunity" story for the last 6-8 months they probably would have began looking more closely at what you describe.

The Liberal infighting has been a distraction for alot of people including the media and the Canadians that use that media to get their news.

The Dion is not a leader narrative began with the Conservatives who were desperately looking for a way to counter his bona fides on the environment and his surprise win at the Liberal convention.

They must be tickled pink that the narrative took off and they must be quietly thanking Liberal supporters for buying into the narrative giving it credibility and a life of its own.

Liberals have given Mr. Harper and the Conservatives a real gift.

Karen said...

I like the idea Steve and because I'm visual, I'd present the con ad in the House, on a piece of tracing paper, ie: flimsy. The counter attack, showing what what economists say? Stacks and stacks of paper. Have Lib MP's walk down the aisle to place them beside Dion. Okay, a bit dramatic, but there is a point to be had here.

You could actually do that with all the points ottlib raised.

Not quite kazoo's and not really holding things up.

I understand ottlib's sigh, but I'm not ready to give up.

I don't think you are either ottlib, for the record.

There are a couple of ad's on the Lib website. They are good if you consider the audience outside of "we who follow everything".

Compare them to the Con ad's. Kindergarten vs adults? I'd love to see that model played back to back.

Anyway, great post and good idea Steve.

burlivespipe said...

In the context of how the CONs framed their own raising of the personal income tax the first time around, I see another opportunity.
Harper essentially denied that he did it, the media mentioned it once or twice and moved on -- he had to pay for the first gst cut somehow, they summised.
Well, its 2008 now. The second gst cut is garnering even less enthusiasm than the first. Dion must put his principles on the line here -- pointing out that six or seven successive Liberal budgets introduced tax cuts and that the only tax INCREASE in the past 6-7 years came from Harper.
Then let the economists and newspapers' voices be a choir of dissent on the gst cut. And point out how a Liberal gov't would use the money from the gst cut and where it could go -- childhood poverty, a rebateable ghg tax for industry, r&d in environmental science, a boost of the child allowance etc.
Put Harper on the defensive, fire away at the castaway from Goonies' underbelly. With so many Mike Harris remnants playing leading roles in his one-person theatre show, the economy is definitely a potential weak link in his armour -- especially in Ontario. The gov't is rolling in money, but underscore how foolishly they've spent it.
Then watch the real Tories and red Tories start mumbling...

MarkCh said...

A lot of people (Weston specifically) seem to be neglecting that fact that the economists feel that corporate taxes and the higher bracket marginal rates are what should be cut. Cutting only the lowest bracket rate has positive economic effects only for people earning up to about $38,000. Beyond that, it is just a fixed reduction with no marginal effects. This is nothing to sneeze at, but if Dion came up with a specific, costed, proposal to lower rates in all brackets, then he would really have a serious policy stick to beat the Conservatives with. I live in hope.

me dere robert said...

All he has to say is that he will apply the %2 cut to the income tax. Issue resolved.

Unless that's not what he's going to do..