BTC: Read his lips


Perhaps in hopes of reminding the Prime Minister when he might muster excitement, his speechwriters sprinkled exclamation points throughout tonight’s text. The words Mr. Harper was prompted to hit with particular enthusiasm were as follows: Done! Quebeckers! Government! Debt! Predators! Forever! Opposition! Word! Percent! Pensioners! Office! Trudeau! Claims! Taxes!

The most inspiring of these is surely that last one, Taxes! As in, “As long as I will be Prime Minister, as long as I have MPs like Jacques Gourde, there will be no new taxes.”

Thus does the PM’s pep rally climax. And thus does he make history, becoming surely the first politician to make a promise he’s already publicly broken.

It would be an odd line even if it weren’t demonstrably untrue. Twenty years ago this summer, George H. W. Bush accepted the Republican nomination with his signature line and eventual epitaph: “Read my lips, no new taxes.” And it’s difficult to read the phrasing here as anything less than an homage—an ironic and possibly subversive homage by Mr. Harper’s speechwriters, but an homage all the same.

It was, of course, rather ruinous for Herbert Walker. Two years after taking office he had to raise taxes. Two years after that Bill Clinton and the Democrats had great fun at his expense. And still now the line (written by Peggy Noonan) lingers as tangible proof that politicians are natural liars and all your reflex cynicism for the political process is justified. (Surely Herbert Walker smiles now to see that his son has exceeded him tenfold in this regard.)

But even if Bush Sr. had never begged us to pay uncomfortably close attention to his mouth, even if this government hadn’t already introduced a new tax, tonight’s pledge would still be a juvenile bit of rhetoric. Precisely because it’s physically impossible, or at least bizarrely reckless, to vow, as a government, that you won’t ever raise taxes. Unless you’re psychic it’s not possible to know what economic stumbles or crises may come. You’re dealing with an inherently volatile system, dependent on myriad variables beyond your control. (As Harper warned tonight of fiscal trouble, “no country is immune.”) In effect, promising you won’t ever raise taxes is roughly akin to promising you won’t ever go to war. You can say it. You can promise it. And you might get lucky enough to stick with it. But it’s at best a guess. And a self-limiting guess at that. 

Granted, “If our national economic situation should reach a point where it would be prudent and necessary to adjust the taxation formula, we may be forced to introduce new taxes” isn’t quite as fun to say as “no new taxes.” Even if you put an exclamation point at the end. But it’s, you know, at least somewhat closer to the truth.


BTC: Read his lips

  1. One of Harper’s five major priorities in the last election was cutting the GST — by one percent right away, and another percentage point by the end of his term. He was true to his word, despite so many who think it’s bad policy.

    I actually think that his record on taxes and promises is pretty good.

  2. And where do wait times gaurantees figure into this supposed ‘pretty good’ record on promises?

    When you have 5 priorities, and you completely ignore one of them, doesnt that mean you lied about 20% of your priorities?

    Not to mention that cutting taxes was a borderline lie. Yeah, they lowered the GST, but they raised the income tax on middle income earners and instituted a whole new tax on income trusts, something they flat out promised not to do.

    How is that ‘pretty good’ on promises?

  3. For a war room theoretically gearing up for an election (eyeroll), they sure aren’t being very inventive. “Fish or cut bait” again?

  4. So he promised to cut the GST and did – score 1 for Harper. (Implemented promise despite promise being bad policy)

    He promised not to tax income trusts, and did – score 1 for broken promises. (Failed to implement promise because promise was bad policy).

    So, at a cursory glance, Harper’s record on taxes and promises is .500

  5. “Fish or cut bait” again?

    I think the idea is repetition… get the same message out as many times as possible so it’s ingrained in people’s heads.

    Unfortunately, it works. Remember “Apply directly to the forehead”?

  6. When the income trust promise was broken, for the life of me I couldn’t remember when it was first made. Yet, somehow, this is considered the worst promise broken in the history of Canadian politics.

    Some people seem to be of the opinion that if you break one promise, you break them all — despite keeping most of your major and minor commitments.

    If you’re of the opinion that Harper has to be perfect then, yes, he’s a promise breaker. If you allow that he’s a human politician, then I think his record on this score is actually better than most — especially Chretien and McGuinty.

    But I guess some his usual critics need to hang onto something.

  7. I’m sorry… Did he just say “human” politician?!?

  8. I agree that there were too many exclamation points throughout the speech. Taxes and, particularly, Trudeau would likely get the crowd fired up all on their own without fake enthusiasm from Harper.

    Ross Perot had far more to do with Bush Sr. loss than raising taxes comment did.

  9. “For a war room theoretically gearing up for an election (eyeroll), they sure aren’t being very inventive. “Fish or cut bait” again?”

    The key word there is “again”.

    It is completely irresponsible of Dion as opposition leader to keep publically musing for months on end about forcing an election then failing to do so when given myriad opportunities.

    I don’t see why the PMO needs to come up with a different response to the dozen or so election threats Dion has lobbed at them. They are right. Put up or shut up.

  10. irresponsible, john g? please explain.

  11. Why would it be irresponsible? It’s not like people are starting their cars and going to the polling stations only to find the election was cancelled an hour ago… the only people who care about the election “threats” are us bloggers, and the politicos.

    I’m not sure if hanging the Sword of Damocles over Harper’s head has been an advantage to Dion or not… on one hand, the Conservatives have had to pay rent on their fancy “election war room” for over a year now. On the other hand the election readiness has resulted in tonnes of pre-writ anti-Dion advertising that may not have otherwise happened. Could be a wash.

  12. Scott, I think the frustration expressed here comes from the fact that the Harperites feel jerked around and would like to be put out of their misery.

    What they won’t say is that Harper made an incredibly stupid move in giving up his right as PM to call an election. Essentially, Harper gave Dion a serious advantage in allowing him to have sole decision power in deciding when we go to the polls. Layton and Duceppe have made it clear that they will always vote down any confidence motion so Dion is left with all the power.

    So they have tried everything under the sun to force Dion to give them the election they desperately need to no avail. Insults, bullying, nothing has worked. To make matters worse, polls have shown that the longer they stay in power, the worse things get for them in terms of maintaining support among voters. They went from strategizing for a majority govt to strategizing to ensure that they remain in power.

    If I was a Harperite, I’d be crying foul too.

  13. boudica,

    I mean that constantly threatening an election that you have no intention of following up on is an irresponsible and inappropriate way to conduct yourself as opposition leader.

    You either think the government needs to be replaced or you don’t. If you do, then get on with it.

    If replacing the government is not imperative, or (more realistically) if your party is not ready at this time, then shut the hell up about forcing an election that you don’t want, and at least pretend to do your job as opposition leader to oppose constructively.

  14. boudica / Scott,

    Why would the Conservatives want an election? They already have a defacto majority.

  15. I still don’t get why it’s “irresponsible”. Do you think it’s setting a bad example for the kiddies or something?

    If, indeed, it is a ploy at having the Conservative party stay on the edge of their seats (and paying rent), maybe it’s a good one. Either way, it doesn’t make it irresponsible… wouldn’t it be irresponsible for him to abdicate the power to dissolve government?

  16. “I mean that constantly threatening an election that you have no intention of following up on is an irresponsible and inappropriate way to conduct yourself as opposition leader.”

    Other people might view this as a strategy, you know. If the goal was to get the CPC to take up and take down their election apparatus fifty times over and to keep them in a constant state of alert, I’d say the strategy worked quite well.

    I don’t know that this is what happened here but what I do know is that holding off on taking down this government despite the taunts and bad press is the most intelligent thing Dion has done to date.

    As things stand right now, the outcome of the next election is a toss up. The CPC may very well return to the Opp benches.

  17. “Why would the Conservatives want an election? They already have a defacto majority.”

    john g, keep your CPC talking points nonsense for the “tim hortons” crowd, ok? I’m a bit insulted that you would think I’d buy into that idiocy.

  18. This line about Harper giving up the power to call an election is another one I don’t get.

    This is another promise at democratic reform that he’s kept, yet it’s almost universally criticized as a dumb move.

    Yes, keeping promises regarding democratic reform takes power away from you once in power. That’s why they’re bold promises, and should be applauded when kept.

  19. That last one of mine was really poorly written. Please keep it in mind when reading it. Sigh.

  20. Dennis, the issue isn’t whether Harper kept his promise on that one but rather whether he should have made that promise to begin with. Consider the predicament he finds himself in. He’s the Prime Minister of Canada yet he is unable to call an election which everyone agrees he needed to have had as far back as the Spring of 2007.

    The Opposition leader is now the one who gets to decide when the election will take place and this one isn’t dumb enough to call it at a time that would favour the sitting government.

    Explain to me how this was NOT a dumb move on the part of the “chess master” again?

  21. Actually Dennis, I criticize it because I disagree with it. In our parliamentary system, with first-past-the-post, it’s silly to tie the hands of a government by denying them the ability to dissolve government.

    If we get back into majority governments (which may not happen for a while – sigh), all it will do is turn the last year of a mandate into an election year. Despite all the ballyhoo, looking at election results of elections that were called early shows that it *doesn’t* provide a major advantage to the majority incumbent. And when we’re in a minority government situation, it is an unjust imbalance of power.

    It’s just a silly idea that will hopefully be scrapped. Maybe we can include some form of MMP, STV, or other partial proportionality in our house to actually reflect voters desires! Wouldn’t that be novel!

  22. right. the “Harper is a human politician?” schtick is so much more brilliant.

  23. Promises broken?

    Okay, how about in the first week appointing an unelected (in fact, electorally *rejected*) Michael Fortier as a senator.

    In the first month, caving in to the US softwood lumber interests and leaving a billion (with a B) dollars of illegally collected duties in the hands of the American competition, and also hamstringing our own lumber industry for the forseeable future.

    Yeah, the Liberals didn’t meet a slew of their promises..over the course of 13 years and 5 governments.

    Had Harper’s election been overturned by recounts, he still would have broken one in the time it took to do that. Think about that.

    The other thing that galls me is it seems most of the time Liberals don’t live up to their promises. The Conservatives, on the other hand, promise one thing and then actively do the opposite. Which one is worse, I leave to the reader to decide.

  24. This conversation about whether making or breaking promises is understandably “human”, crass political gamesmanship or otherwise is a bit loopy. Harper in opposition assailed the Liberals for failing to respect the supremacy of Parliament, failing to allow committees to elect their own chairs, using taxpayer dollars for political advertising, using taxpayer dollars to conduct political polling, dropping federal cash on the provinces at election time, ignoring the findings of independent officers of Parliament, seeking to raid the savings of retirees by taxing income trusts, etc., etc., etc. The guy either changed his mind on several major issues, bringing into question his celebrated “political genius” status, or he lied all along to get ahead. Neither speaks well of his conduct in opposition or in government.

  25. What Oh Boy said…

  26. boudica and Scott M, I don’t see how Harper has done anything to violate the principles of Parliamentary democracy in establishing fixed election dates. In fact, he has empowered Parliament by giving it final say on matters of confidence, while taking away the universally politicized power to arbitrarily set election dates.

    And, again, he has kept his promise.

    T. Thwim, Harper has appointed one unelected Senator who will almost certainly lose either the unelected status or Senator status after the next election. Otherwise, he has appointed an elected Senator from Alberta, left all other Senate openings unfilled, and marched on with other numerous reforms which the Liberals are blocking. How is that breaking his promises on the Senate?

    Softwood lumber? I thought Harper promised better relations leading to a good deal. And I thought that’s what we got. Maybe I’m mistaken.

    Oh Boy, of course politicians yell and scream in opposition, then do many of the same things themselves. I don’t know an opposition in the world who hasn’t done that. Yet, again, given that this is human nature and politics, it doesn’t mean that they’re all the same. Some are better than others, and I actually do think Harper is better than recent Liberal governments.

    I know I come across as Conservative hack. But I just think that sometimes they’re held to unfairly high standards — in part set by Harper himself, yes.

    People try to make the exception the rule. I can understand Liberals being ultimately hypocritical about it. But for others and the media?

    They also try to suggest that if some promises are broken, then it justifies whoppers like we get from McGuinty. I just don’t believe that. I believe in scorecards and general evaluations that don’t involve having to be perfect.

    And, even on that score, Harper said he wasn’t going to be perfect. Another kept promise! lol

  27. “boudica and Scott M, I don’t see how Harper has done anything to violate the principles of Parliamentary democracy in establishing fixed election dates.”

    Dennis, I never said he did. I said that giving up your right as PM to call an election was dumb and his current predicament proves it. Perhaps you are confusing my post with someone else’s?

  28. *cough* gun registry *cough*

  29. Boudica, what exactly is his current predicament? I don’t get it, especially as it relates to democratic reform.

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