First the HST, then pensions—Ignatieff's new game? -

First the HST, then pensions—Ignatieff’s new game?


Patterns in politics are obviously more revealing than isolated actions. When Michael Ignatieff decided last week to throw Liberal support behind harmonizing provincial sales taxes in B.C. and Ontario with the federal GST, it was merely an interesting event. Combine that risky political move with yesterday’s proposal from Ignatieff on pension reform, however, and you’ve got the beginnings of something that deserves closer attention.

Both moves come straight out of the play book of the Jean Chrétien-Paul Martin government. The harmonized sales tax gambit was the core Liberal response, back then, to anti-GST sentiment—a combination of sharing the political blame and entrenching the undeniable benefits of value-added taxes. (Interesting thumbs-up for Ignatieff on the tax move here.) Pension reform, especially shoring up the Canada Pension Plan in 1997, was a signal, though underrated, government achievement of the Chrétien-Martin period.

So now Ignatieff, struggling to take on policy ballast to lend stability to his unsteady tenure to date as Liberal leader, has apparently found his way to a potentially rich source of credibility. His two recent decisions—the first a big political gamble, the second much less so—do not amount to a clear trend. But it’s worth noting: if he’s beginning to anchor himself in the stolid economic-management style of his party’s recent past, Ignatieff might just be onto something.

A third move would be needed to make the pattern convincing. Tactically, it should come early next year—long enough before budget day to establish a clear alternative to whatever Finance Minister Jim Flaherty tables, but not so far in advance as to offer him a chance to steal it.


First the HST, then pensions—Ignatieff’s new game?

  1. You have the pattern wrong. The Liberal Position on HST has been the same since the beginning, it was just waffling from some of the BC MPs which confused the ADHD press.

    The pattern of policy announcements started with last weeks environmental policy, this weeks pension announcement, etc.

    • it was just waffling from some of the BC MPs which confused the ADHD press.

      Uh, what about Ignatieff's anti-HST comments? He called it the "Harper Sales Tax", he blasted the HST for "playing one province against the other", for the longest time he refused to say whether or not he would support it.

  2. What pattern do you detect, Geddes? That Donolo is yesterday's man and is doing what worked for Libs fifteen years ago. I hope Iggy/Donolo don't decide to copy Chretien/Martin when it comes to EI 'reform'.

    It will take long time before I am convinced that Iggy has turned a corner. He was saying one thing about pensions yesterday but Iggy could be saying something else entirely next month. Iggy is a weather vane, no reason to think that has stopped.

  3. . "But it's worth noting: if he's beginning to anchor himself in the stolid economic-management style of his party's recent past, Ignatieff might just be onto something"

    It would be even more telling if Ignatieff was able to take a radical position on eliminating the deficit…the question is ….can he bring the rest of the party along? Some would argue the best of the liberal right wing left with the departure of Manley and others.

  4. The approach is consistent with past liberal practice and also consistent with Ignatieffs own approach in the past. I have read a couple of his books and his approach is very balanced and rational. It would appear he is finally getting his balance back and may have figured out that he does not have to drastically modify his approach in order to succeed in the new job.

  5. But were harmonization and jacking CPP premiums election promises, or hard-but-unpopular stuff that had to be done that Chretien/Martin would never have openly run on? I believe it was the latter but I could be wrong.

    If I am right, then Ignatieff is reading the playbook backwards: showing voters the stick and not the carrot.

  6. b…b..but haircuts will cost more! kitchen tables!

  7. Makes sense to me… They need some sound, unsexy policy "ballast".

  8. I do find it humorous (on the HST) that acknowledging that one's party still holds the position they've always held, the position now supported by the Leader of the Official Opposition, the Prime Minister, the Minister of Finance, the Premiers of B.C. and Ontario, and more economists than you could shake a stick at is somehow as highly risky maneuver.

    Don't get me wrong, I understand that it might be, but that doesn't make that fact any less silly.

    I for one hope we can all just move on now from the whole HST thing. Any issue that has Michael Ignatieff, Stephen Harper, Jim Flaherty, Gordon Campbell and Dalton McGuinty on the "yay" side, and Jack Layton and Tim Hudak on "nay" side is surely an issue that we should entrench in law as quickly and efficiently as possible, and just MOVE ON.

  9. You're looking at this from the wrong angle.

    The risk is not in endorsing the HST, as you suggest.

    The risk is setting out to oppose it from the start, waffling, then backtracking. It makes Ignatieff seem like a weathervane, and he loses credibility. No direction, policies that are reversible from week to week, a loss of credibility. Even Campbell and McGuinty were left scratching their heads in frustration, trying to understand Ignatieff's position.

  10. So when is Harper going to get serious about deficit reduction? So far he's spending a lot more on 'image enhancement' — of course with his image i can understand the cost overruns — along with giant novelty checks, Chicago-built Canadian pavilion, Bellingham-made signage, mail-stuffing 10-percenters, extraneous use of focus groups, airlifting MIke Duffy around the country, etc. all on our tab. While Harper may have read the playbook in the correct order why do CONbots like Tintor not concerned about the hole he's digging us into?

  11. Yeah, that makes sense, and I do get that position.

    I guess I'm just willing to give politicians some slack if they get all rhetorically bent out of shape on something, arguing against something good that their party used to support, if (once) they eventually find their way back to the "right" position. Maybe waffling on this will become a big issue going forward, but in my naive world the Tories wouldn't waste a lot of energy attacking the Liberals for "waffling" on the HST given that the end of the waffle ended up with the two parties in agreement. Not that the Tories shouldn't (or won't) make hay on the change from briefly opposed to back in favour, but I'd like to see the government refrain from attacking the Liberals for once briefly opposing them on this, now that they support the government's position. It would be nice if the government could just do a little "We're glad the Liberals are in agreement with the government's position on this issue, and we feel this policy will now be of benefit to a lot of Canadians" and just move on (again, not that they WILL, or not even that they "should" in terms of somehow being morally obliged to, but it would be nice…).

  12. "I must admit that I am little more enthused about the Harper government's projected $60-plus billion in deficits over two years, than I was by Bob Rae's $40-billion in deficits over four years., February 3, 2009

    Have a holly, jolly Christmas.

  13. You're still paying the GST, so you still get the "GST credit".

    In fact, the Canada Revenue Agency's site on the credit EXPLICITLY refers to it as the "GST/HST credit".

    In regards to the tax credit, the difference between "GST" and "HST" is just semantics. Also, that credit comes, and has always come, from the feds, so the Ontario Legislature really has nothing to do with it anyway.

  14. I wonder if the weather vane-ity is simple political expediency or the result of "new" information. The former irks me, the latter notsomuch.

    When new information comes along – stuff that's relevant and game-changing – I'd rather a leader make like a weather vane and change his position than, say, act like a concrete slab: turning gray in the face and stay put.

  15. Nabbing Dippers EI360 and now Dippers CPP policy,
    yes, a Chretien pattern of stealing Dipper (and Reform) ideas is still alive.

  16. I have a question for the Ontario legistature.Since in July next year there will be no GST credit.Just the HST.
    Are you going to give a HST credit to replace what the poor peoole have lost????????????????
    Angry in Toronto.Not just a one time $300.

  17. The HST tax is a Federal managed tax. Once BC and Ontario allow this tax to become law it will mean that the Federal Government will dole out the money to Ontario and British Columbia. Hence these provinces give up the autonomy of provincial taxation and become subservient to the Federal Government. It will be up to the discretion of the Federal Government as to what these provinces will receive and when.
    It will also be used by the Feds to whip the provinces into line by withholding the tax when it's to the Feds advantage. Not to mention that in a few years a new provincial value added tax will be introduced in BC and Ontario after the HST has been forgotten by the electorate.
    Canadians have the right to say how their hard earned money is spent and the only way to do that is to allow the electorate to have a binding vote on what taxes are paid and how they will be applied.