'For all our tough talk we haven’t done half what Martin and Chrétien did' - Macleans.ca

‘For all our tough talk we haven’t done half what Martin and Chrétien did’

What would a truly conservative agenda look like?


In a Huffington Post piece about the Harper government’s relationship to conservative principles, Conservative MP Brad Trost questions the government on a number of fronts.

“This isn’t all about winning the next election – we would like to win – but if we are only fixated on winning, we are not starting off with what is good for the country as our first question,” he said in an interview from his riding office is Saskatoon. “That’s why you’ve got the tension,” he said, pointing to the government’s preference for small tax credits over bold changes to the tax code; piecemeal justice legislation designed for the news cycle rather than “principled stuff,” and a feeling among MPs after the Warawa incident that they no longer have the right to speak freely – despite a party policy stating that they do.

Over the years, Trost said, he has heard Conservative party members question why the Harper government is carrying deficits when former Liberal finance minister Paul Martin got Canada’s fiscal house in order. Martin, as Jean Chrétien’s finance minister, slashed the civil service and drastically cut transfers to the provinces in the 1990s to bring Canada’s fiscal house in order. “There is irony to it, for all our tough talk we haven’t done half (of) what Martin and Chrétien did,” Trost said.

There is an interesting discussion to be had here. Given the impact of the GST cuts on the federal balance, would grassroots Conservatives have rather that the Harper government done something else to reduce taxes? Would they have had the government make cuts equal to the revenue lost when the GST was cut? Do they think they would’ve won the 2006, 2008 and 2011 elections following such policies?

(Also: do those who consider themselves considers conservatives believe the government should reduce greenhouse gas emissions through regulations or a market-based system like a carbon tax or cap-and-trade?)

Rob Anders has some other ideas.

Topping Anders’ wish list is the elimination of the capital gains tax, which the Conservatives promised in the 2006 election campaign to kill. He wants to get rid of the GST and cut “several branches of government.” He would also like to see Harper defund the CBC and get out of the banking business by shutting down the Business Development Bank of Canada, Export Development Canada and regional economic development agencies.


‘For all our tough talk we haven’t done half what Martin and Chrétien did’

  1. Dump the ideology, and the 1950s. We were prosperous then because the world had been trashed in a war, and everybody needed goods. But it was a one-off. That time is not coming back.

    Do what’s best for Canada’s future in the 21st century. The world is being flooded with new ideas and technology, and we are missing it.

    Be socially progressive, and fiscally conservative….it’s what most mainstream Canadians are.

  2. “There is irony to it, for all our tough talk we haven’t done half (of) what Martin and Chrétien did,” Trost said.

    Wow, so true. He may wish he never said that aloud. Meantime, I guess the cons can be happy th at they have undone much of the good the former Liberal governments did.

    • Trost is probably right, but although I am a harper hater I have to admit that there’s less room for them to manouever after the last liberal government. JC and PM already made the easy cuts – and they actually weren’t easy. Unless you actually discover real ineffeciencies (and there are probably some, but less than your average right winger thinks), you are going to be cutting useful stuff. In fact you could say even the Liberals started doing so, and stuff the current government does is just going to make it worse.

      In fact, the Chretien Liberals may have represented the upper limit of how right wing a functional Canadian government can be.

  3. I will give credit to Paul Martin for realizing that something had to be done with the massive debt we were being crushed under in 1993.
    Chretien was clueless. He said Preston Manning was crazy when Manning suggested he would eliminate the deficit within 4 years of Reform government. With constant pressure from the Reformers Martin reduced the deficit to zero in 3 years. That is what happens when you have a constructive opposition that encourages the government to get their financial house in order.

    Contrast that with today`s opposition—-can you name one opposition MP that is pressuring the government to reduce the deficit—-maybe the former Conservative Brison. The three left wing opposition even ganged up on the minority Conservatives in 2008 and told the government to go on a massive spending spree or they would form a coalition and overthrow the government.

    I don`t know when we have had weaker opposition Parties.

    • And except none of that happened….

    • That government had already committed to a 2% of GDP stimulus to the G20 in October 2008, before the coalition crisis. Let’s not revise history.

      • Well it was the WSJ calling us a Third World country that triggered the balancing in the first place..certainly not Manning.

        And while Martin did a super job….he couldn’t have done it without Chretien backing him. FinMins can’t just do what they please.

    • Really?

      That is not the oppositions job.

      That is gov’t responsibility…you seem to be very confused.

  4. I was wondering if Rob Anders would actually be able to stay awake in the HoC long enough to vote for all the cuts he advocates.

    Then I realized one vote on a Con omnibus bill would do it, after which he could just drift off again.

  5. I consider myself a fiscal (small c) conservative, and for the life of me I can’t understand the GST cut given:

    1) It blew a hole in the budget
    2) A significant majority of economists would argue that if you’re cutting taxes, you should cut income taxes, not consumption taxes.

    • The genius of Martin’s budgets from a Liberal point of view was that he created a significant structural surplus. This provided the Liberals with “found money” each year that they could invest in education, research and debt reduction. As the price to service the debt was reduced, the Liberals could actually simultaneously drop taxes and fund new programs without disrupting the structural surplus. The Conservatives hated that approach because it built the Liberal brand. Indeed it is virtually identical to how well run households operate.

      The GST cut was simply the fastest, most dramatic way to get rid of that structural surplus. With the surplus transformed to a structural deficit the argument for cutting government staff and programs is easy.

      It is unfortunate that the Conservatives didn’t apply the structural surplus to their own priorities. They could have accelerated debt reduction, invested in the military… hell they could even have built that deep sea port in Nanisivik they have been announcing and reannouncing since 2007. Canada would have been in a much better position coming out of the economic downturn.

      None of this happened because Harper is a political genius even if he is a dud on policy. The GST cut still sells on Main Street.

      • Main Street never sees the big picture.

      • But if they actually built the sea port, they wouldn’t be able to keep announcing that they were going to build it. I still think that the only reason their crime bill finally went through is because without being a minority government they had no easy way to kill it.

  6. Oh yeah … he’s right .. they’re not nearly good enough ..

    – come into power with a surplus and low debt
    – reduce taxes ( unnecessarily)
    – increase spending ( some of it necessary but on a lot of
    unnecessary stuff)
    – Ask the bidness buckos ” hey, guys, wadda ya want ? ok ya
    got it” .. goodbye environmental science.

  7. Hasn’t Rob Anders heard of the tax free savings account, which over time will let most low-to-moderate income Canadians shield all their capital gains from taxation?

    • Hey clueless…

      Low to moderate income Canadians are just trying to pay their bills…let alone putting money aside. Are you that out of touch?

    • It’s not the TFSA that will let most low-to-moderate income Canadians shield their capital gains..

      ..it the fact that they have no capital gains.

      Perhaps it’s time to get your monocle cleaned.

    • Shielding capital gains from taxes is a huge issue for low-income Canadians. That’s why they’re low income, right?