Scott Feschuk on the federal election campaign

Just tuning in? The NDP is in the lead. Yes, that NDP.

Scott Feschuk: ‘Now is the time we’re supposed to start paying attention’

Photo illustration by Lauren Cattermole and Richard Redditt

Photo illustration by Lauren Cattermole and Richard Redditt

We’ve almost arrived at Labour Day—and, according to the media, now is the time we’re supposed to start paying attention to the election. The August leg of the campaign was apparently just a dry run, or a prank, or a weird episode in which Justin Trudeau came out of the shower to discover his belief in balanced budgets had all been a dream.

For those of you just tuning in, brace yourselves: The NDP is in the lead. Yes, that NDP. Even weirder, the New Democrats have been portraying themselves as the most fiscally responsible party on offer. The NDP! The party whose most passionate members have never met a social program they didn’t like or a razor they didn’t ignore!

Frankly, Thomas Mulcair may be overcompensating. New Democrats are traditionally viewed as being about as responsible with money as Donald Trump is with adjectives. To recast the party’s image, Mulcair keeps raising the bar. I’ll balance the budget in my first term. I’ll balance it in my first year. I’ll personally come to your home and roll your pennies!

Related reading: Attention leaders, it’s in your interest to step it up!

He doesn’t expect us to believe him, does he? Sure, some centrist newbies are on the bandwagon, but the core of the party still wants government to do most things for most people, and also for certain pets and all trees. If he wants us to buy in, Mulcair needs to up the ante. Promise in writing to shave the beard if you run even one deficit, Tom. Make the pledge, and I think I speak for many Canadians when I say: I’m listening.

To be fair, Mulcair has been categorical in his promise. Not everyone has been so candid. The Conservative leader was recently asked whether two consecutive quarters of economic decline—the technical definition of a recession—means that Canada is, in fact, experiencing a recession. His reply? “It’s more important to describe the realities of the situation, rather than have labels.”

Let’s take a moment to unpack that sentence, because it is just beautiful. Stephen Harper, the man who has spent more than a decade reminding us of his training in economics, now says a recession isn’t about silly ol’ numbers—it’s about how we feel. Thanks, Prime Minister Oprah! Too bad you weren’t around in the 1930s; you could have warded off the Depression with a stimulus package of group hugs.

Speaking of olden times, political leaders used to announce things in front of inanimate objects— a flag, for example, or a Herb Gray. Not anymore. It is required by current fashion that a politician be positioned in front of a group of supporters—the more diverse, the better. (At a Harper appearance in Quebec in June, this “diversity” was embodied by One Black Guy.) These supporters are instructed to do things like applaud, wave signs and sometimes even stay awake. How is this coordinated display supposed to win over undecided voters? The psychology is vague. Welp, I was on the fence, but this leader has the support of 28 people with nothing better to do on a Tuesday afternoon, so . . .

It can be riveting to watch these human props. I recommend joining a televised event about 20 minutes in. That’s when supporters really start to lose their enthusiasm, followed by their focus, followed by their will to live. Some begin to fidget. Others stifle yawns. One adolescent boy at a Harper event in Lancaster, Ont., zoned out so spectacularly that he failed to blink for what seemed like a week. By the end, he appeared to be suffering from post-rhetoric stress disorder.

It’s not just attention spans that are being tested. It’s the parties themselves. They all need to make policy announcements—but, in an 11-week campaign, each party will have blown the whole of the federal budget by the end of the month. The campaign’s final three weeks are going to consist of the leaders crisscrossing the country, announcing only things that cost no money. Ladies and gentlemen, I stand before you today and declare that, under a Liberal government, smiles will be free!

One solution is to be stingy with the revelations. Already we’ve seen leaders devote whole days to minor proposals, such as $2 million for emergency training (NDP), small reforms to labour laws (Liberals) and a tax credit for Canadians who participate in quilting circles (Conservatives).

Got you. Harper hasn’t actually proposed that one. He’s saving it for October. That’s when people will really be paying attention.


Just tuning in? The NDP is in the lead. Yes, that NDP.

  1. As a young Canadian who wants to neither breed nor possesses enough money to care about TFSAs, I’d love to know when these campaigns will start talking about and making promises about things I actually care about. Vague generalities like, “we’ll invest in infrastructure” have been made time and time again, but I have thus far not heard how my generation is going to be employed under these respective governments nor what they are going to do about our debt.

    Plans for affordable housing for the rising number of young adults wishing to stay single in the city, jobs so we can maybe afford the “affordable” and food for our tables would be a refreshing change of pace to these campaigns.

    I’m sorry, but I just really don’t care about tax breaks for families or cheap childcare and it’s been beat over the head all of August.

    Oh, and I’d love to hear an actual, real climate plan from any of these people.

    • Believe it or not. TFSA’s are for poor and middle income people. It is the only tax shelter that can work for them. They are much better than RRSP’s. Understanding why is a good lesson in understanding personal financial management.

      Wealthy people have all other sorts of tax privileges and means of sheltering their income from tax. They can use TFSA’s too, but it is just one of many. The rich lefties attack TFSA’s because they don’t need them.

      TFSA’s are for people who don’t have enough money. It is the best way for people who don’t have enough money to save and invest so they do.

      • I literally have $0 to save at the end of the day; my budget comes down to lunch tomorrow or hair product for the month, but thanks for trying.

        I’m saying that TFSAs have been there for awhile and promising to increase the amount you can put into it is utterly meaningless to real, broke, ex-students like myself.

        • Yes, increasing the max. amount won’t help. The job situation is really bad right now and I hope you can find something soon that can increase your budget to allow you to save.

      • This depends a lot on what you think your financial situation is going to be like post-retirement. If you aren’t expecting to have much of a pension income, and, importantly, are comfortable locking the money away until retirement, then RRSPs are far, far, better regardless of your income bracket. If you invest your tax savings from your RRSPs back into more RRSPs (or into other productive uses like paying down debt), the effective rate of return on RRSPs can be very large.

        The main benefit to TFSAs is that you can extract the money at any point, within the rules of your investment vehicle. So if you’re saving for a car or a house or something, TFSA makes more sense.

        • TFSA’s are better for lower income people than RRSP’s because the initial tax benefit from an RRSP is small because lower income people have a low marginal tax rate. And when they are old and withdraw, they tend to be in a higher tax bracket. Also, they cannot without the money from an RRSP for an emergency without facing an immediate tax hit.

          With a TFSA, low income people pay the initial tax at a low marginal rate, and then it is allowed to grow tax free forever, and they can withdraw it in an emergency without incurring a tax hit, like they would with an RRSP.

          TFSA are the ONLY means for accumulating wealth for lower income people. There are multiple other loopholes for richer people. Keep and expand the TFSA’s, and pay for it by eliminating the loopholes used by richer people that lower income people cannot use.

      • Most people on lower income don’t have any disposable income after they try to keep up with their every day expenses. They can’t put it into TFSA’s. Only those with more can. Better to increase the CPP for future generations. That would make a difference!

    • I too am a young single student in college, and I put all my savings into TFSA’s after paying my bills. As the other poster said, it’s important to be financially smart especially if you are in a lower income bracket.

      The parties need to put out a proper, fully costed platform. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers for a “climate plan”, or to increase jobs, or to provide affordable housing. Each solution will have consequences. More programs means higher taxes. Fewer programs means higher poverty. But at the very least, the parties need to state what they will choose to cut and how they plan to spend.

  2. Yes, the human prop thing doesn’t work for me either.

    Unless the other people one stage are going to have a turn speaking or are going to be introduced to the audience in some way their presence is simply distracting and makes the artifice of the situation way too obvious. It does not work for me. And every party does it. Though the alternative seems to be a really, really big Canadian flag.

    The other thing that doesn’t work is the forced smile. Mulcair and Harper both used it in the Macleans debate and it especially didn’t work in Mulcair’s case as many noticed. John McCallum used it on Power and Politics while taking about the Syrian refuge crisis, ug!

  3. My opinion is that despite many voters replying to current polls stating they support Tom Mulcair, NDP party, it’s quite possible that Justin Trudeau and the Liberals will beat the NDP !
    My reasoning is that Justin Trudeau has the support of a very high percentage of younger voters, and younger voters don’t tend to take part in polls that are ongoing during election campaigns ! It’s just not their thing. However I do believe that Trudeau and the Liberals have a very very huge following of support from Baby Boomers kids and grandkids, and even Baby Boomers themselves, and I think that will clearly be reflected after all of the ballots have been counted on election day !
    Justin also has the support of many many miniority groups whom he has visited in person and spoken with. He is very down to earth, personable and it’s obvious he truly cares about all Canadians of all ages, faiths and nationalities , and Harper is for sure ”going down” due to that. I doubt that Mulcair will get enough votes to become PM. Time will tell tho.

  4. This comment that we can’t believe that the NDP are fiscally responsible is a red herring decades old perpetrated by the opposition and the media who never seem to check their facts! The Federal government regularly examines every party in Canad a for their fiscally responsibility overall and the NDP always come in first. So please stop this misinformation. It doesn’t say much for journalists who don’t examine the facts!