The Conservative platform is mostly a damp squib, more or less by design. Or at any rate they’re trapped: if they were to put more in it at this late date, they open themselves to charges of panicking, making it up as they go along etc. — the very thing they’re trying to hang on the opposition.
Much of it is old news, having been unveiled already in the course of the campaign (or indeed announced in previous budgets). Some of it is wildly wrong — adding yet another regional development agency, pouring yet more subsidies into the auto and aerospace sinkholes, banning bulk water exports — and lots else is just unspeakably trivial: banning fees for unsolicited text messages, cracking down on tampering with gas pumps, and of course, “setting a minimum package size for cigarillos.”
But amidst all the familiar micro-promises and useless chaff, there are a couple of gems. I love the pledge to abolish tariffs on imported machinery and equipment — timely, useful and a much more market-friendly way to help manufacturers than subsidies. And naturally I’m excited about this:
A re-elected Conservative Government led by Stephen Harper will work to eliminate barriers that restrict or impair trade, investment or labour mobility between provinces and territories by 2010. In 2007, the government announced that it was prepared to use the federal trade and commerce power to strengthen the Canadian economic union. Since that time, we have seen progress among the provinces and territories in strengthening the existing Agreement on Internal Trade. We hope to see further progress, but are prepared to intervene by exercising federal authority if barriers to trade, investment and mobility remain by 2010. [Emphasis added.]
I have not seen them attach a deadline to this promise before. This makes concrete and real what had previously only been a statement of intent. It’s the single most significant thing in the platform, and if acted upon, could be the Harper government’s most important legacy.
MORE: Other likes and dislikes…
– Senate reform: somebody has to take the lead on this
– “Ending insider loans to political candidates”: the biggest remaining loophole in the campaign finance laws – aside from the public funding the Tories once promised to abolish
– Expanding RESPs
– looser foreign investment rules: but why only airlines and uranium, why only 49%, and why only with reciprocal access granted by other countries?
– pursuing free trade deals with other countries: but why no mention of the European Union?
– gas tax transfer: in case you didn’t think municipal governments were unaccountable enough
– subsidies for all: not only for manufacturing, but mining, forestry, farming…
– subsidies for biofuels, wind, solar etc
– “Charter of Open Federalism”: I don’t know what it is, but I don’t like the smell of it
– the children’s artistic tax credit: the inevitable companion piece to the children’s fitness tax credit. I can only quote Andrew Potter’s plaintive lament: What about the fat, lazy talentless kids?
– the diesel tax cut: costly and enviro-nuts
– enriching the old age tax credit: a universal program, its policy rationale remains a mystery. Why should we pay people for being old? The Liberals have a better idea: enriching the income-tested Guaranteed Income Supplement.
– a $75-million government-run venture capital fund: is there a more obvious contradiction in terms?