The Finance Minister paused long enough to note that “We don’t have a surplus yet,” then continued with his march into the bright mid-afternoon sun that pours through the west-facing windows above the stairs that lead away from the foyer and the mob.
The unruly called after him.
“Is your government abandoning its promise on income splitting?” bellowed someone.
“Noisy fellow,” the microphones apparently recorded Mr. Flaherty as saying before he disappeared up the second flight (he could not be heard, nor barely seen from the bottom of the stairs, members of the mob not permitted to climb the stairs in pursuit of the duly elected).
Those who didn’t take the immediately available stairs that lead up and out of the House foyer were more easily pursued by the mob. Most had the good sense to keep moving. The overly courteous Joe Oliver, caught by a question about continental energy policy, stopped for awhile and was thus surrounded and made to dance by the jeering crowd.
“We will look at a range of policies next year,” he explained, “and as you know, our government stands for the reduction of taxes.”
But what about income-splitting?
“Well,” the Natural Resources Minister explained. “I think income splitting is clearly one of the important issues that we’ll be discussing going forward.”
Why, someone asked, would no Conservative commit now to what had been committed to three years ago?
“Well,” Mr. Oliver mused, “I think the issue is that individual members of parliament or ministers don’t discuss forthcoming tax changes.”
There ensued a discussion about whether a commitment that has not yet not happened could be described as a broken promise.
An hour earlier, in Question Period, the NDP’s Megan Leslie had had the temerity to suggest that there were differing views among the cabinet as to whether the Conservative government would proceed with its campaign promise to allow for some splitting of incomes among spouses for tax purposes.
Mr. Flaherty, with a smile, stood here to clarify.
“Mr. Speaker, once the budget is balanced, which it is not yet, once we have a surplus, which will be next year, our government is committed to greater tax relief for Canadian families,” he said. “Only Conservatives, as a matter of act, can be trusted to reduce taxes to Canadian families.”
The New Democrats laughed.
Ms. Leslie now turned cruel, reminding the Finance Minister of what he’d said yesterday and wondering if he agreed with himself. “Does the Minister of Finance stand by his criticism that a plan that does not benefit the vast majority of Canadians does not benefit Canada?”
Mr. Flaherty stood here to ignore the question.
“Mr. Speaker, because of our government, Canadians enjoy the lowest taxes that they have had in 50 years. We have done something that Liberals and NDP people do not do anything about. That is, we have reduced government spending,” he explained.
The Conservatives around him applauded.
“We have reduced government spending for three years in a row,” the minister continued. “I know this is a foreign concept to the members opposite, but we have done it without reducing transfers to the provinces for health and education and transfers to individuals, including persons with disabilities.”
This was deemed worthy of a standing ovation.
There is, as yet, no mandatory minimum for changing one’s mind, but there are now various questions that might be asked. Why can’t something be committed to now that was committed to three years ago? How come the Finance Minister can’t say today in Question Period what he said elsewhere yesterday? Does the Prime Minister agree with the Finance Minister? Does the Employment Minister agree with either? Where is the backbench in all this? Is income-splitting good policy or merely good politics or neither or both? What sort of analysis was done before the promise was made? If someone has changed his mind, when did that occur and why? How many voters were expecting that promise to kept? Is there a compromise to be made?
There could be, as Mr. Flaherty might say, a fulsome discussion to be had here. “Stephen Harper explains his thinking on income-splitting” would, at the very least, make for an enlightening (and perhaps rating-boosting) episode of 24 Seven. But then fulsome discussions can be unwieldy. And if we start having one now about this, the masses might start to expect fulsome discussions about other matters.
Of course, the Prime Minister could also announce tomorrow that he’s cutting everyone’s taxes in half (or increasing the child benefit) and all of this could be pleasantly forgotten.
At least until then, everyone gets to have a bit of fun.
“Mr. Speaker, yesterday, the Minister of Finance attacked the Conservative policy on income splitting. He said ‘I’m not sure that overall it benefits our society’ and ‘I think income splitting needs a long, hard analytical look by our think tanks,’ ” Liberal finance critic Scott Brison reviewed midway through QP this afternoon. ”This analysis has already been done, by the C.D. Howe Institute and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.”
The Conservatives laughed at this mention of the progressive institute (regardless of whether the Conservatives and the CCPA might soon be joined in official opposition to the idea).
“Now that the analysis by think tanks has actually happened,” Mr. Brison continued, “does the minister agree with these think tanks that income splitting would do nothing for 86% of Canadian families, and that ‘it’s an expensive tax gift for the rich’?”
Mr. Flaherty would not be tricked into a concession.
“Mr. Speaker,” he responded, “when I contemplate thinking about issues, I rarely think of the Liberal Party.”
The Conservatives and New Democrats laughed.
Mr. Brison returned to his feet and responded in kind.
“Mr. Speaker, when I think about balanced budgets, I rarely think of the minister,” he shot back, earning laughs and applause from the Liberal corner.
At least until next year. At which point we might found out how the Conservative government feels about what the Conservative party promised a Conservative government would do.