The Commons: Stephen Harper would rather not focus on the details - Macleans.ca

The Commons: Stephen Harper would rather not focus on the details

The Commons: Read Ted Menzies’ lips

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Megan Leslie stood to plead confusion. Within the budget, she said, were tax increases. But the Prime Minister, she recalled, had promised not to raise taxes. So why, she wondered aloud, had the Prime Minister allowed the Finance Minister to contradict him?

“Mr. Speaker,” declared the Prime Minister, “it is quite the opposite.”

Mr. Harper did not then explain how so. Instead, he alleged a number of tax increases that the NDP was apparently proposing.

Ms. Leslie tried again. “Why,” she wondered, “did the Prime Minister not keep his promise?”

The Prime Minister again insisted on talking about the NDP. “Mr. Speaker,” he said, “I know very well that the NDP favors higher taxes and taxes to finance larger deficits and higher expenses.”

Ms. Leslie was unimpressed. “Mr. Speaker, I understand why the government’s backbench is frustrated,” she responded. “Answers like that have been frustrating me for quite some time.”

The New Democrats laughed.

This is, most immediately, Ted Menzies’ fault. It was the minister of state for finance who yesterday pronounced that there were no tax increases to be found in last week’s budget. More specifically, he said “no one would find” tax increases in this budget. As a wager, this was a poor one. As a challenge, it had the unfortunate quality of having already been met—Mr. Menzies making it in response to a question about tax increases that had been found in the budget.

“The truth here is clearly spelled out in black and white on pages 331 and 332,” Ms. Leslie explained. “This is not a make-believe tax, unlike the kind that the Conservatives love to accuse us of; these are billions in actual new taxes that will impact real people.”

Ms. Leslie raised her eyebrows. “With all these half truths,” she wondered, “can the Prime Minister not understand why Canadians are angry and his backbench is frustrated?”

Of course, one cannot, or should not, blame Mr. Menzies for trying. Given his government’s adamant opposition to taxation, he likely felt compelled to at least attempt to keep up appearances. If anything, he was only denying explicitly what the government otherwise now denies implicitly. His mistake, you see, was merely acknowledging the complaint registered.

“Mr. Speaker, we will have a vote on the budget tonight, a budget that has been very well-received by Canadians,” Mr. Harper more expertly replied this afternoon. “I know we will have very strong support on this side of the House. I hope members on that side of the House will finally give up these attempts to convince people they would somehow be better off with higher taxes, somehow be better off at raising tax rates on employers, somehow better off by hiking the GST back up to 7%, somehow better off by making a carbon tax at $20 billion. The OECD and others have recognized that Canada is on the right track balancing our budget, keeping our debt low and keeping our taxes down.”

Even if EI premiums have gone up and carbon prices were once promised.

Alas, the New Democrats were not yet done displaying their reading comprehension skills.

“After promising no new taxes, pages 331 and 332 of the budget had, in fact, a long list of tax increases. There are increases to credit unions, new taxes on safety deposit boxes and a $1.1 billion tax hike on imported consumer goods,” Peggy Nash reported to the House. “Now that the minister of state has had 24 hours to reflect on yesterday’s answers, would he now acknowledge that he was wrong and admit that the budget included new tax hikes?”

Over then, again, to Mr. Menzies.

“Mr. Speaker,” he said, “I congratulate the honourable member for getting up to page 331 of the budget.”

Perhaps this was meant to mock Ms. Nash, but perhaps Mr. Menzies was genuinely impressed, having not yet gotten that far himself.

“What I would like to say is that the fact is, and let us let the facts answer this question, since 2006, we have actually eliminated 1,900 different tariffs,” Mr. Menzies now boasted. “What has that accomplished? That has provided $525 million in tax relief every year since then.”

And that, apparently, was just a bit too much relief.

“That is what we do with taxes. We lower them,” Mr. Menzies explained, now apparently championing cognitive dissonance as a governing philosophy.

Now it was Ms. Nash who was unimpressed.

“Mr. Speaker, I guess girls can cook, but they cannot read budgets,” she shot back, sticking with this week’s other theme of offence taken.

The New Democrats applauded Ms. Nash’s umbrage.

“Canadians can go and check for themselves in pages 331 and 332 of the budget. All the new Conservative taxes are laid out there,” she repeated. “Yesterday, the minister claimed that no one would find tax increases in this, yet we have found plenty of them. Let me try a specific example. Could the Minister of State for Finance acknowledge that the budget raises taxes on life insurance?”

Mr. Menzies bravely stood and bravely refused to acknowledge anything Ms. Nash had said.

“Mr. Speaker,” he said, “as part of our low tax plan, we continue to reduce taxes in every way.”

So never mind reading the budget. Just put that book away and read Ted Menzies’ lips.