“So Hard”

Last week it came out that federal Liberal leadership candidate Martha Hall Findlay supports a GST increase.  I’m sure the federal Tories haven’t stopped grinning.

The Conservatives’ decision to reduce the GST from 7% to 6% and then down to 5% was a short-sighted politically expedient move because everybody likes tax decreases.  But the government’s job isn’t to give everyone what they want; the government’s job is to make decisions in the public’s interest, and that involves hard decisions about allocating resources and figuring out how to obtain those resources.  Suffice it to say that the GST cut is contributing to Canada’s current deficit problem, stimulus spending aside.

I salute Hall Findlay’s for taking this possibly politically-harmful position.  As she said,

“You can’t say that it was a bad idea to drop it and not have the guts to say that, when the economic circumstances are right, that you would consider raising it back up. It’s inconsistent.”

I further salute her for not trying to weasel her way out of a somewhat sticky situation.

But I think I may fall in love with her because of this:

The Liberal Party I lead will ….

… NOT be afraid of discussing policy in public. The current hoopla over whether I would, or would not, raise the GST highlights exactly what ails politics in this country: Fear of speaking out.

140 character tweets, sound bites taken out of context, and fear of attack ads all, shamefully, now seem to rule our public discourse. Here is what I really think about the GST.

  • Yes, I have said that I would consider raising the GST but only if needed. I supported the GST when it was brought in, and was among the most vocal in calling Harper’s politically-motivated reductions from 7% to 5% bad economics. It would be hypocritical of me now to say otherwise.
  • I do not advocate any tax increases right now—not GST, not corporate taxes, not personal income taxes—not while we’re still struggling with the economy and the sluggish exit from the financial crisis. Indeed, this is exactly what Harper has done with his increases in EI premiums, a tax on jobs which I object to.
  • I do not advocate a rise in the GST, even when the economy is stronger, to the exclusion of other things: For example, I would prefer a price on carbon, which would do double duty by also improving our environment.
  • would consider raising the GST if, using just one example, increased costs of aging demographics, health care and the all-important education for our next generations are not sufficiently off-set by spending cuts elsewhere.

Needless to say, that level of discussion never gets into tweets or sound bites or headlines.  Only the ‘sexy’ attack parts do. And that is wrong — because Canada must engage in this debate.


Are we so afraid of Harper and his attack ads that we can’t even debate significant economic issues in public? Have we no confidence left whatsoever? No wonder Canadians have lost respect for Liberals – and for politicians generally.  I refuse to let us conduct ourselves out of fear. We MUST be able to have these discussions.

We keep talking about needing more engagement – how do we do that, when we ourselves refuse to engage in any real debate?


We have taxation and we have spending. Determining the right mix is a critical part of Canada’s economic and social prosperity. Canadians should expect politicians to have the courage to engage in this kind of debate and discussion—and not to be afraid of doing so.

  • No sensible Canadian objects to at least some level of taxation – it’s how we pay for roads, sewers, health care, old age security, passport services, immigration issues—all manner of government services that significantly improve our society. We understand that some taxation is needed in today’s world.

  • What form it takes, and how much, paid by whom, and how it should be used, should always be part of our public policy debate. We can always do better.

  • Despite initial concerns, Liberals quickly recognized that a value-added tax was a sensible form of taxation. We have supported it ever since.

  • Liberals were therefore, and appropriately, among the most vocal in condemning Harper for his “cheap politics” of reducing the GST from 7 to 6 and then to 5%.  Because cheap politics is exactly what it was.  It certainly was bad economics.

Many believe that Canada now has a structural deficit, thanks in large measure to those GST cuts.  If Harper had correspondingly cut spending, then that’s a different story – but he didn’t. His first two years in government, while cutting the GST, he spent the two largest-spending budgets in Canadian history. This BEFORE the financial crisis hit.

There is so much to love about this, but my favourite part is how she calls out fellow politicians on both sides of the aisle and challenges them to actually debate public policy in public.  Imagine that: debating PUBLIC policy in PUBLIC.

I love Twitter, and I love television, but those mediums have really weakened our ability to have any type of serious democratic debate because they all thrive on catching the reader’s/viewer’s attention with witty titles, catchphrases and soundbites.  You’re forced to boil your argument down to something simple when most issues are rather complex.

I also laud her defiance of Harper’s tactics.  I hate attack ads.  They’re usually untrue and always misleading, unnecessarily inflammatory and generally fearmongering.  Unfortunately they’re becoming more prevalent, even in betweecampaigns.  See the following Saskatchewan Party ad (it starts at :14):

Really?  The NDP doesn’t even have a leader, but the Saskatchewan Party is attacking its leadership candidates.  That’s got to be a first (honestly, it’s pretty pretty of Wall & Co. to be launching an attack ad at this stage, and maybe it’s reflection of their arrogance or insecurity – take your pick).  And it’s taking an issue that could use some public discussion and making it political (which every party does).  Here’s an idea for ALL parties: make an ad about WHY YOUR IDEAS ARE BETTER instead of telling me why the other’s guy’s are terrible, because you’re always going to think the other guy’s ideas are terrible.  I know that.  Instead, convince me why I should vote for you.  I’m tired of parties framing elections as a choice between the lesser of many evils rather than a choice between good, better and best options.

It’d be nice if we could get past the party politics in both this province and the country and have reasonable debates about issues instead of branding each side as an enemy not only of the country but of you and your family.  But apparently that’s a lot to ask these days.  No wonder everybody hates politicians.

  1. I would have to agree with all you have said here Nicole. The reason why Tories, and those on the right, use attack ads is because they fear a public debate. They fear that a public debate will expose who they truly are and what they truly stand for. Thus, the notion of holding a public debate would be a great idea – one in which I truly admire and support. Unfortunately, despite how “progressive” Canada may be, they may not support a strong woman like Hall-Findlay.

    Historically speaking, there has yet to be a single female who has been able to break into Canadian politics. I wish one day this will change – and maybe Hall-Findlay will do it. But, she is also running for a party that is struggling to stay alive. She not only has to resurrect her party, but then she has to contend with the Tories, and then contend with the fact that she is a woman in a man’s world. That is a three prong challenge… one that may allow for another Tory majority in 2015…. and truth be told that is much more scary than anything else. That being said, I do want to say that I truly hope I am wrong, but my gut (and historical issues) tell me that Canada is not yet ready for a strong female PM.

    Canadians, on the whole, have a very tough and very challenging problem in this day and age. With the notion that attack ads will be used in the next election, how do we get past all this cloudiness and allow Canadians to fully understand their choices? The best idea would be to outlaw attack ads, than maybe some civility will return to politics. But alas, the Tories would never cede to such an incredibly great idea – they just fear that their own ideas will not hold water.

    • Nicole said:

      I agree – thanks for reading!

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