CBC commentator, Rex Murphy, recently defined a “gaffe” as a politician stumbling by saying something he actually believes. Apparently Michael Ignatieff “gaffed” when suggesting that, after emerging from this recession with a deficit possibly approaching $80 billion, we may have to consider raising taxes rather than cutting back on important services and programs. The Conservatives, predictably, are preparing to bombard the public with negative advertisements about Ignatieff’s hidden agenda to raise taxes. They hope this will scare Canadians back to the comforting ‘we-cut-the-GST-aren’t-we-great’ Conservative fold, and reduce political discourse to a one-dimensional contest: tax-and-spend Liberals versus tax-cutting Conservatives.
Well here’s to more political gaffes. Canadians are not shallow simple voters living in a one-dimensional world. We deserve respect, not the condescension of our political leaders. We can handle serious discussion about the provision of important public services and investment – public pensions, healthcare, education, public transit, police – to name but a few. We know that we are stronger when we act collectively. We know that protecting the dignity of our neighbour protects the dignity of us all.
A recent Maclean’s article quotes former Harper chief of staff, Ian Brodie, as saying that before the 2006 election, Conservatives decided their ticket to political power lay in branding themselves as the party of tax cuts. They simply had to cut a tax that Canadians could not forget at election time – the GST. Conservative strategists knew that reducing the GST made no economic sense, but considered it perfect for tiny sound bites for tiny Canadian attention spans. That it was contrary to the national interest was no impediment to their goal of gaining political power.
The Harper conservatives are following the playbook of U.S. republicans like Sarah Palin who argue that paying taxes is unpatriotic. Contrast President Obama. During the U.S. election, Mr. Obama took time on camera to explain to Joe the Plumber that extra taxes paid as a result of financial success, are not transferred to some stranger, but to a version of your former less-successful self – someone now needing the help of public services and programs to get ahead. People enjoying success should care for the ones left behind, because in most cases they were once left behind themselves.
Engaging citizens in a national debate over taxes clearly did President Obama no harm on election day. Michael Ignatieff should take heart.