GUNNING FOR THE GRITS

SPOTLIGHT:

Mary Janigan May 26 1997
GUNNING FOR THE GRITS

SPOTLIGHT:

Mary Janigan May 26 1997

SPOTLIGHT:

Mary Janigan

The NDP's big plans

THE POLICY : In its handbook, “A Framework for Canada’s future,” the New Democratic Party outlines ambitious plans—in striking contrast to the prevailing ethos of the times. It would massively increase program spending, institute new or higher taxes—including extra levies on corporations and Canadians earning more than $100,000 a year—reform the Goods and Services Tax and raise tax credits and cut taxes for lower-income Canadians. New Democrats predict that the economy would grow substantially in response, generating two million jobs and billions of dollars in new tax revenues— allowing the NDP to balance the budget in 1999-2000.

THE REALITY: The party

would conduct a risky experiment with Canada’s tentatively recovering economy. Its detailed 46-point list of spending initiatives is breathtaking: $3.2 billion for environmental projects such as sewage treatment, $8.6 billion to cancel Liberal changes to the employment insurance system, $3.5 billion for highways, $4 billion for new day-care spaces, $13.3 billion in increased transfers to the provinces for health, education and welfare and $4.9 billion for pharmacare—among other things. Annual program spending would rise from

the government’s projected $105.8 billion in 1997-1998 to $138.7 billion in 2001-2002—an increase of almost $33 billion, or 31 per cent.

In fact, the NDP platform would cost even more than that amount—because New Democrats do not include the lost revenues from increased tax credits and other tax breaks for low-income earners in their stated expenditures. Instead, they subtract the cost of their tax breaks from the amount of money that their new taxes would raise. That is standard governmental accounting proce-

dure, but it is also a crafty way to conceal hefty tax increases—and lavish tax breaks. In effect, the NDP would raise taxes by more than $12.7 billion per year in their first budget. But they would use $1.2 billion per year to hike the GST credit for low-income Canadians and to remove the GST from books and children’s clothing. They would

also use $550 million to eliminate the threeper-cent surtax, which all taxpayers pay, for low-income taxpayers. And in 2001-2002, they would reform taxes, refunding about $6 billion in that year. Through a magical sleight-of-hand, they deduct those amounts from the $12.7 billion in new taxes—and proclaim that tax hikes will only result in $4.9 billion in new revenues.

Some of the assumptions are open to question. If they restore tobacco taxes to previous levels, New Democrats assume that revenues will increase by $750 million per year in 19992000. Their plan assumes that all taxpayers will pay whatever new tax is levied and that there would be no growth in the underground economy, no evasion—and no tax revolt. (The underground trade in cigarettes forced Ottawa to lower taxes in the first place.) New wealth taxes will fetch more than $4 billion this year. The policy also assumes that higher corporate taxes, including higher taxes on job-generating small businesses and manufacturers, will produce an extra $1.4 billion per year and that interest rates will not rise and economic growth will not falter—even though the economy will be hit with more than $12 billion in new taxes.

NDP Leader Alexa McDonough admits that her party will not win this election. Instead, she says, Canadians should elect NDP MPs to point out the human cost of economic change. That message may lose its lustre when voters tally the cost of the NDP’s own economic change.

That West Coast difference

In the Rest of Canada, a bilingual election news release might mean one that appears in French and English. But in British Columbia’s distinct society, Chinese-language speakers make up the second-largest linguistic group after anglophones. As many as 300,000 Chinese-Canadians live in the lower B.C. mainland —roughly one-fifth of the region’s population. And in some ridings, including reconstituted Vancouver-Kingsway where no fewer than four Chinese-Canadian candidates are running,

Vancouver’s Chinatown: bilingualism, B.C.-style

more than half of the voters are of Asian origin. With that in mind, when the Liberal Party of Canada (B.C.) released its list of candidates for the June 2 federal election last week, it thoughtfully provided Chinese-character translations for the names of all

Grit nominees. Some, like Secretary of State for Asia-PacifRaymond Chan, already had Chinese names. But for others, like Kootenay/Columbia candi-

date Mark Shmigelsky or Esquimalt/Juan de Fuca’s John

Bergbusch, translators had to come up with phonetic equivalents—while avoiding connotations to characters that might cast candidates in a bad light. The idea may give the Grits a bit of an edge in the party’s battle to gain ground in British Columbia, at least against leading rival Reform. Acknowledged Reform campaign strategist Peter Shuley, whose party has struggled to present itself in a positive light among immigrants: “It’s a very interesting idea. It just never came to mind.”

Appealing across established party lines

Progressive Conservative Leader Jean Charest is getting help from an unlikely source in his bid for re-election in Sherbrooke, Que. A group calling itself the “Committee of Liberals from the Sherbrooke riding for Jean Charest” is throwing its support behind the Tory leader. “We thought he was the logical candidate,” explains member Richard Pépin, who says he hasn’t renewed his federal Liberal membership after being

a member for several years. In 1993, Pépin voted for Charest’s Liberal opponent. This time, he intends to vote for the Tory leader, who, as well as being “an impressive candidate in Sherbrooke, will eventually be our prime minister.” Others in the riding appear to be thinking the same way. Pépin says he has sold 125 Tory membership cards, mostly to former federal Liberals, in the past 10 days alone. “The committee

wasn’t a surprise,” says Eric Massé, a spokesman for Liberal candidate Martin Bureau. The other two members of Pépin’s three-man committee are former provincial Liberals, notes Massé, and their federal leanings were not a secret. Although some Liberals support Charest, Massé maintains it is “not a majority of people.” Ironically, Bureau himself worked for Charest’s organization before deciding to run for the Liberals.