The campaign may have made you cranky, but there are real issues at stake. JOHN GEDDES examines them—above all, he says, get out and vote.
LISTEN TO THE JADED PUNDITS and pollsters, and you’d think this election marks an all-time low. Canadians, we’re told, are disgusted with politics. Low voter turnout is widely predicted for June 28. And no wonder: last week’s TV debate in English was trashed, on various front pages, as a “sandbox fight” among leaders who “fell short,” what with all their “stammering,” “bobbing” and “fuming.” It all sounds less than inspiring. But consider this campaign as it might be seen by someone arriving suddenly from a country where Canada is barely known-say, the U.S. Who’s the incumbent? Only a self-made millionaire who became one of the most successful cabinet ministers ever. His main rival? Merely a brainy economist who united the country’s fractious right-wingers against all expectations. That
guy with the moustache? Just an impassioned veteran of municipal politics in the country’s biggest metropolis. Of course, each is comfortable defending a detailed platform in both official languages.
So if you’re cranky, get over it. If you’re apathetic, get interested—these are hardly cookie-cutter politicians. Stephen Harper is an unapologetic, tax-cutting Conservative. His rise on Paul Martin’s right has activated the Prime Minister’s left-Liberal side, especially on issues such as daycare. The NDP’s Jack Layton has tried to sharpen his message to avoid being squeezed out as the big guys square off. The revitalized Bloc Québécois is a big factor in minority government scenarios, but not so much on policy, since the separatists obviously don’t aspire to run Canada. The Greens hope to win a seat or two, but their day as major players has yet to dawn. And so, Maclean’s offers this scan of the core choices for Canadians outside Quebec-Liberal, Conservative or NDPon the premise that ideas matters, and cynicism doesn’t cut it as this campaign comes down to a stirring stretch run:
HEALTH, THE PROVINCES,
Martin says health care is his top concern, and shortening waiting times his signature
promise. Harper made a strategic decision not to allow himself to get portrayed, as Stockwell Day did in 2000, as weak on preserving medicare. So both Martin and Harper make this a big-ticket item. From the Liberals: $9 billion, plus more to be hashed out
THESE are hardly cookie-cutter politicians. The leaders are offering some fundamentally different choices.
with the provinces. From the Tories: $10.2 billion for the provinces, plus $2.8 billion for a federal drug plan. But the key difference is not in the numbers. Martin asserts Ottawa’s leadership role in setting health policy direction. Harper says: “The provinces have ultimately got to solve this because they are running the system.” Layton’s emphasis is less on which level of government fixes problems than on banishing for-profit firms from the system, even if they deliver services paid for by public insurance.
PARENTS, KIDS, AND CASH FOR CARE
North America’s conservatives have long laid claim to being preoccupied with “fam-
ily values,” and Harper’s tax platform leans that way with a $2,000-per-child tax deduction. (Currently, the tax code offers deductions only for child-care costs if both parents work.) Martin’s plan targets only families that use daycare: $5 billion to create up to 300,000 more subsidized spaces. That’s close to the NDP’s proposal to spend $5.2 billion to make room for another 200,000 kids in daycare. Layton would also remove the GST from family essentials. While debate on the family file has been muted, the ideological divide here is wide. The Liberals call the twoincome family “the reality of modern life.” Shortly after being founded last year, the new Conservative party committed itself to eliminating tax “inequities between singleand dual-income families.”
TAXES, SPENDING, AND CREDIBILITY What’s left out of a political platform can be as telling as what gets in. Martin does not dangle tax cuts in the Liberal plan. Harper promises a 25-per-cent federal income-tax reduction for middle-income earners, or about $1,000 on a $50,000 salary. Layton would roll back past business tax cuts, and at the same time impose hefty new taxes on inheritances over $1 million and incomes above $250,000. The Liberals contend that Harper’s deep tax cuts, combined with his spending promises, leave a gaping “black hole” in the Conservative platform—to the tune of $10 billion a year. It all boils down to a dispute over how fast spending on existing government programs must rise to sustain them. Liberals assume a 4.5-per-cent annual growth; the Conservatives would keep that down to three per cent. Martin warns that the Conservative track would require painful cuts. Harper
The leaders’ “debates” were anything but. Next time they should try visiting Canadian high schools to see how it’s done.
For raising the issue, to members of Canada’s arts community who decried the lack of attention to culture in this campaign. “Not one word,” said actress Sonja Smits after the debates. Give them a break, Sonja-shouting over each other is an art in itself.
New Brunswick Premier Bernard Lord endorsed Stephen Harper’s plan to overhaul the Senate and make it an elected body.
A plan for better regional representation, or government chaos?
The Conservative riding association in Ottawa Centre filed a complaint over NDP candidate Ed Broadbent’s rap video, Ed’s Back.
Seems they think the spot, shown on the Web after it was produced by This Hour Has 22 Minutes but never aired, exceeds the $1,000 financing laws. Wanted: a sense of humour.
To Canada’s Lt.-Gen. Rick Hillier, commander of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. Voting in an advance poll, he called it a reminder of what democracy should be, both for Canadians-whose turnout has been waning-and Afghans trying to establish a new government. “It makes us more determined to exercise our democratic rights here,” Hillier said.
Some Tory insiders said that if Harper wins he could face a policy fight within his party between moderates and social conservatives. Infighting Conservatives-who ever heard of such a thing?
counters that reasonable restraint is all that’s needed to stick to his proposal.
SCANDAL, POLITICS, AND DEMOCRACY
Martin has been hammered on ethics, paying the price of guilt by party affiliation. He wasn’t directly implicated in the sponsorship affair, but it was, after all, a Liberal scandal. His reaction included launching a judicial inquiry, tightening financial controls, and creating an ethics commissioner who reports to Parliament. Harper and Layton talk up ethics, but their more intriguing proposals have to do with basic reform. Harper wants fixed election dates every four years, elected senators, and regulation of parties’ leadership and candidate-selection processes— all steps that shift our system closer to the
THE bitterest arguments in this campaign have been over hot-button social issues such as gay marriage
U.S. model. Layton’s pitch is for proportional representation, which would give parties MPs based on their share of the vote, not just where they place first in a riding. That would be good for small parties, but would likely lead to more minority governments.
WAR, PEACE, AND THE MISSILE SHIELD
Harper would boost the fighting capability of the Canadian Forces, injecting $7 billion over five years, largely to pay for purchases such as new tanks. The Conservatives call for gradually, but dramatically, increasing the number of full-time troops in uniform to 80,000 from about 60,000 now. The Liberals promise a more modest boost by up to $3 billion over five years, and would increase the full-time ranks by 5,000, adding a new brigade designed for “peace support.” Less clear is the Liberal-Conservative divide on participating in the controversial U.S. missile defence shield. Harper is for it, but Martin hasn’t made a final decision. Layton, not surprisingly, is firmly opposed. The NDP generally doesn’t make the military a priority, although Layton is in favour, like his rivals, of buying new helicopters to replace the aging Sea Kings.
INDUSTRY, GOVERNMENT, AND MONEY
Martin gets credited with balancing Ottawa’s books, but his role as finance minister in
ramping up federal funding for basic research, especially at universities, gets less attention. His 2004 platform stresses turning the fruits of such research into commercial products, and also pumps $2 billion into regional, rural and industrial development. Harper is against that sort of industrial strategy, proposing instead to cut business subsidies by up to $4 billion a year, and then shrink business taxes by an equal amount. It’s a classic ideological clash: Liberals favour a busy government hand in the economy, Conservatives want to lower taxes and get out of the way. Layton’s ideas on industry tend to be more narrowly focused, such as tax breaks for developing greener auto technology. Overall, Layton worries more about shielding jobs at home from foreign competition unleashed by trade deals the NDP denounces as unfair.
RIGHTS, POLITICS, AND THE JUDGES
The campaign’s bitterest arguments have been over hot-button social issues. Liberals claim Conservatives secretly plan to restrict legal abortion. Harper flatly denies having any such intention. More substantial is Martin’s charge that Harper would use the Charter of Rights and Freedoms’ notwithstanding clause to nullify any Supreme Court of Canada ruling that legitimizes same-sex marriage. Harper has tried to sidestep this one, saying he would hold a free vote in the House of Commons on the issue, and that he’d expect the courts to accept the outcome. Still, he has not ruled out resorting to the notwithstanding clause, which allows Parliament to pass laws that violate court-defined Charter rights. Martin says he would never do this, and Layton sides with him. Harper generally wants courts to be more cautious in interpreting the Charter—and as prime minister he would fill vacancies in the top court. Such appointments could conceivably be the next prime minister’s most lasting legacy.
Of course, there’s much more. Environment. Cities. Agriculture. All the parties pitch their full platforms on Web sites: www.liberal.ca,www.conservative.ca, www.ndp.ca,www.blocquebecois.org, and www.greenparty.ca. Check them out before voting on June 28. [i'll
VISIT WWW.MACLEANS.CA/ELECTION2004 AFTER THE JUNE 28 VOTE FOR AN EXCLUSIVE ANALYSIS OF THE RESULTS AND FURTHER ELECTION COVERAGE AND PHOTOGRAPHS.
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