Pass­ing out the pre-elec­tion good­ies

Cana­di­ans need only to thank only their fel­low taxpayers

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - Carol Goar Carol Goar is a na­tional af­fairs writer for Torstar Syn­di­ca­tion Ser­vices

On Mon­day, ap­prox­i­mately four mil­lion Cana­dian fam­i­lies re­ceived a sub­stan­tial bank de­posit from Ot­tawa. The size of the wind­fall de­pended on the num­ber and ages of chil­dren in a fam­ily. A cou­ple with two preschool­ers and a five-year-old, for ex­am­ple, got $1,560. A sin­gle mother with a 10-year-old got $360.

Herald­ing the child-care pay­ment as “Christ­mas in July,” So­cial De­vel­op­ment Min­is­ter Pierre Poilievre trot­ted off to a se­ries of news con­fer­ences sport­ing a golf shirt em­bla­zoned with a Con­ser­va­tive party logo.

The money was not a sur­prise. Last Oc­to­ber, Prime Min­is­ter Stephen Harper an­nounced an in­crease in Ot­tawa’s Uni­ver­sal Child Care Ben­e­fit. But the Con­ser­va­tives held the cash back un­til this month, cre­at­ing a hefty retroac­tive pay­ment.

The tim­ing, ob­vi­ously, is no co­in­ci­dence. Like ev­ery prime min­is­ter since Con­fed­er­a­tion, Harper is rolling out the good­ies in the run-up to Oc­to­ber’s elec­tion.

In the past 10 past days, he has en­larged Rouge Na­tional Ur­ban Park, which borders on or in­cludes a dozen rid­ings; an­nounced a free trade deal with Ukraine that will bol­ster Tory prospects in seven key con­stituen­cies; and un­veiled an ex­panded a free trade agree­ment with Is­rael, which will strengthen his party among Jewish vot­ers. This week’s $3-bil­lion child-care ex­pen­di­ture capped the bo­nanza.

Harper’s ri­vals can’t com­pete with this on­slaught of fed­eral largesse. They have no ac­cess to public rev­enues.

But pay­ola doesn’t win elec­tions. If it did, no in­cum­bent would ever lose. (Thir­teen of Canada’s 22 prime min­is­ters have gone down to de­feat.)

There are at least three ways the New Democrats and Lib­er­als can un­der­cut — or at least dis­credit — the Tory strat­egy.

They can ridicule the gov­ern­ment’s “gen­eros­ity” as fla­grant elec­tion bribery. It would take in­ge­nu­ity to sway pa­tron­age-in­ured vot­ers, but with Tory profli­gacy ex­tend­ing from prime-time TV ads to Se­nate spend­ing, Harper is vul­ner­a­ble.

They can neu­tral­ize the gov­ern­ment’s ad­van­tage by match­ing its ben­e­fit. That is safe and easy.

Or they can of­fer some­thing bet­ter. That is cre­ative but risky.

On Harper’s cash-for-kids pro­gram, Thomas Mul­cair and Justin Trudeau have gone in op­po­site di­rec­tions.

The NDP leader would sim­ply de­liver Harper’s en­riched ben­e­fit, while giv­ing par­ents a chance to get in on the ground floor of his eight-year plan to de­velop a $15-a-day na­tional child-care sys­tem.

The Lib­eral leader would scrap Harper’s as­sort­ment of pay­ments and tax breaks (the Uni­ver­sal Child Care Ben­e­fit, the Canada Child Tax Ben­e­fit, the Na­tional Child Ben­e­fit Sup­ple­ment and a parental in­come­s­plit­ting scheme) and in­tro­duce a sin­gle, tax-free Canada Child Ben­e­fit tar­geted at mid­dle-and lower-in­come fam­i­lies. He would also launch a yet-to-be­un­veiled na­tional child-care strat­egy.

Both pro­pos­als trump Harper’s elec­tion goody. But they send dif­fer­ent mes­sages. Mul­cair is of­fer­ing low-risk, in­cre­men­tal change. Trudeau is of­fer­ing a fairer, more co­her­ent ap­proach.

Some par­ents will no doubt pre­fer the straight cash the Tories are giv­ing out. It is tan­gi­ble. It is al­ready locked into the 201516 bud­get. It comes with no strings at­tached.

Some cou­ples will be in­dif­fer­ent. They can af­ford nan­nies, rely on grand­par­ents or send their chil­dren to Montes­sori schools.

By elec­tion day, child care — which af­fects less than a third of vot­ers — is un­likely to be top of mind. Cana­di­ans are wor­ried about the stalled econ­omy, their jobs, their debts, their kids’ prospects, the health-care sys­tem and the di­rec­tion of the coun­try.

But the is­sue does pro­vide a clear glimpse through the pre­elec­tion smog. The New Democrats don’t want to ruf­fle feath­ers or raise fears. Their ob­jec­tive is to be seen as a gov­ern­ment-in­wait­ing. The Lib­er­als have no qualms about dis­man­tling Harper’s poli­cies. They are gam­bling that Cana­di­ans want a fresh start.

That di­chotomy will set the tenor of the cam­paign. Un­til the writ is of­fi­cially dropped, ex­pect a spate of in­fra­struc­ture an­nounce­ments, trade deals and job-cre­at­ing pro­cure­ments. Parks will be im­proved, are­nas ex­panded and wa­ter treat­ment fa­cil­i­ties up­graded. Air­ports and har­bours will be mod­ern­ized. There will be rib­bon-cut­tings ga­lore. Rid­ings the Tories hope to gain or need to hold will be par­tic­u­larly favoured.

Vot­ers who wish to ex­press their grat­i­tude for these pre­elec­tion good­ies need only thank fel­low taxpayers. They are in­vol­un­tar­ily fi­nanc­ing this multi­bil­lion-dol­lar spend­ing spree.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.