ปืนเกมยิงปลาLiberals vs. Liberals

Today, the Prime Minister stated that more Canadians are working today than before the global economic crisis hit.

Dalton McGuinty’s Chief of Staff ปืนเกมยิงปลาon Twitter:

Did you know Ontario has recovered 96% of the jobs lost during the recession? It’s true, and shows the plan is working.

From Global Toronto:

The NDP would scrap $850 million a year in planned corporate tax cuts of $1.4 billion this year and $1.8 billion next year to offset the lost HST revenue, said Leader Andrea Horwath.

“The HST is simply a shifting of tax burden off the corporate sector onto the backs of individuals,” she said.

“We would claw back the corporate tax cuts the government has implemented and cancel the future ones.”

Scrapping such a big slice of corporate tax cuts would hurt the fragile economic recovery by raising taxes on the struggling forestry and automotive sectors, warned Finance Minister Dwight Duncan.

“It is about the most short-sighted, dumb public policy pronouncement one can envision,” said Duncan.

Dwight Duncan is the Ontario Finance Minister.

Meanwhile Michael Ignatieff suggests freezing corporate tax cuts. And Scott Brison is none too pleased about the Conservative record and believes that the federal Liberals can do better.

UPDATE: David Akin asks the question,

Alright, I admit it. When a journalist asked Liberal Finance Critic Scott Brison a devastatingly worded question there was no way to answer safely, I smiled.

Here’s the question put by Sun Media’s David Akin:

“The Liberal finance minister in Ontario was asked this week about corporate tax cuts, his program. The NDP there would like tax cuts to be cancelled and his response was, and I’m quoting now, ‘It is about the most short-sighted, dumb public policy pronouncement one can envision to cancel corporate tax cuts,’ and I wondered if he knows something you don’t.”

Frankly, any honest reporter would admit there is great pleasure in seeing a politician squirm because of your question. Upon hearing the question, Brison did squirm. Then his response went from refusing comment to repeating his line that the previous Liberal government in Ottawa cut corporate taxes when the government was in surplus and he called on the current Conservative crowd to adopt that same policy and cancel the cuts scheduled to go into effect next year. All in all, Brison made the best of a situation he couldn’t win. When your provincial cousins call your policy “short-sighted” and “dumb” what possible response can you give? Something tells me there were probably some interesting calls between Parliament Hill and Queen’s Park not long after Brison’s news conference.

Just where does Ignatieff stand on the HST? Or on anything?

A week ago, I wrote about BC Liberal party MP Ujjal Dosanjh’s characterization of the BC HST as the “Harper Sales Tax”. I pointed out that it was quite a stretch for the former NDP Premier of that province, given that the party he formerly led in that province put the blame squarely on the provincial policy writers — the BC Liberal government.

Dosanjh responded to my comments explaining that the BC Liberals and federal Liberals are two different parties and suggested I was trying to link the two, but yet he’s the one who went out of his way to shift his scorn from those Liberals to the Conservatives in Ottawa. Politics is local and Dosanjh — scraping by with a narrow victory in 2008 by 22 votes — is tapping into a hotly debated populist issue in that province. But is this wise for him?

Despite this, does he have a point? While Dosanjh acts as an apologist for Liberal premier Gordon Campbell, essentially decrying that “Harper made him do it”, tax harmonization was suggested and incentivized at the federal level. However, if harmonization is unpopular in BC, voters are likely to blame those that signed off of on the policy and implemented it into law — ie. the jurisdictional authority — the BC Liberal government. And while we awkwardly parse how related or non-related these Liberals are to those Liberals and which Liberals like taxes and which ones don’t, the overall story then evolved.

Dosanjh’s words rang a bit more hollow this week when Ontario finance minister Dwight Duncan — a Liberal himself — said that Michael Ignatieff had approved of the HST and would help Ontario along its path to harmonization should he become Prime Minister. These Liberals, as Mr. Dosanjh will undoubtedly note, are very much related to their federal Liberal cousins.

Yesterday, Ignatieff’s finance critic John McCallum cited a “miscommunication” when it came to his leader’s position on the HST, while today Ontario Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty said that Ignatieff gave him the “clearest of impressions” that he would support the tax.

These days it seems difficult to nail Michael Ignatieff down on any controversial issue. His position on a number of issues from Iraq, to George W Bush, to coercive interrogation, to a Liberal-NDP coalition, to harmonization have evolved drastically over time. By refusing to settle on any particularly substantive issue, Ignatieff is trying to give the impression that he supports your point of view on public policy (whatever it may be). A cynical observer might suggest that this strategy may work for the disengaged soft Liberal supporter.

However, as anyone that runs a focus group will tell you, on the issue of taxes Liberals have always had an wide credibility gap to bridge. Now that two Liberal provincial governments are implementing a harmonized sales tax while the federal Liberal leader seems to at best support it or at worse waffle on it, Liberals — of varied associations — are finding the gap becoming a gulf. For Ujjal Dosanjh, whose riding lists crime as the other top-of-mind issue — another focus group nightmare for the Liberals — perhaps its time to focus on new messaging.

Politics is at times a sport, but should always be a serious business

Yesterday, Ontario finance minister Dwight Duncan ‘leaked’ the news that Ontario would see a budget deficit of $18 Billion over the next two years.

We’ve been hearing hints of an Ontario deficit for a little while now. Of course, this is a communications strategy for mitigating bad news.

Just as the federal Conservatives did prior to the release of their own budget, PMO director of communication Kory Teneycke passed on the detail that the budget would be projecting deficit.

Strip the bad from the budget day headline and frontload some tax cuts and the other ‘silver lining’ elements on the day of the budget announcement. By that time, deficits are yesterday’s news and the media is biased towards reporting what’s new.

The federal Liberals protested when their Blue friends on the government benches did just over one month ago, while their provincial cousins are doing the same thing. Provincial Conservatives should avoid the same temptation.

Communications is necessary to move dry, plain or just ugly policy through the emotional and human crucible of the public forum. However, to burn at communications as a method instead of policy as substance is often too easy and while it may produce a bright flash, the flame is short and does nothing to get at the essence of debate.

We should not, however, dismiss real debate and positioning on issues. Some bemoan that politicians are ‘playing politics’ at a time of economic crisis. But, politics is getting to the core of an issue and at the methods by which it should be addressed. Let’s get past the bright flash and get down to it.