Let's talk about tax

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The Liberal think-fest last weekend turned up some unexpected consequences.

On the heels of a comment by Canada's heroic former diplomat and kidnap survivor Robert Fowler that the Liberal party is in danger of "losing its soul," Michael Ignatieff found the courage, at least temporarily, to take an actual stand on a tough political issue. At the end of the meet, he said the Liberals would put a halt to the unfolding corporate tax reductions the Conservatives have been rolling out.

Let's see how long this one lasts.

The Tory plan allows the current 18 per cent corporate tax rate to drop to 15 per cent over the next two years, despite the giant deficit that guesstimated economic growth and -- let's face it -- mostly spending cuts will be expected to wrestle down.

Were the Tories to get a majority, their expanded punish-the-poor deficit reduction scenario would most certainly usher in Harris-style desperation and American-style incarceration rates.

No surprise that the Harper government's spending estimates, released earlier this month, already show a 43 per cent increase in the prison system's tab for capital expenditures for the coming fiscal year.

And this is just as, south of the border they're finally figuring out they can't afford to keep pushing social problems off the agenda and growing the jails. Grrr.

Happily, the Liberals were urged by many of their conference speakers to stand on guard for a "caring" society, which seems like a smart sound bite for a party in search of an electoral hook.

Funny, though, that when you unhinge a policy discussion from the mandates of retail politics, the thorny truth emerges. Tax measures are going to be a necessary part of the strategy needed to face down the compound problems our country is facing.

Even the business community is aware of this taxing political need.

In a stroke of synchronicity, a quarterly survey of top Canadian executives issued its latest findings on Monday, March 29, right on the heels of the Canada 150 Conference. The C-Suite Survey issued the surprise announcement that 58 per cent of business leaders believe that some form of tax increases will be necessary to get to a balanced budget.

We definitely need an "adult discussion" on this issue. That's what former Bank of Canada head David Dodge said, largely in reference to the looming health care funding crisis, during his weekend address to the Liberal meeting.
And indeed, health care and the environment are two giant pieces affecting the compound puzzle of deficit reduction that we collectively face.

Almost needless to say, the environmental panelists didn't get too far into the weekend discussion without the dreaded phrase "carbon tax" coming up pretty definitively.

Taxation is certainly the true political dividing line that will determine whether we grow green and prosper or get buried in misery, illness and violence. And we need to serve up the diet of tax measures we require, with a bonus dessert for those of us who are willing to change our own behaviour in ways that support personal health and that of the planet.

If the Liberals care to be any kind of alternative to the Tories, it's time to get off the fence and get the best political spin-sters in the country figuring out how to make this difficult sale to Canadian voters.

But judging by Ignatieff's record so far, it's unlikely that he'll have the cojones to stick to his guns on this or anything else that really matters. And should he manage to do so, how will the NDP react? Their recent record of anti-tax-mongering makes one wonder whose side they'll fall on. Finally, the real issue will be whether we Canadians are willing to drift toward a Fox News future or hold strong to our own Tommy Douglas-toting political traditions.

It should be an interesting spring.

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