The Harper government was found in contempt of Parliament, a first in the history of those Commonwealth countries following British parliamentary practice. Because the Conservatives lost the confidence of the House of Commons, the prime minister was forced to resign, along with his ministry. As outgoing prime minister, Stephen Harper recommended to the governor general that an election be called, which will take place May 2.
The Liberal opposition campaign intends to focus on a well-known theme: throw the rascals out. The Conservatives may be corrupt and unfit to govern; but not so long ago, according to the Canadian electorate, so were the Liberals. There is no current evidence the Liberals know what to do to get back in the good graces of the Canadian people. This may come when the party, now polling at about 25 per cent support, releases its election platform next week.
The Conservatives have no doubts about what to do with the Liberals. First, destroy the credibility of the Liberal leader through negative advertising. Second, use guilt by association to attack the Liberals for seeking a “reckless coalition” with the separatists and the socialists. Third, continue the months-long campaign boosting the “economic action plan” assuring the Canadian recovery.
Voters will decide what this election is about. But the Conservatives have not gone wrong by emphasizing the economy. Traditionally economic issues are what resonates with voters. What matters to Canadians in their daily lives is employment, and income. So far, there is little evidence the Conservative action plan for the economy is reducing unemployment, and considerable evidence of continuing widening income inequality.
The Conservatives are comfortable with corporate capitalism, and look at rising business profits as evidence of economic success. Ditto for the Liberals. Neither see any alternative to the profit motive as an organizing tool for economic life.
This comfort level with corporate capitalism is why the two parties formed a working majority for much of the last parliament. Note that neither the Conservatives or the Liberals campaign actively in favour of corporate capitalism. If elected, the Conservatives will deliver another $6 billion in corporate tax cuts. Rather than emphasize this gift to corporations who do not need the money, are expected to do nothing in return for getting it, and will mostly take generous gift from Canadians out of the country, the Conservatives prefer to bill themselves as the low-tax party. In fact, the Liberals in their 2000 budget made serious reductions in taxes, amounting to $100 billion in savings for the wealthy and corporations.
A desire to distance himself from the “socialist” NDP is why Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff fumbled the first question from the press about the election concerning his appetite for forming a coalition government with Jack Layton. It is why the Liberal leader ruled out forming a coalition government the next day.
The Conservative economic program includes yet-to-be specified cutbacks to federal public services of about $4 billion outlined in the budget speech. Reducing the public services budget by five per cent without saying what programs will cut, or how many jobs will be lost, and granting tax cuts to wealthy, foreign-owned corporations is what Canadians can expect if the Conservatives are re-elected.
The next governments main task will be, as always, to decide how to spend money. The Conservative priorities for spending are so dodgy they were afraid to reveal how much they plan to spend to lock-up Canadians, and buy guns, ships, and airplanes.
Concealing their intentions from Canadians about how much money they planned to spend is why they were found in contempt of parliament.
The public money the Harper government plan to spend for jet aircraft is estimated at about $30 billion, at least double what they have admitted to be spending. Changing laws so as to lock-up more people for more time, and filling new prisons to over-flowing, costs billions of dollars more, and the Harper government will not say how much more. Critics believe it will total over $10 billion to pay for new tough on crime legislation.
Canada has real economic needs for health and social services, income support, research and development, parks and recreation, arts and cultural activities, investment in public transit, environmental protection, and regional diversification. These are the spending issues governments need to address, and Canadians need to debate.
The Conservative spending priorities for Canada are the issue in this election.
Harper is counting on misleading advertising about the economy, and Canadian indifference to his spending priorities, to assure re-election of his government. He wants Canadians to forget that by hiding how much they want to spend, the Conservatives got themselves declared in contempt of parliament, and provoked the election.
Duncan Cameron writes weekly on politics and is president of rabble.ca.