Please Stop Keeping Your Promises

As a form of entertainment, I subscribe to the e-newsletters of the status quo parties. Seriously, it can actually be funny. Like this week, when the NDP Conservative parties swapped election slogans. (The NDP sent out an email promising to “Stand Up for Canada” while the Conservatives are now getting “real results,” presumably for “real people.”) Maybe it’s some kind of exchange program.

Anyway, the latest Conservative email highlights three of their kept promises. Reader willing, I’d like to deal with them seriatim.

1. GST Cut
I don’t want to spend a lot of time on this, because there’s no shortage of economists who recognize that cutting consumption tax (as opposed to income tax) is bad economic policy, including the IMF and the OECD (not to mention the powerful Tim Hortons Think Tank). Our individual savings will be insignificant, and the GST cut is worth more to those with high-income.

Where cutting sales tax increases consumption (which is another way of saying increases the rate at which we take stuff from the Earth and turn it into waste), cutting income tax encourages saving and investment. You can then apply those income tax cuts to resource consumption, which discourages waste and inefficiency. In short, that’s what the we mean by “green tax shift.” (Unfortunately, the government has also raised income tax, so they’re doing the exact opposite.)

At the Rosedale United Church debate during the last election I was asked to explain our green tax shift policy, and in response the Conservative candidate said that he felt it was generally a good idea and that it was something his government would support. Either he didn’t understand my party’s platform or his own — I’m not sure which.

2. Increased Military Funding
I actually do think our military has been neglected for too long. For example, we still have it in our head’s that we’re the world’s peacekeepers, when in reality we’re not even in the top ten. And if we want to ask Canadians to put their lives on the line, the least we can do is make sure they have the tools they need to do the job.

Unfortunately, the Conservative plan gets the priorities for military spending all wrong. The plan’s two most expensive items by far are $8.3 billion for airlift capability, and $4.7 billion for 16 helicopters. The first item refers to the purchase of some heavy-lift aircraft used in transporting our troops and equipment around the world. The reason it’s a bad idea is because we’ve been able to rent our transport needs for a fraction of the cost. It’s a bit like buying a car instead of renting, even though you only use it to go to the cottage a few times a year. It’s not an effective use of military resources.

The second item is even less wise, since helicopters are primarily used to fight submarines. And you don’t have to be a military expert to know that submarines are probably not the number one threat to Canada right now.

Instead, we should be focusing on building a strong army capable of intervening in places like Darfur. We also might want to look into measures to protect our water, and give some thought to what the world’s going to look like when the phenomenon of eco-refuge really starts to take off.

3. Transit Pass Tax Credit
This isn’t a bad idea (it was actually part of our platform as well), but in a vacuum of any other action is almost useless.

Here’s the problem. Public transit is already almost the cheapest way to get around (second only to biking or walking), while driving is almost the most expensive (second only to being carried around by four professional football players on a sedan chair made of gold). The monthly parking rate in my office building is around $470 (almost 5x the cost of a TTC metropass), and people drive single-occupancy SUVs and mini-vans to work everyday. Once you’ve paid for the car, insurance, and gas, you’re looking at over $1000/month to drive to work! Even people in less offensive cars with access to cheaper parking are paying way more than someone who takes transit every day. Does anyone other than the government really think that a tax credit is going to speak to these folks?

Even if it did, there’s another problem (one that would have been identified by our minister of transportation if he’d taken transit recently). The subways are full. The commuter trains are full. Giving people a tax credit to ride transit when there isn’t any room makes about as much sense as giving out daycare money when there aren’t any daycare spaces.

Oh wait.

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