Unless Michael Ignatieff pulls a complete 180, we already know that the Liberals will oppose the budget.
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is set to table his government’s budget on March 22nd, which will days later be followed by a confidence vote that could trigger a spring election. Except if Michael Ignatieff pulls a complete 180, we already know that the Liberals will oppose the budget.
In addition to the Conservative government’s plans to purchase 65 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters and build several new prisons, the Liberals have made the corporate tax rate the sticking point of their opposition to the budget. The Conservatives plan to continue with the reduction of corporate taxes to 15% by January 1st, 2012, whereas the Liberals are demanding an increase of the rate to 18% from the current rate of 16.5%.
Recent polls have Stephen Harper pushing toward majority territory while Michael Ignatieff’s Liberals are behind by double digits. The Tories’ latest batch of attack ads have successfully portrayed Michael Ignatieff as self-interested and willing to force an unnecessary election in the middle of a fragile economic recovery.
Despite the unfavourable position in which we currently find ourselves, we Liberals should be optimistic due to the fact that Stephen Harper has failed to expand his solid but narrow base of 30% of the electorate. Other than the nitty-gritty work of strengthening our riding associations and improving our communications and fundraising units, we can turn things around by reclaiming true liberal values.
What exactly does that mean? In a nutshell: progressivism on the social front, classical liberalism and fiscal conservatism on the economic front, and democratic-liberal realism on the foreign policy front, all with a touch of pragmatism. Here are a few concrete policy ideas that could get our party going in the right direction.
Cut taxes. There remains considerable room to reduce corporate and income taxes, which would foster a competitive economy, create jobs and alleviate pressure on Canadian families. Such a reduction in taxes would allow for the adoption of more creative and progressive taxes to compensate for the revenue lost. Furthermore, it would show that our party is economically wiser than the GST-cutting Conservatives. These tax cuts should be paired with employment insurance reform, including a universal income guarantee, which could serve as a clear fault-line between our party and the Tories.
Balance the books. At the current rate, the Conservative government is unlikely to meet its goal of eliminating the federal deficit in five years. The Liberal Party should adopt an aggressive plan to balance the books to show Canadians that we’re serious about the economy. Young Liberal John Lennard’s suggestion of a 3% operating budget cut for federal agencies and a 20% cut in the office budgets for parliamentarians is a good place to start.
Lead the way on the environment. The Liberal Party should promise increased investment in research and development regarding environmental technologies. It should also propose negotiations with the United States on adopting a precedent-setting common environmental standard in the form of a joint carbon tax policy to complement the recently-adopted “Beyond the Border” perimeter agreement, the revenue from which can be used to proceed with the corporate tax and/or deficit reductions proposed above. After having won an election and cut income taxes, we should also consider the implementation of a modest general carbon tax for all Canadians and develop a plan to continue the tax shift between income and carbon.
Make democratic reform our issue. From electoral reform, to senate reform, to a change in the laws of prorogation, there are various concrete ideas that we Liberals could propose. This would be a key way to attract the attention of the public eye and promise true democratic accountability.
Legalize marijuana. Yep, that’s right. It would be a great way to get more young people involved in politics, and would also create revenue for the government, if properly taxed, to make up for the tax reductions proposed above. Furthermore, it would allow the Liberal Party to reclaim its image as the party of individual freedom.
Get serious on national and international security. The Liberal Party should develop a concrete plan to make the prevention of mass atrocities a national priority. It should propose the doubling of the size of Canada’s military for both defence and humanitarian purposes. It should also push for an expansion of NORAD in future negotiations with the United States.
Aggressively pursue free trade agreements. China and India should be major priorities on this front, especially after having failed to achieve such agreements with South Korea and Singapore. The Liberal Party should propose a major reduction in tariffs and other barriers to trade, notably tariffs against imported agricultural products. If properly done, we could portray ourselves as the party of low prices and low taxes. Increased competition in the Canadian market will be key.
When we talk about liberalism, we should be talking about liberty. That means social and economic freedom for all Canadians and a guarantee that we are going to strongly defend our liberal society on all fronts.
With or without a spring election, and with or without Michael Ignatieff, the months and years ahead will be decision time for our party. Reclaiming liberal values is one key to our party’s long-term success.