After the election: what have we wrought? The sun is shining still.

AuthorMilner, Henry
PositionStephen Harper and Jack Layton - Editorial

There are two obvious winners in this election--Stephen Harper and Jack Layton.

Harper has his long-sought majority. It will allow him, he says, to implement his agenda unimpeded by the messy compromises imposed by a minority Parliament. What agenda? He may, for example, rein in the family unification component of immigration. While this is controversial, there is a case for doing so in order to reduce the risk of ethnic "ghettos" that fracture the national community. He may insist that the Department of Indian Affairs finally get serious about the low quality of federally funded on-reserve schools. Again controversial but also justifiable.

On the other hand, Harper may pursue the least attractive features of his reign: foot dragging and obfuscation on the climate change file, accelerating tar sands development in his home province, wielding arbitrary control via the PMO over far too many dimensions of the federal bureaucracy.

Layton deserves credit for overcoming an obstacle that has frustrated every leader of the Canadian left since J.S. Woodsworth led the CCF in the depths of the Great Depression. Finally, Quebec social democrats have voted for the same party as their anglophone comrades.

The Achilles heel of the federal NDP has always been a chronic inability to undertake an adult conversation with supporters on how to pay for an expanded public sector. The NDP makes the case for better pensions, more generous medicare, universal child care and so on, but degenerates into waffle on the subject of taxes. Layton has been more guilty of tax waffle than his predecessors.

In the 2008 election, Stephane Dion attempted to persuade Canadians to "do something" about climate change through a carbon tax. Layton opposed this "Green Shift" and argued for a nebulous cap-and-trade alternative. He also opposed the pioneering British Columbia carbon tax introduced that year. In addition, every European government--including every European social democratic party--has endorsed consumption taxation based on the principle of taxing "value added" at each stage of business. Not the NDP. Layton ran television ads against the Ontario value-added tax (the HST) and verbally damned the B.C. equivalent.

Beyond the uncertainties of their respective agendas, Harper and Layton are Americanizing our politics--creating the Canadian equivalent of blue and red states. Canadian Conservatives insist on a "low tax advantage" that implicitly sets U.S. taxing effort as the...

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