The first article below says it was painful to watch... I have trouble keeping down lunch.
The big bribe: Rathgeber rips into Conservative ‘vote-buying’It was actually painful to watch Employment Minister Pierre Poilievre stand in front of a Government of Canada backdrop and behind a Government of Canada podium — wearing a Conservative-branded golf shirt — as he announced the largest one-time payout to taxpayers in Canadian history Monday.
In case you missed it (and that barely seems possible, given how much time and energy the government has dedicated to promoting it), the federal government has increased the Universal Child Care Benefit for parents of children under six from $100 to $160 and created a new $60 stipend for parents of children between the ages of six and seventeen.
To add to the hype, the program commenced January 1 — but the government claimed it was incapable of processing the cheques at the time, so lump-sum, backdated cheques are arriving in parents’ mailboxes this week. Generally, I don’t dismiss the bureaucracy’s general incompetence — but the fact that we are less than 100 days away from a general election may be a better explanation for these large, backdated payments.
There was a time when Conservatives would scoff at — or at least be embarrassed by — such huge expenditures, especially ones linked to the welfare state. But I truthfully can’t remember when that might have been. After seven consecutive deficit budgets, adding over $200 billion to the national debt — including the single largest deficit in Canadian history — it’s clear that this Conservative government is not too embarrassed to spend taxpayers’ dollars in large quantities.
You might think, however, that there would be some principled people remaining in the Conservative party who would see through all of this blatant, shameless self-promotion, on the eve of a national election when the Conservatives are trailing in the polls. Apparently, there aren’t.
The cheques might appear large — $520 for children under six, $420 for children under 18. But this is not “Christmas in July” for parents. In the last omnibus budget bill, the government eliminated the Child Tax Credit. The new Universal Child Care Benefit is taxable income. So although you get to cash the cheque before the election, you’ll be taxed on it come April. With the elimination of the Child Tax Credit, a family earning $90,000 per year will only be able to keep an extra $7.50 per month after the tax clawback.
From a political and electoral perspective, of course, it matters not. The cheques get cashed before the election. The tax liability is not incurred until six and a half months after the government hopes to be re-elected.
Both Treasury Board guidelines and the Ethics Commission state it is inappropriate for a government official to blur the lines between government and partisan announcements. Mr. Poilievre apparently felt no shame. He was quick to point out that neither the Liberals nor the New Democrats support the UCCB — a half-truth at best and a not-so-subtle attempt to persuade an apparently gullible public that only the Conservatives can be trusted to protect families.
For the record, I am certainly not opposed to allowing Canadians to keep more of their own money. I do, however, question both the optics and the efficiency of this shameless delivery method.
It’s not new for governments to play politics with taxpayers’ money, but vote-buying in Canada has seldom seemed more brazen. Conservatives in this country used to stand for something — for small, limited government, for low taxes, for individual choice and individual responsibility for choices made. This week’s spectacle showed that the Conservatives are no better as guardians of public money than any other party; worse, they have taken electioneering and electoral bribery to new and dangerous levels.
In its nine years in office, this government has introduced voluminous tax credits, designed specifically to win votes from certain demographics. A true conservative would develop a simplified tax code and set a lower base tax for all Canadians.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in asking his MPs to shill for the event, called Monday a “historic day”. And for a Conservative government to hand out cheques totalling $3 billion is historic, I suppose, in the sense that it’s precedent-setting for the party to attempt to bribe taxpayers with $3 billion of their own money on the eve of an election. I can think of more appropriate adjectives.
It is time to stop pretending the Universal Child Care Benefit is about child care. It’s about the election. True conservatives are outraged (or at least embarrassed). Partisan Conservatives appear to be thrilled and self-satisfied.
And poor Pierre Poilievre appears to be oblivious of the fact that he has been reduced to the role of infomercial pitchman in a corporate golf shirt — albeit a stylish one.
Brent Rathgeber is MP for Edmonton-St. Albert. He resigned from the Conservative caucus in 2013 due to what he describes as the Harper government’s “lack of commitment to transparency and open government”. He now sits as an Independent and is running for re-election this fall.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by all iPolitics columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of iPolitics.
Back in the olden days, vote-buying was a crude affair. Politicians offered naked bribes to voters – a two-dollar bill, a shot of rye, a job for their lazy brother-in-law.We are more sophisticated than that now. Today the bribes are on a colossal scale. And they’re not done on the sly. Politicians make their offer as loudly and publicly as possible, preferably by posing beside a giant printing press that’s about to issue a big fat cheque just for you.This week the Harper Government (as it prefers to style itself ) will hit hard-working Canadian families with a pot of gold – in the form of much fatter child-benefit cheques. Lucky parents will now get $160 a month for every kid under 6, and another $60 for each one between 6 and 17. (That’s a lot more than the little darlings are worth now.) Better still, these cheques are retroactive back to January, because unfortunately the printing presses weren’t working until now, which means that parents will get a windfall exactly three months before the election. Sheer coincidence!“This is the single biggest one-time direct payment in Canadian history,” Stephen Harper reminded his Conservative caucus in a letter on the weekend. It adds up to a whopping $3-billion, and although it came from you and me in the first place, Mr. Harper is pretending it comes straight from him.Nobody ever claimed that subtlety is the Harper Government’s strong point. Its basic election strategy is as subtle as a two-by-four. Mr. Harper is relying on two emotions: greed and fear. He wants you to remember that even if you’re not that grateful for the dough, you’re going to lose it if the bad guys win.“If Trudeau or Mulcair form the next government, they will take these benefits away,” Mr. Harper told his MPs to remind us, over and over again.There’s something brilliant in this simplicity. Against a threat like that, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau scarcely has a chance. He, too, has a souped-up child-benefits plan – one that’s even sweeter than Mr. Harper’s. Most economists favour Mr. Trudeau’s plan. But do you think voters noticed? They did not. Your average voter is too busy to run a detailed analysis of the numbers. Your average voter wants to keep the bird he has in hand. Or so Mr. Harper hopes. He is milking the incumbency advantage for all it’s worth.Mr. Trudeau says we should vote for him because middle-class Canadians “feel like no one is on their side.” In fact, everyone is on their side. Middle-class Canadians (providing they have kids) are this year’s holy grail. No one’s talking about poor Canadians these days. That’s because middle-class Canadians worry that if poor Canadians get more, they will probably get less. Also, poor Canadians don’t vote.And that is why we are treated to an endless stream of warm and fuzzy tax breaks aimed at Soccer Mom and Dad. The child-fitness tax credit (to name but one example) is the contemporary equivalent of a shot of rye.And how does NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair stack up in the race for the parental vote? Not well, I’m afraid. He’s peddling $15-a-day child care, even though he can’t say how he’d pay for it, and it’s gift for affluent families, and it discriminates against parents who choose to stay at home. If put to a vote, most Canadians would probably vote against it. Which doesn’t mean that Mr. Mulcair won’t be the next prime minister.Is anybody fooled by this sudden outburst of solicitude for our middle-class children? I doubt it. The voters are as cynical as the politicians. Most voters know there are far more efficient ways to deliver tax relief, ones that don’t require printing presses, cheques and postage stamps. But that’s not how governments behave. They want to take the credit. If Mr. Harper could figure out how to deliver you a bag of cash in person, no doubt he would.Let’s see … say you have three kids, ages 4, 8 and 10. That adds up to $160 + $60 + $60 x seven months, which could buy you a not-bad summer break. Or a lot of beer and popcorn. Whatever.