Demont: Politics as Analogy
March 29, 2011
The first major promise of the 2011 federal campaign is one that no one really believes will come to fruition – at least for the foreseeable future.
Stephen Harper’s pledge to allow families to split their incomes in calculating federal incomes tax is expensive – three times the cost of the NDP’s notion of boosting the seniors’ tax exemption, regressive – allowing wealthy families to reduce their tax burden – and fiscally questionable – even though the change would only come into effect once the federal books was balanced, the move would immediately send the budget back into the red.
Promises as theme music
Those criticisms, however, miss the point.
The tax pledge, indeed every promise in the current campaign, Liberal, NDP or Conservative, will not be a watertight provision with all contingencies examined and designed to boost economic growth, improve societal equity or fulfill some other social goal.
Instead, Harper’s tax provision is similar the hue of the sky in an old black-and-white movie thriller. It is designed to set the tone.
In an era where governments are constrained by the size of their budgetary deficits and the reaction of international capital markets to the shortfall, where voters are increasingly skeptical of the ability of elected officials to solve outstanding national issues, where the spectrum of acceptable options is increasingly narrow, a party’s policies are analogies for its governing style.
What a party promises or what a government does is usually designed to give voters the main theme of a potential government, not to be a menu of how an administration expects to get to a particular goal.
Finding the needle in a stack of needles
Often the main parties in a campaign see the same problems and have somewhat similar solutions. It is usually that minor policy or peripheral issue that provides the voting key.
The policy does not have to all-encompassing or even particular important to a new government.
But, the trick for a government or a party seeking election is to find that policy which serves to show how that group would, in broad strokes, run the country, province or city.
David Peterson’s promise to put beer and wine in corner stores in Ontario during the provincial campaign of 1985, George Bush Senior’s Willie Horton anti-crime ads and, more recently, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s promise to end the City Hall gravy train are all examples of policies that show more style than substance.
In a world where the river of available information has overwhelmed voters’ ability to process data, however, style – or analogy – might be the only way the electorate has to decide which party and which leader would govern to their liking.
Obviously, Harper wants to show his government as a low-tax administration, one with the concerns of middle-class families at its core.
A middle class tax break, even one that is realistically four years in the future, shows the electorate that a Conservative government is working hard to put money back in your wallet.
The Liberals and the NDP are in the same race, trying to carve out some psychic space in voters’ minds as to what kind of government they would run.
Michael Ignatiefff appears to be trying out a theme of honesty and integrity while Jack Layton is test-driving a ‘concern for the common man’ motif.
The key is not to provide a menu of policies for voters to choose. After all, they are picking a government, not a smorgasbord of initiatives for an administration.
The important factor for the three leaders is whether they recognize the sentiment closest to the electorate and whether they have a policy – big or small – that tells that story.
The modern university: relevant? Yes, but is this enough?
On May 9, 2013 Canada 2020 staff attended a speech by University of Ottawa President, Allan Rock on “The Skills Mismatch and the Myth of the Irrelevant University”.
Rock stressed the continued relevance of universities, especially in today’s knowledge economy. This is beyond dispute but, upon further reflection, I wonder if perhaps we should be asking another question: is simply being ‘relevant’ enough?
Blog: So you want to build a progressive movement in Canada…
In Canada think tanks have generally been thin on the ground, and typically associated with specific political parties.
We launched Canada 2020 in 2006 because we wanted a space for progressives of all stripes to meet, discuss, and share ideas in an environment that was free of the partisan mentality of old. We’re proud of the work we have done and the voices and ideas that we have featured.
Opinion: An austerity agenda hidden in an ‘NDP budget’
How does a minority government mired in a big deficit and in the grips of weak economic growth craft a budget that satisfies the NDP opposition and keeps the financial markets content? Canada 2020′s Eugene Lang looks at the balancing act of Premier Wynne’s first budget.
Think Tank Round Up Vol. 6: May 2, 2013
In the past two weeks the world learned that austerity might not be all it’s cracked up to be. The Reinhart-Rogoff ‘affair’ has occupied a lot of airtime (if you haven’t caught up, here’s a good primer from The New Yorker), with good cause. Governments across the developed world must make hard choices as we continue on a shaky road to recovery: it is essential to ensure that these choices are based on the best available information.
Think Tank Round-Up, Volume 5: April 19, 2013
In this round-up: coverage of our carbon event, the EU ETS under fire, biofuel use in the UK, tracking clean energy progress through the IEA, measuring inequality, taking aim at gender wage gaps and inequality, and Canada’s place on the innovation and productivity spectrum around the world.
Opinion: Margaret Thatcher, Kathleen Wynne, Alison Redford and the politics of conviction
The tax-cutting ideology espoused by Thatcher and Ronald Reagan reverberated far and wide, transforming the political right in some countries, but also having an impact on more moderate, centrist governments.