Promises are the lifeblood of politics. People want to hear them; politicians want to make them. Political platforms are full of both specifics and aspirational goals. We will do this and we want to do that as well. Sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference between them. Parties out of power can only guess what the financial and legal situation will be after election day; the incumbent party closely guards the bad news while still trying to present an attractive platform.
Some promises are simple and easy to keep (or break). For example, in his first election, Stephen Harper promised to reduce the GST from 7% to 6%. Doing that took a single line amendment in the tax code. Of course, the consequences for public finance were huge and ultimately quite complex but fulfilling the promise was dead simple. Harper also promised massive increases in accountability. He even passed a complex and substantial bill to that effect – called the Accountability Act. However, when faced with opposition to his chosen public appointments Commissioner – an oil company executive with strong Conservative ties, Harper threw up his hands and refused to appoint an alternative. The implementation of the Act suffered and, gradually, his government became the most secretive we ever had.
You can see a similar set of promises in the current government. One of their promises was simple – cut middle class taxes and raise those on people making more than $200,000 in taxable income. Again, it was quite simple to do – a few lines of amendments to the tax code and voila, mission accomplished. The tax changes will come into effect this Friday, despite grumblings from those in higher tax brackets.
The more complicated promise was that to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of December. While some – including many in the Liberal party – may have believed this was feasible, few experts thought it was more than aspirational. When the Liberals reduced the goal to 10,000 by year’s end, the experts said maybe. As it turns out, even that goal will be difficult to make – though the government is going all out to move the process along as expeditiously as possible. Recognizing that it may be difficult to reach 25000 even by the end of March, the government has upped the ante to 50000 over the next few years. Some might say the Liberals have reneged on their promise but, at least, when faced with difficulties and opposition, they didn’t’ throw up their hands and give up. And, I suspect, most Canadians recognize that the promise was too ambitious and more complicated than most elements of the short term election platform. And in any case, the main opposition party has little really to say on the refugee issue – whatever numbers the Liberals achieve by December 31 they will exceed in 6 weeks what the previous government managed in the last twelve months or more.
Of course, the ambition of Trudeau and his cabinet are high and time will tell whether the more complicated parts of the platform – such as improved relations with indigenous people, tackling climate change in a real and substantive way and managing the fiscal framework to provide stimulus without letting debt loads rise faster than the growth of the economy – can be achieved. Plus there are a whole bunch of economic issues and social justice matters, barely mentioned in the platform, that require urgent attention.
I like to be optimistic but I expect there will be bigger stumbles ahead than the trivial issues the media is currently focusing on.
And that’s ten minutes.