The Tories are buying your vote

Tax cut, bribe; in politics, sometimes these words can mean the same thing. The federal government’s habitual massive budget surpluses have ensured that this is now always the case. Stephen Harper’s $465 million tax cut right before what is looking more and more like an electoral parliamentary session is nothing less than an attempt to buy votes with money that could be better spent elsewhere.

Tax cut, bribe; in politics, sometimes these words can mean the same thing. The federal government’s habitual massive budget surpluses have ensured that this is now always the case. Stephen Harper’s $465 million tax cut right before what is looking more and more like an electoral parliamentary session is nothing less than an attempt to buy votes with money that could be better spent elsewhere. It’s one of those scandals so huge that they go almost unnoticed.
So far, the opposition parties have not been very loud in their criticism of this move. After all, no politician likes to argue against a tax-cut. But the very fact that the government has $14 billion to spare from last year’s budget is not, like the Conservatives say, an indication of the strength of Canada’s economy. While that is certainly the fact, a government should not be drawing surpluses. If it can’t spend all the money that it’s taking from its citizens, then it is either not providing the services it should be, or taxing too much for what it provides.
The fact is that the federal government’s income is disproportional to its responsibilities. Health care and education, the real big-ticket governmental services, fall under provincial jurisdiction. But the federal government was given the lion’s share of income opportunities when the country was founded. Back in 1867, things like railroads and armies – federal ground – were what most money was spent on. After all, Canada didn’t have a universal health care system back then, and education was handled mostly by religious institutions. And so the founding fathers gave the provinces limited means to collect income, to pay for what they believed were services of limited scope.
Times have changed.
Education and health care costs have exploded, and yet Canada’s fiscal system is still based on 19th century realities. And this is why the federal government has surpluses year after year while most provinces can barely make ends meet. The real solution to this problem, of course, would be to give back to the provinces income tax points to spend how they see fit. But that is not how the game of federal politics is played.
Instead, the trick is to give out transfer payments to the provinces – with conditions. “Sure, New Brunswick, you can have money for your educational system. But you have to do this, this and that.” It’s a nice, subversive way to meddle in provincial affairs without actually overstepping political jurisdictions. The mere fact that the federal government has a health minister, when it is clearly written in the constitution that health is a purely provincial matter, is proof that this problem has been institutionalized. This is the core of Canada’s fiscal imbalance.
But of course, what government would relinquish this power? Stephen Harper promised to fix fiscal imbalance for good – and ended up simply giving the provinces more money. It’s a temporary fix, akin to fixing a leaking gas line with duct tape.
Canadians don’t need a tax cut. They need a proper health care system. They need more investments in education. Only the provinces can do that, and most can’t pay for it.
Instead, Harper is putting his hefty surplus in debt payments, and using the saved interest to buy your vote with your money.

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