© Geoff Brookes
Over the past two years, Canada’s federal Conservatives have looked less like a frigate, and more like a sailboat adrift in a perfect calm.
When they first took power under Stephen Harper’s leadership, they had many new policy ideas, and the zeal of a party that had been out of power for many years. Almost nine years later, they seem to be struggling with their own ideals. For example, after years of discussions about the implementation of full income splitting between married or common-law couples, their new plan allows a maximum of $1,000 in tax savings from this measure. If one spouse had no income, and the other spouse was in the second tax bracket, this would mean a maximum of about $5,000 in income shared between spouses. While any tax relief is welcome, the change is hardly revolutionary. Compared to earlier discussions about full income splitting, it reminds me of those Canadian Tire commercials, where a couple contemplates something, and then say “On second thought…”
Please understand that I am not writing this as a political partisan. I consider myself a “small c conservative” by nature, but I’d like to think that I vote based on my assessment of the parties’ policies in any given election. When a political party starts to question some of their own longstanding policies, and either water them down, or study them indefinitely, you begin to wonder if they really believe what they’re apparently selling. By the way, when was the last time you heard anything about senate reform?
All of this would be fine if they had come up with some other new ideas since they’ve been in power. I’m having trouble recalling many of those in recent years.
Sometimes I follow politics like a kind of sporting competition, to see what each of the parties are doing, and how it affects their ranking in the opinion polls. I think the Conservatives are hurting themselves with this policy drift. As Oscar Wilde’s character says in “The Importance of Being Earnest”, “I would strongly advise you…to try and acquire some relations as soon as possible…”. Right now, the Conservatives don’t seem to remember who their parents are.
In this malaise of windless drift, their “celebration” of the 50th birthday of the Canadian flag stands out as an opportunity lost. It was a moment in time where the Conservatives could have shown themselves to be bigger than partisan politics; to be true bipartisan supporters of Canada itself. Instead, as Roy MacGregor pointed out in the Globe and Mail, the total amount of money spent on the celebration of the flag’s 50th birthday was $50,000, including a small exhibit in the Canadian Museum of History, in Ottawa. It should be noted that the flag was an initiative of the Federal Liberal Party in 1965. By contrast, MacGregor notes that the federal government spent almost $4 million recognizing the 200th anniversary of the birth of Canada’s first prime minister – a Conservative, by the way.
When longstanding cabinet ministers unexpectedly announce their retirement from politics (e.g. John Baird), it’s usually a signal of change to come.
Perhaps the wind has changed. Perhaps Canada is about to sail in a new direction, with a new tradewind blowing this season.