Call it Harperian. The Liberal platform is closer to the playbook of Stephen Harper than to that of Paul Martin or Pierre Trudeau. Sprinkle a tax benefit here, spending money there, and hope to make enough people happy to win an election. More than a sprinkling, perhaps; but certainly not the showers of national entitlement programs, of the multi-billions promised to aboriginals in the Kelowna Accord or to families in a national child-care plan in 2006. Though not perfect, it's a prudent and pragmatic platform.
Each new idea ought to be examined on its price tag and on what it will contribute to Canadian life. The Harper government is already turning to its social engineering program with its fitness tax credits, and promising to double the credits and extend them to adults, when the deficit permits. Its tax credit for public-transit users is of the same ilk. That is a low bar for new ideas. The Liberals have leapt over it, with some constructive proposals for families.
Start with the $1-billion in the pockets of students, for postsecondary education (including vocational training); add $1-billion for care of the elderly (including six months of Employment Insurance benefits for those who stay home to care for a sick relative); and add $200-million to end the federal government's cap of 2-per-cent growth on postsecondary funding for aboriginal students. Of all the places to hold the line on costs, university for aboriginals is surely among the worst.
Like the Tories, regrettably, the Liberals would not make an immediate dent in the deficit. On foreign investment, the odour of economic nationalism in the Liberal platform was unfortunate. On small business and youth employment, the Liberals have some worthy encouragements; the recent Conservative budget was strong in these areas.
The Liberals claim they would pay for the $8.2-billion over two years they say their platform would cost by reversing the Conservative government's planned corporate tax cuts. It's questionable whether this reversal would result in anywhere near $5.2-billion in savings over two years, as the Liberals claim. It may also detract from business enough that it hurts the prospects of working families.
Canadians have come through the recession in reasonable shape and want something back. Michael Ignatieff is playing to that desire, just as Stephen Harper is. It cannot fairly be called tax-and-spend; the lone tax increase would restore corporate tax to 2010 levels. The very least that may be said is that an Ignatieff government would not declare, as Mr. Harper did last New Year's, that most of its accomplishments for families had to do with getting tough on crime. This is a far more constructive agenda than building new prisons, and possibly no more expensive.