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Why do the NDP, Liberals and Tories agree on so much? Add to ...

"In this campaign, amid all the venomous attack ads and excessive rhetoric, you can hear the silence of agreement," columnist Jeffrey Simpson writes in Wednesday's Globe.

"Most of the agreeing is on Stephen Harper's terms. Assumptions he's made, and policies he's put in place, are accepted by one or more of the other parties."

Mr. Simpson took reader questions and responded to reader comments about the quiet agreements between the NDP, Liberals and Conservatives. Catch up on the highlights below.

Jennifer MacMillan, Globe communities editor: Thanks for joining us today, Mr. Simpson. Your column today touched off some healthy debate in the comments.

Many readers agree that the parties have converged on several key issues, as you pointed out. Others say that the Conservative strategy is quite different, particularly when it comes to health care.

Kathleen O'Hara of the Catch 22 campaign takes issue with your point that all three parties support billions of dollars more for health care.

She writes that health care is one of the issues where the parties differ most - "Harper would privatize!"

This is a key concern that's comes up frequently in criticism of the Tories - is it a legitimate one?

Jeffrey Simpson: Kathleen: I do not think there is anything I or anyone else could say to shake your conviction that "Harper would privatize!"

All I can say is that nothing he has done as prime minister would suggest that to be true. Indeed, rather foolishly during the campaign, he pledged to exend the existing federal payments to the provinces for another two years after their anticipated expiration in 2013-1014, indexed at 6 per cent!

If he has a plan to privatize, it's a funny way of showing it.

Moreover, just before the campaign, his government announced $40-million to train 100 new doctors for rural areas. This is a lowball estimate for what it takes to train 100 doctors by a factor of many, but it is much more credible that the literally incredible promise by Mr. Layton to train 1,200 doctors at a cost of $25-million, when the real cost (according to studies on the matters) for that number would be at least half-a-billion dollars.

A last point, when you say "privatize," as many people do, what are we talking about? Most doctors in Canada are private entrepeneurs, and have been since the CCF introduced Medicare in Saskatchewan. They are paid on a fee-for-service basis as private practitioners.

If five or six of them cluster together in family health units, as is now all the rage, they can be paid in the same way, or in a blended fashion that combined fee-for-service with a roster of patients.

If five specialists band together to form a clinic, with patients being paid for by Medicare, that is private and completely allowed under the Canada Health Act. Private payment is another matter. Clarity, therefore, would help in the discussion about health-care, but expecting clarity on such an emotional subject is a forlorn hope, I suppose.

Jennifer MacMillan, Globe communities editor: In the comments, Trevor Smith-Brown writes: Stephen Harper has been following the George Bush strategy of cutting taxes while increasing security spending in order to ensure smaller governments in the future with limited ability for social spending.

So the fact the opposition is afraid to mention raising taxes is exactly what he has hoped for. This is the Harper legacy for Canada, long-term structural deficits.

Do you think, as Trevor points out, that the Harper years have set Canada on a significantly different fiscal course?

Jeffrey Simpson: Trevor: I have written on various occasions, and I repeat the observation in response to your query/statement/affirmation today, that North American conservatives of various shadings have since the early 1980s promised three things, fiscally speaking: lower taxes, balanced budgets and smaller government.

They have delivered on the lower taxes, but they have not balanced budgets nor produced smaller governments, with a couple of exceptions.

The Republicans were in the White House for twenty years, often with congressional majorities, and they never balanced the budget once.

Today, they are purporting to balance the U.S. budget by spending cuts on discretionary programs, while cutting taxes and leaving Defence alone, a classic case of escaping from reality, as the bipartisan commissions on the national budgetary challenge have conclusively demonstrated.

The Harper record is similar: Taxes have gone down, the budget surplus it inherited from the Liberals disappeared in spending that exceded 5 per cent annually, while the government has grown in size, and not just for security.

In this sense, the Harper Conservatives have been like most North American conservatives: they promised three things and delivered one. Indeed, the lower taxes made the likelihood of balancing the budget even more remote.

I do agree that on some key issues such as health care reform, income/consumption taxes and foreign affairs issues such as the war in Libya, the parties have been either silent or indistinguishable.

Full transcript (Reading this on a mobile device? Click here for a mobile friendly version of the live chat.)



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