As a spring election looks more and more likely, some Liberals are noticing their campaign seems to be borrowing from the 1993 playbook that saw Jean Chrétien form his first majority government.
Then it was scrap the GST and kill the helicopter deal; now it’s scrap the jet fighter deal and reverse the corporate tax cuts.
In fact, Michael Ignatieff and his Liberals have indicated they are planning a campaign on many of the economic issues affecting the country’s middle-class families –baby boomers who are not only concerned about college and university for their kids but home care for aging parents and how to afford their own retirement.
They will contrast this with Stephen Harper’s spending priorities: billions of dollars on 65 new fighter jets, prison expansion and tax cuts for big corporations.
“The campaign is shaping up like 1993, with the GST replaced by corporate taxes, and helicopters replaced by jets,” a senior Ignatieff MP notes.
In 1993, Mr. Chrétien campaigned vigorously against prime minister Kim Campbell, vowing to scrap the GST or replace the tax and cancel the EH-101 helicopter program, which would have seen the government purchase 50 search-and-rescue helicopters. In the end, he didn’t touch the sales tax, but he did kill the helicopter deal.
The Liberals characterized the helicopters as unaffordable Cadillacs at the time; they argued it would be difficult to spend $4.8-million when the deficit was $42-million. Mr. Ignatieff is making similar arguments about the corporate tax cuts; with a $56-billion deficit, he says, Canada cannot afford to give breaks to big, profitable corporations.
As for today’s fighter jets, the sole-source purchase is estimated to cost anywhere between $16-billion and $30-billion, depending on whether one believes the government or the Parliamentary Budget Officer. If elected, the Liberals say they will cancel the contract and hold an open competition.
So, it looks a lot like 1993 – even right down to the Grit players. Peter Donolo, Mr. Ignatieff’s chief of staff, was Mr. Chrétien’s director of communications in 1993 and Gordon Ashworth was running the campaign as he is now. In addition, Mr. Donolo keeps in contact with several Chretien-era aides, including Eddie Goldenberg.
“Then, like now, the Tories are focused on the Liberal leader, while the Liberals will again promise national childcare, education funding and some sort of infrastructure,” the veteran Ontario Liberal says.
But there is a big difference between now and 1993 that could help the Conservatives. “Tories were responsible for 11 per cent unemployment and were being eaten alive by the Reform Party,” the MP says. “This will be a more even showdown where I expect the lead to change a few times before it is over.”