Saturday, December 20, 2008

Groundhog day

Serious versus unserious. That is the dynamic that could very well be shaping up as Ignatieff muses about a far off possible hike in the GST and Conservatives start dreaming up attack ads in their peanut brains: "Liberals say they might hike sales taxes." First of all, Ignatieff didn't commit to anything in that interview, let's be clear. He simply said you can't rule out the possibility of a tax hike, including for example the GST, down the road if we have massive deficits. That's it.

But let's entertain the notion in terms of the political dynamics it would likely unleash anyway. The main question that people will have to decide, it seems to me, is whether they want to have serious discussions about economic policy that are based on the views of respected economists and responsible government budgeting. Such discussions, when faced with burgeoning national deficits, would very likely have to include putting on the federal government's agenda the possibility of tax hikes. If we don't want to have serious discussions about issues, then I suppose we can just bury our heads and continue to buy into the kind of cartoon politics that the Conservatives have resorted to over the past few years. The kind that has brought us the defamation of Stephane Dion, talking oil splotches, slot machines and sweater vests. I have a hunch that in the next federal election, there's not going to be too much of an appetite for more of that kind of politics, the unserious kind. Namely because we've seen too much of it now and it turns out, not surprisingly, it's just not true and it's a waste of our time. You can put on a sweater vest, but that doesn't make you a compassionate individual or a leader worth following in times of economic crisis. He turns out to be an uber-vacillator who really doesn't know what he's doing and who tries to strangle his political opponents at the first opportunity he gets. That's the kind of record the Conservatives are running up after having bought power with the advertising campaign of the past few years. We can see what all those ads have brought us. Good luck trying to wrap that up in a sweater vest again.

And secondly, we're likely getting much closer to the vibe that just played out in the U.S. election. When the country's looking at $30 billion deficits, that tends to cause people to think a little beyond the latest tv attack ad. Times are tough. The Conservative attack shtick is small and irrelevant in comparison. It's been estimated that the two-cent GST cut brought in by the Harper Conservatives will gut the nation's finances to the tune of $60 billion over the next five years. $60 billion. When stacked up against burgeoning deficits, it looks like a pretty irresponsible choice. The ground has shifted.

An unprecedented auto industry bailout, talk of a "depression" courtesy of the Prime Minister himself, warnings about home defaults likely to increase due in no small part to the Harper Conservatives and their experimenting in the mortgage market...and Conservatives are getting giddy about the prospect of attacking the opposition on tax hikes. If that happens, it'll be like the arsonist making fun of the fire brigade for bringing a hose.