Anyone who was breathing and had even a rudimentary knowledge of tax policy knew that the federal Conservatives campaign pledges to reduce the GST had nothing to do with sound tax policy, and everything to do with sound political strategy. You tend to do things like this when you assume the vast majority of the electorate does not possess even a rudimentary knowledge of tax policy. We know this, but it’s still pretty galling to have Prime Minister Harper’s former Chief of Staff, Ian Brodie, say this:
“Despite economic evidence to the contrary, in my view the GST cut worked,” Brodie said in Montreal at the annual conference of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada. “It worked in the sense that by the end of the ’05-’06 campaign, voters identified the Conservative party as the party of lower taxes. It worked in the sense that it helped us to win.”
The icing on the cake was that this was in response to a question raised during a session entitled: Does Evidence Matter in Policy-Making?
The lunacy of many of the Conservatives policies has been reported and discussed ad nauseum, but to hear someone of this former stature outright declare that they decided to lie to Canadians because it was good politics calls out for even more discourse.
Anyone involved in politics knows that evidence is key when it works for you, and to be discarded and ridiculed when it doesn’t. This is the nature of living in a democracy. The premise is that the all-knowing and infallible citizens (ie: John Tory’s recent statement: “… the voters can never be wrong in what they decide…) always make the right choice. They will seriously consider the issues before them in the election and who would be best to lead them. In fact, the majority of the electorate is vastly unaware of the actual details of almost all public policy and it makes it almost irresistible for political parties to use smoke and mirrors and lots of mumbo-jumbo spin to convince voters what they’re saying is reality. No matter how many times politicians let voters down, they still somehow keep believing that this time they’re telling them the truth.
News flash people – they never are. They can’t. This is a democracy and to paraphrase Jack Nicholson, “[They] can’t handle the truth.” I’d add that they can’t discern the truth even when it’s right before they’re eyes. There was no economist worth his economics degree that would back up the Conservatives assumptions around the GST cuts, but that didn’t seem to bother the thousands of voters who thought a 2% GST cut would be the solution to their problems, monetary and otherwise. How’s that working out for you? Banked all those massive savings did you? Took the family south this winter on all those thousands you’ve saved, you say?
Even though the cut has made not a whit of difference to any Canadians life (relative to their disposable income) the federal government has actually seen an impact, and by extension so have we all. The GST cuts “have cost the federal government about $12 billion a year at the worst possible time.” That’s right – $12 billion a year is now missing out of federal coffers – all so that we can all save a few cents on our latest trip to Winners.
As long as we continue to allow the ‘demos’ to call the shots, while being totally ignorant of the details of the issues, when most stay home on election night, and those that do vote do so based on whatever political spin was most effective on them, then George Bernard Shaw’s famous quote will continue to be our prophetic reality.
“Democracy is a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.”