Monday, July 12, 2010

On fair taxation

Adam Radwanski's column on the Ontario NDP's stance on the HST is right on target in identifying Andrea Horwath's critique as the honest and principled message opposing tax harmonization:
The message of Andrea Horwath's party against the new harmonized sales tax, which took effect on Canada Day, has not been quite as simplistic as that of Tim Hudak's Conservatives. But it's often been more convincing.

For one thing, the NDP isn't conflicted by federal cousins who partnered with Dalton McGuinty's Liberals to implement the new tax. Instead, it’s tied to the only party in Ottawa that firmly opposed the policy.

For another, the NDP's position actually makes sense. The Tories have claimed the HST is a “tax grab,” which it’s really not. The NDP more accurately argues, at least sometimes, that it's a shifting of the tax burden from businesses to individuals. And that's something that, alone among the parties, it can very strongly and credibly oppose.

Despite very limited resources, the third-place party has also often outflanked the Official Opposition on tactics. It was the NDP that caught the Liberals flatfooted this spring, with its release of a study based on Statistics Canada numbers that showed the average family’s costs going up by hundreds of dollars annually.
But while it's a plus for Radwanski to have noticed the NDP's message, it's worth wondering why he seems so surprised that a message identifying a tax issue would form an important part of the NDP's strategy - particularly when it fits so nicely with the party's focus on the cost of living as a key component of public well-being.

And there are plenty of examples to support the theory that the NDP can help itself by at least mentioning concern about taxes as part of its core message of fighting for the general public. After all, the most recent provincial NDP election win featured a platform plank to reduce taxes on home energy. Gary Doer's platform that took his government to power in 1999 featured some discussion of lower property taxes. And of course, Roy Romanow's victory in 1991 included a battle over Grant Devine's tax harmonization - meaning that there's a two-decade history of the NDP using the HST as a winning issue.

Of course, it's true enough that the NDP won't want to fuel a full-on anti-tax revolt. But it's been a regular and successful strategy for the NDP to campaign on citizen-friendly tax policies as a contrast to cuts and shifts which primarily benefit corporations and the wealthy. And the imposition of the HST has made this an ideal time for both Andrea Horwath and Carole James to carry on that legacy.

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