Thursday, February 13, 2014

On testing principles

It's obviously tempting for opposition parties to turn the recent spate of stories about difference of opinion within the Cons into a simple matter of "they're not united". But it's well worth emphasizing the substance of the issues - and particularly questioning whether the MPs who are challenging their partymates on specific issues are willing to apply the same principles elsewhere.

Most obviously, Jim Flaherty is absolutely right to recognize that income splitting represents a costly and gratuitous giveaway to a few wealthy Canadians which is aimed purely at winning votes rather than serving valid public policy goals. But the same critique applies to many of the boutique tax baubles he's introduced as finance minister.

So in addition to testing whether other Cons share Flaherty's concerns, it's also worth questioning whether Flaherty himself is prepared to apply the same standard to, say, tax-free savings accounts or politically-oriented tax expenditures. And if not, then Flaherty's standard can be applied to demonstrate his (and his party's) general fiscal irresponsibility.

And perhaps even more interesting is Deepak Obhrai's critique of Michael Chong's Reform Act. If Obhrai's experience in seeking a nomination has taught him the dangers of allowing self-interested actors to impose needless restrictions on voting in order to secure their desired outcome, then surely he should oppose the Cons' legislation which creates exactly that problem in general elections.

In both areas, there's a strong case to be made that the perceived dissenters within the Cons have arguments which deserve to be heard on the merits (and indeed which undercut some of the Cons' worst policy positions). And we'd be well served to amplify and further apply those arguments in cases where even their proponents haven't yet commented publicly - rather than implying that there would be no story if a couple of vocal MPs would shut up and get in line.

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