Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Strategic considerations

With the Libs' recent suggestion that they may consider opposing the Cons in the new year, not to mention some small signs of life in opposing Harper even now, it seems clear that an election could be in the making in the new year. But I'm surprised there hasn't been more attention drawn to the potential impact of the NDP's stand against the Cons' tax-slashing bill in setting up a confidence vote:
Apparently frustrated by the continuing debate over the measure, mostly headed by the NDP, the finance minister told reporters after question period that the Jan. 1 date for cutting the GST from six per cent to five per cent was in jeopardy.

"I said yesterday the bill was moving ahead and was likely to get through the House and Senate before Christmas, now we have the NDP blocking progress of the bill right in the House of Commons," he said...

NDP finance critic Thomas Mulcair called the finance minister's statement ''baloney,'' saying any tax measure can be implemented with the adoption of a ways and means motion. Flaherty's GST cut was announced in conjunction with a series of other tax reductions on Oct 30 and a ways and means motion was adopted in the House on Nov. 1.

Mulcair said his party will continue to oppose the tax implementation bill, even if it means the legislation will not be approved this year.

"Our objection is less with the one per cent GST cut than the across-the-board tax cut for corporations, which we think is going to be more destabilizing for our economy," he said, arguing that the tax cut will mostly benefit the oil patch.
So why does it matter if the tax-cutting bill is dealt with in the new year rather than now? Remember that two of the main concerns in voting down the Cons in the new year are the danger that this year's tax cuts might limit the money available for election spending promises, and the risk that a goodie-laden Con budget might help Harper's position going into an election.

But both of those problems are based on the tax implementation bill actually passing before the new year. If it doesn't, then there's a ready-made confidence vote awaiting the opposition long before the budget will come up for discussion. And if the Cons' efforts to drain the federal treasury don't come to fruition through the implementation bill, then there will be far more room for a campaign debate as to how best to apply federal resources while there are still some left to use.

Now, it may be that the Libs will be cowed into voting for the tax bill anyway, particularly given their unwillingness to stand up to it before. But at the very least, the NDP looks to have thought a couple of steps ahead of the Cons on the tax implementation bill, giving the opposition parties a needed chance to bring down Harper quickly in the new year. Which leaves only the question of whether they'll take that opening - or whether the Libs will once again play dead in the face of the Cons' agenda.

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