Sunday, September 28, 2008

Game changing

With the New Democrats' campaign based largely on a contrast between Jack Layton and Stephen Harper obviously working splendidly, I'd wondered whether the party's platform might wind up erring on the side of caution in order to keep the focus on leadership rather than policy. But instead, the NDP's largest platform plank looks to be an ambitious and ingenious way to ensure that pocketbook voters look to Layton first:
The New Democrats will today unveil an ambitious new $17 billion child benefit plan that will pay families up to $400 a month per child, sources told the Star...

Families with a household income of $38,000 or less would receive $400 a month per child.

Those earning less than $188,000 a household would get $250 a month per child.

And families making more than $188,000 a year would receive $100 a month per child.

Unlike the current Tory "universal child care benefit" policy, the money wouldn't be taxed.

Also, the eligibility threshold would be extended from the existing cut-off when a child turns 6 to 18 years old.
In other words, anybody who might otherwise have seen reason to support the Cons on the basis of their monthly allowance - or the Libs for doubling the exact same structure for some households - now has every reason to rank the New Democrats as the top choice. Factoring in the increased monthly benefit, the change to make the money tax-free (which was a rightful criticism of the Cons' plan which the Libs seem to have mirrored), and the length of time in which the benefit would be available, the effect would seem to be to ensure that every parent in Canada is better off under an NDP government rather than the alternatives.

Now, the Cons' response remains to be seen. The most obvious answer would be to try to simply criticize the plan within their existing campaign framework of criticizing the cost of opposition proposals. But the Cons surely can't argue that child tax benefits aren't a worthwhile use of money when much of their 2006 success was based on the one now in place. And the New Democrats will surely be glad to spend the balance of the campaign arguing whether money is better put toward corporations or children.

Conversely, the Cons could try to alter their strategy to date by throwing together a plan which would favour at least some parents compared to the NDP's proposal. But that raises the inherent dangers of changing direction mid-campaign, undermining the message the Cons have spent months trying to build and forcing them to defend the new plan against their own now-abandoned narrative that they had already emptied out the federal coffers.

Either way, the benefit plan looks to be an ideal means of both pushing some current Con votes toward the NDP, and fighting the rest of the campaign on Layton's preferred policy terms. And we'll find out soon whether Canada's supposed chess master has been thoroughly outmaneuvered.

No comments:

Post a Comment