Monday, October 12, 2015

#elxn42 Platform Review - Conservatives

Given the lengths Stephen Harper has gone to in limiting how his party is presented publicly as well as the Cons' general status quo campaign theme, it may come as a surprise that the Cons' platform includes 159 pages - making it nearly twice the length of any other party's. But anybody hoping for the Cons to do more than waste paper in the process is out of luck.

To be clear, there's a trend toward including talking points and contrast messaging in all of the platforms. But the Cons' stands out in distilling Harper politics to its essence - then serving up far more of that than any reasonable voter could possibly want to read.

To start with, the Cons bury minor and/or vague policy declarations within pages upon pages of the same material you've heard ad nauseum from Stephen Harper if you've paid any attention to him during the campaign.

As a key example off the start: the very first section of the platform, covering seven pages of the Cons' platform, could be described as a matter of substantive policy with four words: "balanced budget" and "tax lock". The rest is window dressing and largely-false attacks.

But that's not the last you'll hear of those same talking points. Instead, the subsequent section on the economy does little more than rephrase them under various subheadings, and numerous further sections repeat them again.

Meanwhile, the few promises the Cons do make are largely couched in language about continuing stakeholder consultations - which might seem more appropriate for an opposition party needing to get its bearings in government, but raises the question of why issues worth identifying and acting upon haven't already been discovered during the Cons' 9 years in office.

A particularly stark example here is the promise to "Increase funding to efforts to help women escape the sex trade" (p. 117), which neither mentions any such current or proposed efforts, nor includes any actual costing.

For those looking for promises which haven't yet been subject to much attention, here are a few which might be worst some attention:
  • continuing to set arbitrary limits on the number of regulations through expanded "one-for-one" rules and new cuts to those which already exist (p. 24), with no regard for their effect or importance;
  • pushing for provincial and territorial education curricula designed to serve "employer and market needs" (p. 30);
  • increasing the size of provincially-nominated immigration programs for the purpose of more widely distributing immigration across the country (p. 32);
  • increasing and indexing the lifetime capital gains exemptions to create a tax haven for an individual's assets above $500,000 (p. 64);
  • establishing an "equivalent-to-spouse" tax credit to create a splitting-type mechanism for single seniors (p. 66) - though note that nothing of the sort is proposed for families; and
  • establishing a matching funding mechanism for museum endowments (p. 130).
As for more general themes, a few do stand out.

First, the Cons largely echo George W. Bush's theme of pushing an "ownership society" at every turn - setting a target for 700,000 new homeowners, with numerous policies then aimed at reaching that goal. Needless to say, we should pay close attention to how that worked out for Bush and the U.S. housing bubble.

Second, the Cons dedicate multiple promises to funding PR and marketing campaigns on issues ranging from agricultural promotion (p. 39) branding the lobster industry (p. 42) to challenging environmental questions about forestry practices (p. 44) to boosting pro-Ukraine messaging in Eastern Europe (p. 92). Which seems noteworthy in signalling that the Cons have come to see propaganda as a public policy priority in and of itself.

Finally, it's worth noting that while the Cons' platform contains numerous promises to continue or expand some existing programs, it falls far short of covering current federal government operations. So anybody looking to determine what the Cons plan to cut in the future can likely start with the areas where there's no commitment to continue doing what's being done already.

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