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Following the release of the NDP’s “costing” document – a term that deserves to be used only very loosely – leader Jagmeet Singh declared that he is going to get things done where the Liberals haven’t because he has “unlimited zeal.” And then he started hashtagging it, and the memes started rushing in, because that’s their digital campaign strategy apparently. The problem with “unlimited zeal” is that unlike zeal, resources and capacity are finite in government, which is why one needs to have priorities and plans to implement them. The NDP have neither, but are using some particular sleight of hand to try and convince people that they have both costing and credibility when in reality, they have a hollow shell.

Consider their costing document – it contains billions of dollars in new spending obligations that they balance off (somewhat) with promises of billions in new revenue sources. The reality is that there is no way they can book that revenue in the first or second year like their costing documents suggest. This is part of the problem with having the Parliamentary Budget Officer doing the costing for these platform promises – he has to work with the inputs that the parties give him, and because implementation of these policies matters, he can’t judge whether the implementation is feasible. Thus, he has his stamp of approval on their proposed annual net wealth tax – and most people aren’t going to read the “source of uncertainty” disclaimer at the bottom when the NDP simply plug the “verified” numbers into their costing document.

The description of the tax proclaims that it is meant to “impose an annual tax of 1% on net wealth owned by Canadian resident economic families on December 31st of each year, beginning in 2021.” It would be exempt on those whose net wealth is below $10 million, and on any wealth acquired through lottery winnings, because gambling apparently doesn’t have the same moral stench as capitalism. The problem? Our tax system is built toward individual filing – we don’t have “economic families” in tax law, and we would need to create a new structure to capture these revenues – and the American economists whom the NDP are modelling this policy from are clear that it needs to be “families” that can include siblings who live together, as well as children, to prevent income being sprinkled among them. There is also the added question of what counts as wealth under this regime (such as retirement savings), and it is going to take a lot of time to both legislate this, and for CRA to start making these determinations. There is no way they are going to capture $10.85 billion in the 2021-22 tax year. And yet they can claim the PBO signed off on it.

The trickier part of their costing document is that while they got the PBO to put all of their revenue projections on his letterhead, no matter that their input assumptions won’t pan out in reality because implementation matters (but hey, he gets to hide behind his “uncertainty” caveat), but for nearly all of their spending promises, they haven’t released any PBO costing, so you’re just going to have to trust them on it. As well, because their platform document was largely platitudes without any details of how they planned to implement anything, we don’t have any way to gauge whether these spending plans are realistic or achievable – and given that we know that the revenue projections aren’t, it really, really puts the question on the spending side.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies and Democracy, run by former PBO Kevin Page, was not sold by the NDP’s assurances in their document, giving it a 10/18 – very nearly a failing grade. They did give a failing grade inside to the transparency of their plans, which is not surprising considering that they haven’t released the spending side of their costing, and the only reason they didn’t fail the “Responsible Fiscal Management” portion was because they reduced their expected revenue generation figures by ten percent (which is not enough), and included a contingency fund. It’s not too dissimilar to how Mark Jaccard gave the NDP’s environmental plan a 2/10 for its credibility because they have no implementation plan or even a pathway to how they will get to their emissions targets, especially as some of their stated plans would tank the economy for little in the way of reductions.

This is why it’s crucial to actually spell out a plan for how to achieve their policy goals – it’s not enough to be enthusiastic, or to use political willpower, of “unlimited zeal.” Enthusiasm isn’t getting Jason Kenney or Doug Ford to sign onto universal child care, or for every premier other than PEI’s to sign up for universal pharmacare – including the NDP premier of British Columbia. For Singh to say he’ll get the job done under the premise that these premiers will sign right up because it’s him and not Justin Trudeau in front of them is fantasy. Likewise, insisting that he’ll get all of the remaining boil water advisories sorted on First Nations reserves within a year is also simply hand-waving because each community’s problem is different – capacity, training, maintenance, distance, ability to bring in materials (one community only made progress after an all-season road was completed) – and if they could be solved by throwing money at the problem, they would be by now as the current government has not been shy about doing just that. Singh is lambasting Trudeau for not fulfilling his promise in the desired timeline while at the same time making a promise he can’t keep.

It’s not enough in politics to simply say you want to do something, and that it’s just a matter of willpower. That’s not how the real world works, and it’s doing a disservice to voters to pretend otherwise. We also need journalists to step up to demand answers on implementation, and to stop just taking the PBO’s word as the final authority because of the problems he has with inputs. Willpower or “unlimited zeal” is not an implementation plan, and it only sets up for future disappointments, as Singh has only been too happy to remind the Liberals, apparently lacking the self-awareness to see that he’s simply doing more of the same.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.



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Conservative leader Erin O’Toole released his full election platform – minus costing – on Monday, trying to present himself as a credible alternative to the governing Liberals, and insisting that he has a real plan for the economy. I mean, it says so right in his platform. “It’s a plan. A very detailed plan,” it reads at the very top. Should we take his word for it?

To start off with, the document is presented in magazine format, with O’Toole in a t-shirt attempting a Men’s Health pose (minus the homoeroticism), while the lettering mimics a Maclean’s cover, right down to the maple leaf in place of an apostrophe. In contrast with the NDP’s platform, O’Toole’s is 165 pages of mostly text. Lots, and lots of text, because it’s a “very detailed plan.” As with most things from the Conservatives over the past few years, it opens with mischaracterizing much of the current economic situation in the country, and spends the rest of the document flitting between revisionist history of the party’s own record from when they were in government, and a lot of wishful thinking and Green Lantern Theory – a bit like the NDP platform in that regard. Like the NDP platform, this one also gets more repetitive the longer it goes, but hey, they needed to pad it to look as comprehensive as possible.

There’s also a lot of logical inconsistency with many of their proposals – things like pledging to overhaul the tax system to simplify it, while proposing all kinds of new tax credits. Yes, in true Conservative fashion, there is no problem that new tax credits can’t fix. Things like more tax credits for job creation, or replacing subsidies for innovation with tax credits instead. Other contradictions include increasing “Free Trade with Free Nations,” while at the same time ring-fencing all kinds of places for protectionism (that’s not how free trade works, guys); claiming to care about the environment while promising to repeal environmental protections in order to incentivize more resource extraction; and advancing reconciliation with First Nations by pushing them to resource extraction industries, while at the same time making it illegal for them to protest by blockading railroads.

The biggest internal contradiction is the pledge around childcare. “The COVID crisis has exposed how precarious the position of women is in the Canadian economy,” the document reads. “Long-term prosperity depends on women having the support they need to be full participants in Canada’s economy.” Sounds great. So what’s the plan? Cancelling the $10/day child care agreements with the provinces (which were signed as five-year agreements) in favour of refundable tax credits for child care. That won’t get women into the economy, because child care is a supply-side problem. Tax credits are a demand-side solution, and the last time the Conservatives were in power, their tax credits for new child care spaces created approximately zero of them. This is guaranteed not to get more women into the workforce.

Their other pledges with respect to women are also pretty tone deaf. For example, it talks about tax credits for hiring apprentices in the skilled trades who are women, but makes zero mention about doing anything about the sexism in those environments which keeps many – if not most – women out of those professions. The platform also acknowledges that the burden of caregiving for aging parents disproportionately falls on women and keeps them out of the workforce, but then offers them $200/month to help these seniors stay at home longer. No, seriously. That’s their plan.

The incoherence only gets more acute from there. While acknowledging that housing prices are a supply-side issue, they pledge to build a million new homes over three years, but ignore that the current funds aren’t getting spent because of bottlenecks in the municipal processes – not to mention that there’s not exactly a lot of slack in the construction labour market (which will drive prices higher). They want to have a Minister of Red Tape Reduction, but their precious tax credits are the very red tape that they decry because of how much the complicate the Tax Code. Their promise to give everyone making $20,000/year a $1/hour raise would incentivize employers to reduce pay by an equivalent amount.

As with the NDP, there are impossible promises, like somehow forcing Health Canada to accelerate their approval processes, which should alarm everyone. They would lower cellphone and internet bills by magic, apparently, doubly so with food costs. They claim that they will create “more competition” in a country of oligopolies, but because they are promising protectionism in the market, you can’t introduce foreign competition. Their section on tax fairness could have been lifted from the NDP, particularly in the rhetoric about going after “wealthy tax cheats” and making multinationals pay, as though governments haven’t been trying. They will also somehow convince the Americans to close the “loophole” in the Safe Third Country Agreement, and good luck to them for believing that. And then there’s the Green Lantern Theory of federalism, where they can apparently break down those interprovincial trade barriers that have plagued every government since 1867, and force provinces to recognize foreign credentials in a universal fashion.

One of the most galling instances of revisionist history is what it says about health transfers to the provinces, patting themselves on the back for the six percent escalator under the Harper years (that Paul Martin negotiated), and then blaming the Liberals for the escalator being reduced in 2017 when it was Jim Flaherty and Stephen Harper who set that rate (with good reason, as provincial healthcare costs were rising below three percent and they were spending that money on other things) – and then claiming that this “put lives at risk.” The absolute gall of trying that particular lie. And again, they claim to want to “partner” with provinces to put those increased transfers to mental health, while also pledging more provincial autonomy over transfer payments.

There is so much more, some of which they’ve already covered, like adding more rules and penalties to conflict of interest rules, no matter how useless a gesture that will be. “Tough on crime” measures that create more offences with more mandatory minimums that have been proven not to have a measurable impact on crime. Their same useless plan for carbon pricing that doesn’t actually make sense. Unconstitutional plans to appoint senators that have been “elected” by provincial processes.

It may be long and dense, but the platform is a hot mess. It’s a high-spending bro-covery plan whose claims for getting to three percent GDP growth are betrayed by the very fact that it won’t get more women into the workforce, and which looks at issues in a 1970s lens that pays mere lip service to inclusion without being substantive about it. More than anything, it confirms that the party has abandoned fiscal conservatism, and is flailing about to find things that sound popular without having much principle behind them – which seems to fit O’Toole quite well, given that he’s become a chameleon, constantly changing his colours to suit his environment. It’s hard to take seriously for someone who wants to led the country.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.