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No-one should doubt Scheer’s pledge that a Conservative government will live within its means. That’s the brand. But something has to give
WINNIPEG, Man. — Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. Things are very different than the last time I travelled on an election campaign with the Conservative Party of Canada.
In the Harper era, travelling reporters were treated like enemy combatants. Staff were told: “Don’t talk to the media” — orders that appeared to extend to the communications staff.
The decision to treat all critics like feudal tenants was not limited to journalists.
The consequence of being mean to so many people for so long was consignment to the role of Her Majesty’s Official Opposition. Not surprisingly, Andrew Scheer and his team have decided that picking unnecessary fights with their main conduit to voters is a losing proposition. The resentment remains — particularly among the most ardent supporters, who firmly believe that all reporters are in the employ of the devil or the Liberal Party. But the default position of the wonderful people who shovel food and information down our collective alimentary canals is that we should be told the truth — even when it’s inconvenient, such as when there was a malfunction with the ground steering gear on the campaign plane.
Spin doctors will always try to present the best gloss on facts – I remember finding out later about a demonstration by a group of little people in Windsor, Ont., against Dalton McGuinty’s ban on dwarf-tossing that had been screened from the media by Liberal supporters with campaign signs. We wondered at the time who was jumping up and down behind the bill-boards. But this iteration of the Conservative Party is a reflection of its leader — polite, friendly and forthright.
A less welcome change from previous years, at least if you are a Conservative, is the lack of passion we’ve felt along the way.
On Monday night in Calgary, a crowd of less than 200 roused itself into courteous enthusiasm for a Scheer stump speech in the riding of Calgary Skyview that the party hopes to take back (it was won for the Liberals in 2015 by Darshan Kang but was subsequently turfed from the party after allegations of sexual harassment.)
Calgary should be a hotbed of hot-blooded Conservatives but aside from one man shouting: “Andrew, you’re the most popular guy in Canada,” it was a tame affair.
There are 10 ridings in the city and it would seem that to me that if the leader spends precious time and resources coming to town, a morale-building rally to pump sunshine up the collective keisters of campaign volunteers would be a very good idea.
Scheer was asked about the lack of numbers on Tuesday and said he was pleased with the turnout. The relatively low-key office opening event was designed to allow campaigners to keep knocking on doors in their respective ridings, he said. Staff say traditional campaign rallies will begin as we get closer to election day.
The good news for Scheer is that he is becoming better known — polls suggest his positives and negative impressions are on the rise. But he tends to record support levels lower than his party. Maybe the local candidates consider him a drag on their fortunes?
Yet as things have changed from days past, many other things have stayed the same. This is a party that eschews grand visions and crafts policies to designed to make incremental gains in the lives of Canadians.
The new measure announced Tuesday was an increase in the government contribution to Registered Education Savings Plans from 20 per cent to 30 per cent for every dollar invested up to $2,500, to a maximum annual grant of $750.
The Liberals attacked the increase because it benefits “the wealthy” — more class warfare language from a party that appears intent on turning “enterprise” and “wealth creation” into dirty words. In any case, Scheer’s proposal does come with an added incentive for low-income parents.
The Conservative measure may seem marginal but it comes with a hefty price tag — $600 million a year when fully implemented, according to the Parliamentary Budget Office. Scheer is now racking up the spending commitments — the universal tax credit unveiled Sunday will cost up to $6 billion a year when it is fully introduced. He has skated around questions about how he will pay for this spending but he confirmed he has no plans to cut the Canada Child Benefit, which the Liberals enriched by 15 per cent for children under age one on Tuesday. “The Canada Child Benefit is a Conservative principle,” he said. “Mums and dads make better choices than bureaucrats in Ottawa.”
Federal deficits are forecast to average $15 billion a year through the next Parliament and Scheer’s proposals add another $8.3 billion a year when all measures are in place — the new RESP, the universal tax cut, the sports and arts tax credits, the public transit tax credit and tax-free maternity benefits.
On past performance, no-one should doubt Scheer’s pledge that a Conservative government will live within its means. That’s the brand. But something has to give, and the $23 billion question is what?
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019