There’s growing political consensus that the Prime Minister will call the election this coming weekend, culminating in a June 28th vote. The election should, ideally, provide Canadians with an opportunity to debate public policy and ultimately, the future direction of the country. We say ideally because elections are less and less about ideas and more and more about solidifying one’s political base, energizing volunteers, and capturing the ever elusive median voter. As Canada stands at a fork in the political road, poised between greatness and continued mediocrity, a full and frank debate over the future of our great country is needed. Most importantly, the two critical issues facing our country -- healthcare and taxation -- must both be firmly on the table during the election campaign.
Political elites and average Canadians agree that the most pressing, and daunting, public policy issue is healthcare. Health-related costs continue to rise at alarming rates while the quality of care, access to the system, and overall integrity of healthcare continue their slow decline.
Unfortunately, healthcare has become the third-rail of Canadian politics, to borrow a euphemism from the United States. Like the U.S. phenomenon regarding social security, everyone in Canada readily acknowledges that the healthcare system is failing. The problem is that we don’t seem to want to hear about solutions. Those proposing real solutions are most often met with fear mongering about two-tier healthcare (which we already have) and dire warnings that any reforms will lead to American-style healthcare. It seems that candid debate about the future of healthcare in Canada and the real options for reform (as opposed to the politically viable ones) is off the table.
The new Conservative Party has proven as much by matching the Martin Liberal government’s commitment to the Canada Health Act and more money for the provinces, neither of which will make one bit of difference in either the short or long run. We should ready ourselves for big speeches filled with hollow rhetoric about the value of Canadian healthcare sprinkled with a plethora of big dollar commitments.
The other critical public policy issue facing Canada, which thankfully has the potential to become a defining issue in the coming election, is taxation. The reason it may become a front burner issue is that it clearly divides the three national parties. The governing Liberals have indicated they have no plans for tax relief, although they implied they might consider some small, targeted tax cuts in the future. The NDP have called for tax increases, particularly on business. The Conservative Party has promised to reduce taxes with a specific focus on middle-income families. Since each national party offers a distinguishable policy, the issue of taxes offers voters the ability to make electoral decisions based on their preferences for tax relief. Think we pay too much tax, vote Conservative; think we pay too little, vote NDP; think we pay just enough, vote Liberal.
It may not be a coincidence that the rumoured election day (June 28th) falls on last year’s Tax Freedom Day, the day in the year the average Canadian family has earned enough money to pay the tax bill imposed on it by all levels of government. It is our hope that this apparent coincidence and the clearly defined differences between the parties on tax policy will motivate discussion about how best to improve the economic performance of the country.
There will inevitably be other issues that arise throughout the campaign. Integrity and honesty in government are sure to be injected in the debates given the recent transgressions surrounding the sponsorship program. Still other issues, such as national defence, regional differences, and the cities agenda may also gain prominence. Let’s hope, though, that the two most important issues facing Canada, namely healthcare and taxation, take a front seat. Canada’s future is bright and could be even brighter if the right policies are pursued.