Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Too much Gotcha!, too much spin, not enough substance to our political debates

There are times when I wonder if I got the Class Clown instead of Member of Parliament when I voted in the last general election. Seeing some of the antics of the members of the House during Tuesday’s Question Period is one of those times.

Yes, the Liberal leader Justin Trudeau did put his foot in his mouth and, I suppose, deserved to be mocked by the Conservatives. But, really, why can’t we ever seem to deal with substantive issues in a straight forward unambiguous manner? Why do we always seem to be playing “gotcha!” with each word or phrase uttered by our politicians.

Benefiting every single family isn’t what is fair,” is what Trudeau said, in part. He continued to say, “What is fair is giving help to those who need it the most,” giving context to his opening line and providing the “real” meaning of his words.

Readers are probably wondering why I as a Conservative would seem to be defending Justin Trudeau of all people. I deliberately chose this example to make my point about “Gotcha politics” so I would not be so easily dismissed as giving just another partisan rant.

Mr. Trudeau obviously chose a clumsy way to make his point on Tuesday, and his opening line was sure to bring, at the very least, a smile to the face of even the most rabid Grit and some sort of pithy retort from the government side of the House. Was it, however, too much to also expect a response that rebutted the substance of what he said?

Canadians want to know what their political leaders plan to do on their behalf and their leaders’ views on issues are important for them to know—at least, that’s what I believe. It is difficult, however, for us to get this information if it comes to us in out-of-context, chopped up sound bites or through the filter of media or political party spin machines.

The point Mr. Trudeau was trying to make, I think, is that it’s more important to target help to those who need it most rather than give help universally. And isn’t this a reasonable point and one worthy of debate? What we get, though, are headlines stressing his unfortunate use of words, “Benefiting Every Single Family Isn’t What Is Fair,” and no debate on the substance of his remarks.

Now some will say, that’s Mr. Trudeau’s fault—after all, he chose the words he used. But who loses here is more important to me: it is ordinary Canadians who lose. We get to smile at the Liberal leader’s expense, but we are no further ahead in knowing why he disagrees with the principle of universality in this case or why Prime Minister Stephen Harper supports that important principle.

Only a minor opportunity lost, I suppose. But it does seem unfortunate for our democracy that grown-ups in public office do not seem to be able to carry on a substantive debate without every word and phrase being parsed and scrutinized to see if it can be used in a less flattering, more misleading way or worse, be completely taken out of context.

Hyper-partisanship and animus seem to motivate too much of what passes as politics in our country, and there is fault on all sides, including the news media which seem to have an insatiable appetite for controversial sound bites and misstatements, even when unintentional.

This is not healthy for our democracy.


  1. Russ - what everyone is not saying is that low income families get a fair few non-taxable benefits. The first one is the CCTB (Canada Child Tax Benefit) which provides a per-child benefit (at least up to three children - the table didn't show more) based on net income excluding any UCCB and RDSP income. For families under $26,021 net income, the table shows $312.50/month for one child and $894.08/month for three children. The amount decreases for family income above $26,021 and is phased out at around $110,000 for one child and $150,000 for three children. There are also provincial moneys - framed as a family bonus, a child tax benefit, or a child benefit - which are integrated with the federal payments for five provinces and three territories. Quebec does it's own thing, and Alberta has the family employment tax credit.

    Then there's the Working income tax benefit (WITB) which maxes out at $998 for a single and $1813 for a family (different in Alta, Quebec, Nunavut, and BC). It's phased out by $17,986 for a single and $27,736 for a family (again different for four regions).

    Finally, there's the GST quarterly cheque. Base for a single is $68 per quarter, but that rises to $103.75 per quarter as income rises over $8,833. It begins to be phased out at $35,465 net income. Families and couples get more, but the phase-out begins at the same $35,465.

    In addition, there are other programs for low income families - special transit rates, etc., etc.

    So a family's net income is just part of the picture. They could be receiving a fair bit in non-taxable benefits and in other subsidies. It's the families in the claw-back zones who really are hard hit. The loss of the CCTB or GST is like an increased income tax rate for that group. I wonder if M. Trudeau and his experts have looked at that aspect of our taxation/benefit system. Those who need relief may not be the obvious ones.

    1. I guess I didn't do a good job of making my point, which had nothing to do with the tax benefits themselves. But thanks for your comment.

  2. oldwhite guy says........ I think that when the parties essentially embrace a similar philosophy the only thing they have is gotcha and spin.

  3. Trudeau stepped in it when he accused the Tory tax reforms as "unfair"...this is patently not true and is scripted from the Liberal talking points which are a page out of the Barak Obama handbook..he asked for it...had it what he deserved..a virtual tie with Tom Mulclair...

  4. And then there are those who claim to be needy but actually aren't. Of course there legitimately those who need our assistance but far too many are just milking the system.