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Liberal convention sets stage for 2015


Julian Wolfe
February 24th, 2014


The four-day Liberal convention closed yesterday setting the stage for 2015. Despite a leaked Conservative memo suggesting attempts to disrupt the convention, the events continued as though they weren’t there. The Conservatives and media did try to surface negative publicity, but recent polls show Liberal support is on the rise as the Tories and NDP prepare for the most negative campaign seen since 2006.

There weren’t any election-winning policies on the forefront, but the policies that passed don’t pose too great a threat to Liberal credibility as they can’t easily be attacked. Some of the more controversial policies to have passed the plenary include the decriminalization of medically-assisted suicide and a basic income supplement. On the constitutional front, Liberals gave their leader Justin Trudeau right of way to liberate former Liberal senators after the fact.

During the beginning of the convention, former General Andrew Leslie became the spotlight issue for his $72,000 final moving expenses in Ottawa. Despite having the power to change the rules, the Conservatives let the former general claim his expensive last move while now using it as a wedge on the Liberal Party. As the Conservatives try to paint Leslie as a matter of judgement, Canadians should not forget Conservative fundraisers that were appointed to the senate by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to continue a lifestyle of entitlement – only for it to explode and reveal an elaborate PMO cover-up… talking about judgement right?

“It’s quite clear that this government is ready to be vicious and ruthless with anyone, even with a Canadian hero, that dares disagree with their ideology and their approach,” Trudeau told reporters last Tuesday.

Heading for the end of the convention, Conservative and NDP commentators noted the lack of policy substance as they target the likely victors of the 2015 election – at least if the trends hold. Trudeau has said he is in no rush to reveal the Liberal platform, a move that would go a long way to diffusing attacks from his chief rivals. The media is now releasing headlines of possible Liberal deficits and debt but we have yet to see if the Conservatives actually manage to achieve a surplus after creating the largest deficit in Canadian history. Liberals may want to take pride in their record during the 1990s when they slayed a $39 billion deficit, lowered taxes, and left behind a $13 billion surplus in 2005 – it may be worth reminding Canadians too.

However, small-l Liberals and even small-c Conservatives can find their place in the new Liberal Party. While Conservatives argue the Liberals will be tax and spend, Trudeau affirmed “tax increases for [the middle class] are not in the cards, and not on the table.” In addition, Trudeau confirmed in an interview with Evan Solomon he would not raise corporate taxes, nor personal income taxes nor the GST. The Conservative catch-line, “keeping taxes low” is also a part of Liberal policy. At least the mistakes made in 2011 on the taxes front aren’t going to be repeated in 2015.

Critics argue that new spending and refusal to raise taxes will lead to deficits and debt – which is nothing but speculations. However, if a deficit were to be run, it would be short-term as economic growth resulting from stimulus spending would generate more than sufficient revenues. At the same time, it is worth noting that bureaucracy inflated under the Conservatives will likely be cut and that programs deemed useless will be canned, just as anyone would expect a government to do when shifting priorities in the ways the Liberal Party seems to be hinting at. Former Liberal MP Rob Oliphant, who is seeking the nomination in the Toronto riding of Don Valley West, said “Liberals have proven, frankly, that we are the people who don’t run deficits. We cut deficits.”

Trudeau warns the supposed Conservative surplus is artificial because they’re achieving it by delaying Defense spending, counting on one-time asset sales and maintaining artificially high payroll taxes on employment insurance premiums.

“The idea of being fiscally responsible is something that goes to the core of what it is to be a Liberal, ” Trudeau told CBC. “Because we believe in government and therefore the best way to demonstrate that government can be good, unlike the Conservatives, is to demonstrate that government can be responsible fiscally, and that’s where they have fallen flat because they want to prove that government is bad.

“If you continue to invest in education, in the right kind of infrastructure spending, you can actually grow the economy.”

Bill Morneau, chairman of a small-c conservative economic think tank, the CD Howe Institute, slammed the Conservatives’ economic record at the Liberal convention to the tune of enthusiastic applause.

“Harper Conservatives turn a blind eye to these problems, their minds focused on partisan politics of the very worse kind,” he said.

“This business person, for one, is frustrated by government cabinet ministers who like to talk about growth,” he said, but are instead concerned with “politics without purpose, politics focused solely on beating the other side rather an leading Canadians to the other side.”

While the Conservatives attack and dismiss the Liberals’ positions on the middle class, internal government documentation shows they see what the Liberals see: “The market does not reward middle-income families so well. As a result, they get an increasingly smaller share of the earnings pie.”

“How does the Conservative government respond? By boasting that it is balancing the budget, while middle-class Canadians struggle to balance their chequebooks,” Morneau said.

The Liberal convention at Montreal’s Palais de Congres has come to a close, but it marks the beginning of an aggressive campaign for 2015. The upcoming campaign will have three options: More of the same, the middle of the road, and the left. The Liberals intelligently are placing themselves as the party of progressive policy and fiscal responsibility, one that should appeal to Conservatives who aren’t fans of Harper’s rigid, divisive, and socially conservative agenda. The Liberals have painted themselves the party of choice, voting in favor of medically assisted suicide – a measure that was narrowly shot down in the last Conservative convention.

Liberals are leaving this convention upbeat while Conservative attacks backfire. In 2015, expect a barrage of negative attacks, to be met by a positive Liberal campaign that won’t be shy of highlighting what it will do differently than the Conservatives.

Trudeau took jabs at the Conservatives and NDP, noting his move in the senate “is how you make change happen.” Trudeau also opposed the NDP’s senate abolition campaign which would require opening the Constitution. “For me, Mike Duffy is not worth another Meech Lake.”

With the help of US President Barack Obama’s inner circle and strategists, the Liberals are looking to win in 2015 by uniting Canadians across the political spectrum.

“People in Ottawa talk about the ‘Conservative base’ as if it’s an angry mob to be feared. They’re wrong,” Trudeau told the 3,000 delegates. “Canadians who voted Conservative aren’t your enemies, they’re your neighbours.”

What do you think of the results of the Liberal convention?

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steve

On Monday, the longest campaign in modern history will come to a close and if current polls are any indication, Canada may be seeing a change in government after 9 years of Conservative rule under the leadership of Stephen Harper. Accountability was his calling card in 2006 and today, accountability may very well be one of the defining reasons for his departure.

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In its length, in its cost and in its debate schedule, this election is unusual. The first and possibly only real debate of the campaign ended and here are the highlights of what happened.

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Prime Minister Stephen Harper left Rideau Hall this morning with Governor General David Johnston’s approval to drop the writ and Canadians are now officially headed to the polls on October 19. For the first time since fixed election date legislation was brought in by the Conservative government, a fixed election date has been followed.

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