Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Steve "gassy flip-flop" Harper is gouging Canadians

Stroll by the Conservative Web site these days or take a gander at the talking points the Con armies are parroting around blogland and inevitably you'll read some combination of Dion and flip-flop. Speaking of flip-flops though, as gas prices skyrocket it seems appropriate to revisit Steve Harper's gas tax flip-flop.

After all, if Harper hadn't flip-flopped Canadians would be enjoying a little relief from these high gas prices right now. At least, that's what he was promising less than three years ago:

In Winnipeg on Monday, Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper said he wouldn't apply the GST to the portion of gas prices that exceeds 85 cents a litre.

The move wouldn't cost taxpayers a dime, he explained, because there's no way budgets were calculated with such high prices in mind.

"These are revenues that no one foresaw even a few months ago. We are only depriving Ottawa of a massive windfall it didn't count on and that it doesn't need," Harper said in Winnipeg on Monday.

A Conservative government would also eliminate the tax-on-tax that drives many motorists crazy, he said. The federal excise tax currently rolled into pre-GST fuel prices would be made GST-exempt.

"I think the main thing is that Canadians know that their government isn't trying to gouge them at the same time they're having trouble affording the cost of filling their tank."
When he got into office though? Flip-flop time for Steve:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper says Canadians will have to live with higher gas prices, adding his promised GST cut will be all the tax relief motorists get.
Harper said that was two elections ago, adding that promise has been supplanted by the general one-point GST cut expected in the Tories' first budget.


Harper conceded his GST cut would only make a marginal difference to Canadian motorists.

Higher gas prices appeared to be a reality in the immediate future, he said. "That's going to be something that we're going to have to get used to.

Get used to it? Nice Steve. And two elections ago? Here's what he'd been saying six months earlier:
"Rather than continue to rake in record high revenues from record high oil prices, will the government simply cut gas taxes for consumers?" he asked in question period.
Perhaps Steve flip-flopped because he's captive to extremist gas-gouging elements in his caucus? If so Steve, signal yes by tugging your left ear and we'll send help.

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mecheng said...

First, that was a promise made by Harper during his 2004 election campaign. He was not elected and hence, does not have a mandate to implement those policies.

Second, is it waise to link to an article that also contains a promise made by the Liberals that was broken, after they had won the election?

A BCer in Toronto said...

On the first point, that's an incredibly lame excuse that no one outside of Conservative blogdom is going to accept. And on the second, what promise do you allege the Liberals broke? Because I recall a crapload of money being put into health after that election by the Liberals.

rockfish said...

The subtext of Harpor's comments, old or new, are that gov't gouging is bad, oil company gouging is good.
Oh as you've conveniently noticed, Cons believe only broken promises by others should be parroted. Harpor's promises are nuggets of truth now out-dated for the so-called masses...

mecheng said...

That's pretty rich to imply that Harper should be held accountable for election promises that he made in an election he lost.

Would it be fair to complain that Dion is not doing enough for the cause of Quebec separatism, considering that he used to be a separatist? I think not. Peoples attitudes change and so do their policy platforms. Harper can say, "Canadians rejected this policy, let's look at something else." No harm no foul.

Goodale said that excess GST revenue from gas sales would go to a medical equipment program. Note he didn't promise a crapload of money, he promised a specific program.

I do not recall such a program. If it exists, please let me know. If it does not, I would classify that as a broken promise.

A BCer in Toronto said...

pretty rich to imply that Harper should be held accountable for election promises that he made in an election he lost

I'll grant you that, particularly since Steve doesn't seem to think he should be held to so many of the election promises he made in the last election, that he did win.

However, claiming that Canadians rejected his gas tax proposal in 04 is rather a stretch, that's not why they lost. He obviously thought it was necessary as he continued to talk about it after that election. And to compare comments and promises Steve made SIX months before the last election with Dion's political thinking as a teenager stretches things even further.

You mentioned earlier he doesn't have a mandate to implement it. Well, not only did he not have a mandate to tax income trusts, for example, he actually had a mandate NOT to tax income trusts. And that didn't stop him from taxing them. Things changed, and action needed to be taken. That's fine. Now, you could try to argue the gas tax proposal is no longer needed (and I'd say the same conditions Harper gave as reasons for it in 04 are still present today) but a not having a mandate doesn't fly as an excuse.

On the medical issue I'm not aware of the specific programs, just that it's obvious substantial funding was directed to health care. You can classify that how you wish.

mecheng said...

Crap! I wrote huge reply and it got lost by blogger.

So to summarize my lost response:

1) Pointless to yell "he broke a promise!!!!" at a minority government if the government does not implement a (relatively) minor plank in their entire policy. (ie. Goodale's health equipment, I don't hold it against him)

2) Fair game if they do not implement (or try to implement) a major plank in a minority situation.

3) Fair game if they reverse a position on a minor plank in a minority situation, and were not forced to do it. (re: Harper/Income Trust)

4) Fair game if they do not implement any plank when in a majority situation. (re JC and GST)

Please note that if they do break a plank they should be able to justify it. I think that Harper made the wrong promise during the election, and I'm glad he fixed the income trust debacle. I also like the way he did it without public consultation, leaks, etc.

When a new election is called, all of a parties previous promises are off the table, and they need to propose a new platform. That platform may or may not incorporate previous promises.

For the most part, people tend to get too worked up about "broken promises", and that doesn't matter what party you cheer for. For example, saying "Harper promised he would make government accountable" because he makes a partisan appointment is stretching things. (I'm not saying you've said that, just making a point)

mecheng said...

And I was stretching back to Dion's separatist roots just to emphasize how ridiculous both sides get when talking about broken promises.

People change, and policies change.

Evaluate a government for broken promises against their specific policies during the previous election.

And do we really want a government that won't reverse a decision (ie. break a promise) that they made? If it is in the best interest of the country, I don't want them to fulfil all of their promises. Situations change.

A BCer in Toronto said...

I'm not really up in arms over the gas thing. After all, I take the bus. My point in bringing it up was that, besides being timely with the gas situation in Ontario, I was tired of all this silly carping from both the CPC and their bloggers about flip-flop this and flip-flop that, and I wanted to point out one of many examples of flip-floppery in their own backyard.

And I find all the flip-flop talk bandied around a tad silly. I agree ,if a government needs to go back on a promise, explain why. If it's reasonable, while the partisans will jabber about flip-flops the majority of average folk will accept it.

Back to the gas thing though, there's a few things that make the issue still relevant. Harper is still the leader. He considered it a major problem just two years ago, and clearly the problem still exists today. Maybe his specific proposal isn't the answer anymore. But unless his routine before was just bluster, something would seem to need to be done. If not, he should explain what has changed to no longer make action the necessity he said it was.

Jason Hickman said...

Jeff, sorry to pile on, but blasting the Tories for not keeping a promise they made not in the last election, but the one before, is silly.

Let's say Dion - somehow - wins the next election. And let's say that he doesn't keep the Liberals' '06 promise to kill the notwithstanding clause (or if you think that's not fair since it wasn't in the platform - God knows when Martin dreamed it up - pick some other promise from the actual '06 document that Dion, for whatever reason, doesn't keep).

Would Dion have flip-flopped, or broken a promise? Not in my book. He would be accountable for any promises he makes in the election that brings him to power and that he then breaks - just as Harper has had & will have to wear the income-trust thing.

But there's a reason why the parties release new platforms each campaign.

mecheng said...

I guess my comment on the gas tax thing would be that in 2004 the comments were based upon $0.85 per liter. (Don't know if that was before or after tax.) In 2007, it would probably be more realistic to set that number higher, simply because I am sure that all that revenue was accounted for in the budget.

I could see this gas tax thing being issued in a couple of ways. First reduce tax on a sliding scale as base price climbs above a set point. This would be what people would like to see, because it would mean lower pump prices. I would think that this would be terrible to try to implement, and as such would be unworkable. Too bad, because I wouldn't mind paying less at the pump.

What Goodale suggested had some promise (set aside percentage of revenue when base price climbs above a certain point). It reduces windfalls to the government's general revenue if the price goes up, and sets money aside for a predetermined task. Unfortunately, whatever the specified cause was that the money was being set aside for would not have reliable funding, it would be tied to the price of gas. And the consumer would not see a decrease in the pump price. And if the moeny wasn't targeted to a program that wouldn't otherwise get funding, all you're really doing is saying "instead of calling this portion of the tax GST, we'll call it the targeted health care tax" or something to that effect.

Probably more effective would be a flat out reduction of tax on the price of gas, regardless of base price, either percentage wise, or as a cents per liter "rebate". Probably be a little bit easier to manage.

Anyhow, although I don't do the public transit thing (just not feasible in my situation), I do drive a relatively fuel efficient car, and don't put on excessive miles. As a result, I don't really get too bothered if it cost's me $46 or $50 to fill the tank.

I can understand cabbies and truck drivers getting bent out of shape, but my thought is that these are the people who need to switch to more energy efficient vehicles anyways, so suck it up, and pay what it costs to reduce your fuel consumption.

mecheng said...

In short, his 2004 proposal sounded sexy, but the numbers would have to be adjusted for current average price of gas, and it would probably be more difficult to implement than it was worth.

Also, remember that the "base" price of gas varies right across the country so benefits would kick in for different regions/cities/areas of a city at different times. (Not that that would necessarily be a bad thing.)

A BCer in Toronto said...

blasting the Tories for not keeping a promise they made not in the last election, but the one before, is silly

I'm glad we've established that Jason, if for no other reason I won't have to listen to blathering about the 93 red book from Con trolls any longer. But seriously, not to rehash what I've already said in earlier comments, but there are a few things that make this a continuing issue. But I spoke to that earlier.

Mecheng, I guess besides trying to point out the lameness of the recent flurry of flip-floppy attacks, the issue I'd take with Harper most here is one of sincerity, and it's secondary to the specific mechanics of proposed actions. As I've said if he believed there was a problem before, it hasn't gone away so there must still be one now. So why hasn't he done anything now that he does have the power? Maybe he really didn't think it was so bad after all, which makes we wonder, if we shouldn't have believed him then, why should be believe what he says now?

But then, I don't really believe anything Harper says anyway, so what do I know...