Friday, November 09, 2007

Governing is about choices...let’s give them choice

If you polled 1000 Canadians, I bet you, say, 80 per cent of them would say they like cake, and they’d love it if the government enrolled them gratis in the cake of the month club. Starting with angel food in January, all the way through to ice cream cake (my fave, the one from DQ with the chocolate fudge crackle) in December. Because, except for those that perhaps can’t eat sugar, everyone loves cake. And, even better, what tastes sweeter than free cake?

That’s why the results of this particular poll are wholly unsurprising to me (h/t Steve):

The Canadian Press Harris-Decima poll – conducted in the three days after the Halloween economic update – found that 83 per cent of Canadians surveyed said they supported the income tax cuts.

Seventy-six per cent approved of reducing the GST by one percentage point.

So, Canadians would, by and large, not say no to a tax cut. And they’d like a free cake too.

What would happen, however, if you introduced choice? Because our free cake program would cost money. We’d need to buy the cakes, for one, although by buying in bulk we could probably get a deal, maybe from some super bakery in China. We’d need some bureaucrats to run the program, a department of baked goods if you will. Maybe even a cake registry so we can track the cakes to make sure no one gets extra cakes, and ensure everyone gets their just deserts. The lessons learned on the gun registry will come in handy – don’t worry, we’ll get it right this time, no billion-dollar flans.

So, to pay for our cakes for the masses program we’re going to need to trim somewhere else in the budget. Luckily though, we have a surplus at the moment, so no budget cuts needed. We could do something else with the surplus though than buying everyone cake. Like, say, universal daycare, and a cupcake per month for every child under six.

Ask Canadians if they’d like free cake they’re going to say yes. Give them a choice between free cake and universal daycare and a cupcake for their kid (with the option of two cupcakes and a juice box if the parent chooses to stay at home or enlists grandma to babysit) and the result will be very different.

The key, though, is to give people that choice, and that’s what we Liberals have been doing a bad job of. Harper is out there offering everyone free cake, and we’re just saying cake bad, no cake for you! Of course people are going to respond poorly to that. I would too. Tocuhe pas my cake Stephane!

We need to offer Canadians a choice. Cake looks good in isolation. But, when brought into context and contrasted with, say, a major push to eliminate child poverty, cake, or tax cuts, cake is viewed in a whole other light. When contrasted against such a choice, be it a real, flexible (meaning some kind of consideration for parents to opt-out and home care) daycare, or fighting child poverty, Harper’s GST cut is more easily seen for what it is: a cynical, selfish vote buying measure that 101 economists agree makes piss poor economic sense.

That’s why I’m cautiously optimistic to read this (again H/T to Steve):

Stephane Dion is poised to unveil a central plank in the Liberal election platform — a "bold" plan to reduce poverty in Canada.

An insider close to Dion said the Liberal leader will set ``aggressive but realistic" multi-year targets for reducing poverty in general and child poverty in particular.

He will also outline the policy tools a Liberal government would use – bolstering existing income support programs and new investments in things like child care and education – to meet those targets.

If this is true, if we are going to come out with some real, comprehensive and bold policy then it’s about bloody time, says I. Because it’s time we started defining ourselves as something other than merely just opposed to the Harper agenda. And it’s time we started illustrating the stark contrasts between Liberal and Conservative philosophies. And it’s time we started offering Canadians choice.

An income tax cut and a per cent off the GST, or an income tax cut and a major initiative to tackle child poverty? I know the side of that debate I’d like to be on. I’ll bring my own cake to the party.

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1 comment:

Raphael Alexander said...

An interesting metaphor. Yes, I agree that when talking about cutting taxes, it's a little like asking whether you enjoy eating or breathing - most people do. But when compared to other factors, the numbers could change or even contradict themselves.