March 27, 2017
The moderators asked, incongruously, which taxes candidates would cut
Although the debate ranged widely, it virtually ignored a number of important areas of public policy. There were no questions on health care, foreign policy, defence, international development, municipal affairs, immigration and refugees, or cultural policy.
There were two questions on the key area of fiscal policy.
One asked all candidates which single tax they would eliminate – an odd concern for a party that has never sought to brand itself as tax cutting.
Charlie Angus said it was unfair that Canadians have to start collecting and paying HST on earnings as low as $30,000 per year. Such a low threshold is an impediment to people struggling to start small businesses, Angus said.
Peter Julian echoed that concern when he advocated a reduction in the small business tax rate.
Niki Ashton, for her part, pushed back, and said she would prefer to focus not on tax cuts but on the need to raise the too-low corporate tax rate.
The moderators also asked about balanced budgets versus deficits, harkening back to the party’s 2015 campaign promise to balance the budget.
Peter Julian said there were good deficits and bad deficits. The current Liberals’ deficits are bad, he averred, because their spending priorities are wrong.
Niki Ashton argued the party had, in effect, tied its own hands in 2015 by promising a balanced budget, but she was the only one to so openly criticize the NDP’s 2015 campaign strategy.
Angus spoke, in general terms, about the need to be responsible in managing the taxpayers’ money; while Caron gave the classic progressive economist’s response that the budget should be balanced, but not necessarily each and every year. It should be balanced over the course of the “business cycle”, he said.
In the past, when NDPers made that same technical point, journalists would tend to scratch their heads. Their befuddlement might have been justified. Economists do not agree on either the definition of a business cycle or how to determine and measure its duration.
Outgoing leader Tom Mulcair only got one mention. Guy Caron praised him for his principled opposition to the Harper government’s anti-terror bill, C-51. The Liberals voted for C-51 but promised to change it if they got elected. So far, they have not got around to changing it, a fact all NDP leadership candidates emphatically noted.
The candidates also all argued they do not trust Trudeau to live up to his promise to decriminalize marijuana. They seemed to have jumped the gun there. According to a CBC report, almost at the same moment the NDP candidates were expressing their scepticism about the sincerity of Trudeau’s marijuana pledge, the Liberal leadership was briefing the caucus on the planned rollout of the new pot legislation, scheduled for early April.
Interestingly, neither the moderators nor any of the candidates made more than passing reference to one big promise Justin Trudeau did quite brazenly break: the promise on electoral reform. Is it possible they’ve received feedback most voters do not really care about electoral reform, if they have even heard of it?
As with the first debate, the candidates’ fluency, or lack thereof, in both official languages was on full, naked display.
Caron speaks English as a second language, but can comfortably, and even eloquently at times, talk, in his second language about everything from the finer details of economic policy to pineapple on pizza.
Julian and Ashton again showed off their impressive bilingual chops.
Charlie Angus, on the other hand, continues to demonstrate he has some way to go before he is ready for, say, an election-period federal leaders’ debate in French.