Now that the trial of disgraced Conservative Senator Mike Duffy on charges including fraud, breach of trust and bribery has gone into recess until November – that is, after the October 19 federal elections – the lengthy election campaign now in progress has become refocused on the much more pressing matter of the economy.
With summer waning, focus on the economy must therefore come to the fore in the speeches from Conservative leader Stephen Harper, New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Thomas Mulcair and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau.
All three leading parties have been blanketing the country with truckloads of election promises. Trudeau has however stepped away from the safe mushy middle of the pack by declaring he would implement spending that is prepared to go into deficit to kick-start our faltering economy. With this proposal, Trudeau has now positioned himself to the left of the NDP, the prime contender to replace the Harper Conservatives according to current polls, and the traditional holders of the left of centre position.
Each party leader is promising to spend billions in their effort to win votes, but only Trudeau is willing to say that the billions in spending would mean creating a deficit. Although, he promises only a three-year plan to go into deficit in this $125-billion, 10-year proposition to create jobs by building and improving infrastructure.
Voters like to hear talk of job creation. That is honey to the worker bees in Canada desperate to grab hold of sustainable employment, especially at a time when the oil industry is flagging. That would also resonate in voter rich Ontario, which has lost a sizable portion of manufacturing jobs in the past 10 years and has not yet bounced back.
It is a fairly bold move by the Liberals, especially since politicians have put so much energy into force-feeding the public on the vital importance of maintaining a balanced budget while not going into deficit. Until the oil industry began to suffer from falling prices, the Harper Conservatives were ready to place a banner at the front of their campaign declaring a budget surplus of $1 billion.
The news that is now surfacing of a mild recession would put that boast on hold. Not to be daunted however, the Conservatives will continue to trumpet tax cuts and special interest spending in the hopes that the micro targeting strategy that won them their majority during the last federal election will return them to government one more time. Harper is offering to win votes with a 15 per cent tax credit on home renovations between $1,000 and $5,000. He would also spend $200 million to bring high-speed Internet to 280,000 rural homes and tax credits to members of service groups such as Kiwanis Clubs and the Royal Canadian Legion.
That message of not heading into a deficit is also what Mulcair hopes will win Conservative votes among those disaffected with the Harper Conservatives. Mulcair has promised to get rid of any deficit and to do so in part by getting rid of the controversial income splitting tax credit that has most benefited wealthy and upper middle income families. His promises include tax credits for small businesses, one million childcare spaces and $250 million to recruit 2,500 more police officers.
The reality is that there is not going to be much variance among the three frontrunners in terms of what they plan to offer Canadians. We are not a people who like extremes, and while there are significant portions of the population that most certainly need a hand up, party leaders and strategists know that to have the broadest appeal they have to stay close to that political middle ground.
What this means is that as we get closer to Election Day in the fall, the message will begin to focus more on personalities. This election will not come down to which economic plan is better; they all look relatively similar. It will come down to which personality makes the best impression among the undecided and the extent to which the general population feels that a near decade of the Harper Conservatives is enough for now.