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This article was published 9/3/2011 (3847 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
VANCOUVER -- The Ignatieff Liberals have dangerously positioned themselves as the only federal party proposing to increase taxes.
It's a posture the Conservatives are exploiting to the hilt, placing a post on their website this week titled: Bad Day for Ignatieff.
The post features a photo of the Liberal leader standing by an arrow emblazoned with the word "taxes." The arrow points skyward amid a constellation of dollar signs.
"Michael Ignatieff wants to raise taxes," it says. "He is openly and unambiguously calling for a $6-billion tax increase. Not a freeze. A hike."
The Conservatives are correct. But the Liberal policy, when it was first initiated one year ago, did not envision a tax hike.
The Liberals wanted to cap a series of tax reductions Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government had mandated for the corporate sector.
The tax rate for corporations, as of 2010, had been lowered to 18 per cent. The Liberals pledged to honour that reduction but stipulated they'd go no further.
Ignatieff noted last year that the 18 per cent rate was sufficient to give Canada a competitive advantage and insisted funds saved by cancelling further cuts should go toward social spending. But in accordance with the multi-year Conservative plan, the corporate tax rate again got lowered at the start of 2011 to 16.5 per cent.
At that point, the Liberals, instead of promising to freeze the rate, found themselves in a position of advocating a tax increase, inadvertently legitimizing the Conservatives' favourite line of attack against them.
Now it's true, Canadians don't have much sympathy for big corporations. But the notion of increasing taxes on corporations will still be damaging for Ignatieff.
Not just because it gives Harper a pass on screaming from the rooftop that the Liberals would "raise taxes," but also because the Conservatives emphasize their cuts "are helping job-creating Canadian businesses... grow so they can hire new workers and invest in new technologies."
And since corporations pass along their costs, it's consumers who ultimately would pay any increased taxation.
Raising taxes is a lead balloon for any party, and has been since the 1991 goods and services tax introduction, from which Brian Mulroney never recovered.
Former British Columbia premier Gordon Campbell got away with implementing his carbon tax in 2008, when people were fretting about the environment. But witness his demise following his government's introduction of the harmonized sales tax last July.
Ignatieff should have promised to freeze corporate taxes wherever they stood at the time he took power. Freezing sounds so much better than hiking.
Note that the New Democrats aren't saying they'd raise corporate taxes -- even though they dislike the cuts. Further, they're pushing the government to eliminate the federal sales tax on home heating fuel and criticizing both the Liberals and the Conservatives for endorsing the HST for Ontario and B.C.
While the Conservatives have plenty to answer for these days, nothing inspires taxpayer wrath like a tax increase.
That's why the Conservatives have aggressively highlighted their own tax reductions since coming to office. They've zeroed in on the highest-profile tax there is -- the GST -- and lowered it, twice, down to five per cent, against a broad range of expert advice. They've also introduced other tax breaks: on children's sports activities, on tradesmen's tools, on transit passes.
Now, when Harper says, as he did this week on his party's website, that "Michael Ignatieff's high tax agenda will stall our recovery, kill jobs and set families back," unfortunately for the Liberals, there is a ring of truth to his messaging.
How could the Liberals be so naive?
Barbara Jaffe writes for the Vancouver Sun.