Campaigning has started for our next federal election and Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff is showing us his true colours. This spring, the opposition will probably send us to the polls by not supporting the budget being released in March by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty. Currently, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has a seven point lead over Ignatieff in the latest EKOS poll. In an attempt to make up this deficit, Ignatieff has released a 12-page campaign report appealing to the non-partisan voting population. Harper, however, has nothing to fear if "Five Years of Harper: Is Canada Better Off?" is a representation of the Liberals in the next election.
Learning from his time spent living in the United States, Ignatieff is recycling Ronald Reagan's strategy against Jimmy Carter in the 1980 American presidential election by asking Canadians if they are better off after five years of Prime Minister Harper. This is a completely legitimate question and this tactic helped Reagan win in 1980. Unfortunately for Ignatieff, the first glimpse we have includes an inaccurate portrayal of the Harper government and a lack of definite direction. We are better off with Harper if Ignatieff is the alternative.
Stephen Harper has had a minority government in parliament since January 23, 2006 and, until recently, a minority in the senate. Of the 13 years preceding Harper's leadership, the Liberals enjoyed a majority in both houses for 12. This means that our current prime minister has had significantly less power to change the course of our country than the Liberal party of the '90s. Aware of Harper's limitations, Ignatieff includes in the report a small excerpt about Lester B. Pearson's time as leader of a minority government and the wonderful things he was able to accomplish. Like America after the recent mid-term elections, any legislation passed must have support outside of the governing party. So any blame placed by other parties for bad policies must include why they voted for it anyway. If do you not support the recent legislation then it is likely you do not agree with Harper's policies in general. But "Five Years of Harper" lays a lot of blame directly on our Prime Minister-- Ignatieff isn't going to convince voters that he is a better choice by ignoring Liberal acquiescence in Harper's policies.
Ignatieff proceeds to appeal to the average, middle-class Canadian by reminding voters that "the overall cost of living has risen nine per cent since the Conservatives came to power." This is a sound strategy because salaries have not increased by nine percent and no one wants to pay more to live. But the campaign report limits its statistics to those which make Harper look bad without considering the 13 years of Liberal power preceding Harper. I fear this is indicative of how Ignatieff may act if elected.
Consider the Consumer Price Index released by the Bank of Canada and easily accessible to the public. It is a broad measure of the cost of living in Canada, considering the prices of over 600 goods in housing, transportation, food, furniture, recreation and clothing. The Bank of Canada began tracking the CPI over 15 years ago under former Prime Minister Jean ChrÃ¨tien. In January 1995, the CPI was at 86.6 and rose annually anywhere from 0.5 to 4.4 ending at 108.2 in January 2006 when Harper came to power. That means the cost of living has risen annually at varying levels under other prime ministers. From January 2001 to January 2006 the CPI rose by 11.9 per cent. So in the five years preceding Harper the CPI rose more than the nine per cent which Ignatieff emphasized to attack the current government. That 11.9 per cent increase was under a Liberal government. For a politician who demands transparency in the government, Ignatieff is not living up to his own expectations.
Above all the most humorous section of Ignatieff's campaign report is an explanation of how the future Liberal government will make up the void created by Harper. Ignatieff promises to ensure "spending restraint by finding targeted, sustainable savings in partnership with public service and proposing new programs in the Liberal platform only if they can be financed without adding to the deficit." Of course all of the spending done by the Harper government was to ensure our national deficit would grow and not a cent was spent responding to that silly little economic downturn we call a global recession. If Ignatieff's proposed means of running a government is not the basis of all government spending, our country and probably the entire western world would be in a lot more trouble. After 10 pages of constant attacks on the Harper government, I expected a thorough explanation outlining how Ignatieff will improve Canada. Instead broad and uninnovative solutions are proposed. So the first view we have of Ignatieff's campaign includes issues inaccurately blaming Harper and no real direction for the Liberal Party.
The attacks made by Ignatieff to turn potential voters away from Harper and to the Liberal Party have legitimate foundations. Yet the Liberals will only get results if the Canadians reading his campaign do not look beyond the numbers and simplistic picture he has provided. All the facts are true but they incorrectly lay blame on Harper's government. Yes, we are better off with Harper.