NDP leader Andrea Horwath is undermining conservation with plan to ditch HST. Colin O'Connor/ CP Photo
One nice thing about early posting of the fixed date for Ontario's upcoming election (October 6, don't you know?) is that the delay offers lots of time to dump stupidities without too many people noticing.
The NDP would be smart to use the head start to bury their promise to phase out the harmonized sales tax on car fuel, home heating and electricity.
The small change at stake - less than $10 a week for a typical car-owning family in a poorly insulated home, by my calculations - is too paltry to inspire hope in the electorate that an NDP government would introduce meaningful change.
But it's also too high-profile to ignore the way it suggests the NDP is wandering from it's commitment to equity, environment and positive government.
Released late in June, the NDP platform, Change That Puts People First, starts by saying Ontario's sluggish economic recovery is squeezing families, "especially middle-income families."
This identification of the MVD (most valued demographic) to receive party favours will surprise many in social and public health movements, who usually see the NDP as prioritizing the needs of lower-income working people and the poor.
Both have actually suffered more grievously, absolutely and relatively, than middle-income earners in the recession and in recent years. The only difference is that mid-earners have become an easily triggered voting bloc, a fact that's proving just too tempting for political strategists of all parties.
In the NDP plan, Ontario residents would pay $1 billion less in energy taxes by 2015. Since the tax cut isn't targeted, that annual billion-dollar windfall would apply equally to rich and poor - with one difference. The rich plug in more appliances, fill more tanks of oversized SUVs and heat more spacious and luxurious homes, and therefore would bag a bigger tax cut than the middle class.
By contrast, the NDP pledge to freeze public transit fares and top up public transit operating costs - matters of greatest relevance to those facing inequity in travel costs and transit subsidies - gets budgeted little more than a third, $375 million, of the money lost to taxes on energy consumption.
The "you deserve a tax break today" approach to government borrows too much from ultra-conservative theory and practice. Traditionally, New Democrats identified a positive role for government, doing things for communities that individuals can't do alone, like pooling the costs of health care, using public purchasing to encourage local sustainable farming or installing energy conservation equipment in seniors' homes to reduce their energy bills.
Government by tax cut reduces the power of government to fund programs in the public interest. Yet NDP tax cutters claim that an NDP government will be able to cap fuel prices set by the biggest companies in the world. Realistically, oil prices will only be capped when demand shrinks significantly thanks to either conservation or renewable fuels.
Energy tax cuts give no break whatsoever to those who conserve, and no premium to those who use renewable fuels. In this way, they indirectly support the high demand that keeps prices up.
Pure pipe dream is the NDP promise to make up for revenue lost from energy tax cuts by blocking a Conservative and Liberal tax cut for corporations. Given the vulnerability of the Ontario economy, this would be unrealistically brave. If the party spends so much energy pandering to middle-class angst, how is it going to take on global corporations? In their dreams.
One green advocate working for the government ranted at me recently that there's a green energy revolution going on to promote conservation and renewables, "and the NDP is not on side."
The fact is, pollution reduction is a sure path to job creation. This is crystal clear in Ontario, where coal is imported from the U.S. and oil and uranium from outside the province. Why would the NDP give a tax break to imported job killers while imposing full taxes on energy conservation that creates homegrown jobs?
Owning up to an obvious mistake may be momentarily embarrassing, but it would be easier to take than the humiliation from failing to make a correction. My advice to Andrea Horwath: time for a rethink.