Thursday, June 5, 2014

Beware of Those Bearing Pledges. They Might Just Have to Honour Them

Men should pledge themselves to nothing; for reflection makes a liar of their resolution.  Sophocles

Pledges are nothing new for politicians.  Some are broad in scope, like FDR's pledge to a New Deal for Americans, or President Obama's pledge to not raise taxes on anyone making less than $250,000 a year.

In 1994, Newt Gingrich's Contract With America, while mostly a treatise on "family values" laced with anti-government claptrap, helped the GOP win the primaries.  It was a pledge.

What a lot of Canadians are no doubt unaware of, is that Stephen Harper's Reform Party helped to draft the Contract.  It's author, Republican pollster Frank Luntz, had been working with  Harper and the gang since 1991, and in fact it was Luntz who told Harper to use hockey terms whenever he could to lure us into a state of complacency.

What really sold Americans on The Contract, was the "folksy" way that it was delivered; and the fact that it was revealed just days before the election, there was little time for anyone to give it a thorough analysis.

During this week's Ontario leadership debate, Conservative Tim Hudak, "pledged" that if he couldn't balance the budget in two years, or create one million jobs in eight years, he would resign.

He delivered this pledge with the same "folksy" sincerity as Newt Gingrich did his,  and again near the end of the campaign.  Will it be enough to fool voters?

We know that Hudak visited America's Far Right to help draft his platform, at a time when the Tea Party was calling for a renewal of The Contract.

Most of the opposition to Hudak's pledge appears to be in the reality of his being able to honour it.  I worry that he will.

Not that it might boost his credibility, but of what it could cost Ontario.

In 1995, Conservative MP Jason Kenney, then head of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation; criss-crossed the country promoting his anti-tax philosophy.   As part of his tour, he met up with Mike
Harris who signed a pledge not to raise taxes if elected.  Harris also pledged to balance the budget.

To keep the first promise, while lowering taxes for our
wealthiest citizens, Harris implemented and increased user fees, and downloaded many services to municipalities, resulting in property tax increases for most residents.

To keep the second, in a desperate eleventh hour move, he sold a toll highway, giving away a century of needed revenue

In the final week of the campaign, all parties will flood the
airways with ads, further confusing the electorate.  Maybe all they will remember is the goofy grin and the "pledge".

Despite the fact that such contracts would not be legally binding in Canada,  we might still be on the hoof for the settlement.

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