Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Liberal Tax Reform Mire

The Liberal tax reform introduced months ago has been a communications disaster for the government. Closing certain tax provisions will increase the amount paid by high income Canadians. The Trudeau Liberals seem to have stumbled blindly into this issue. They seemed entirely unprepared for the resistance to these changes.

The Prime Minister and his team seemed to believe that relying on their tired rhetoric of "strengthening the middle class and those working to join them" would be enough. When you repeat the same thing over and over again to justify everything from tax cuts to road construction to opening a hockey arena don't be surprised if its effectiveness dulls.

There are strong, well-financed forces to push to keep the status quo. Doctors and small business owners will be limited in their tools to save on taxes. A number of wealthy individuals use the existing law to avoid taxes. While perfectly legal there are questions whether it was the intent of the government, or ethical for some parties to pay less in a progressive tax system.

While progressives are generally in favour of changing the tax code the failure of the Liberals to articulate these reforms successfully is putting them at risk. Opponents in advocacy groups and the Conservative Party have painted this as a massive tax increase on small business and an attack on doctor. The attacks have been, to this point, successful on raising doubts about the wisdom of the changes. In reality, it seems offering some sort of transition period would have done a great deal to dissuade modest critics, but the Liberals did not see reason to see that far ahead.

In politics communications often matters more than the policy itself, to my eternal grief. In some parallel universe the Liberals sold these policies to enough Canadians to ensure their passage, now it will cost Trudeau significant political capital. Part of the explanation is who the messengers are.

Justin Trudeau was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and his finance minister, Bill Morneau is a very wealthy man. Men who have taken advantage of the same system the seek to right. Morneau has been dogged by questions about his finances and personal business dealings and whether or not the meet the rigour of disclosure and freedom of conflict of interest. Chantal Hebert warns that the Conservatives, by pursuing Morneau will lose sight on the defeating these reforms.

It would be fitting for the Liberals to stumble forward into success. It would join a questionable list of policy accomplishments for the Trudeau government. It leads me to wonder how many more lucky breaks they may have in them.

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