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:: PoliticsWatch Legislative Update

PM's promises coming home to roost

[PoliticsWatch Updated 6:00 p.m. November 3, 2006]

 

OTTAWA —  During the 2004 election campaign, Prime Minister Stephen Harper told a music Web site that his favourite song is AC/DC's Thunderstruck.  

However, this week the prime minister probably had a different tune stuck in his head. "I beg your pardon. I never promised you a rose garden."

The big news in Ottawa this week was the government's decision to implement a tax on income trusts, something that was clearly contrary to a Conservative election promise.  

Pressured by the Liberals  to apologize and admit the government broke its promise, the prime minister chose a different track. 

The Tories didn't break their promise because the promise changed. 

"Let us be absolutely clear," the prime minister said in question period Wednesday before fuzzying the promise. 

"The commitment of this party was not that we would have no taxes for Telus. It was not that we would have no taxes for BCE. It was not that we would have no taxes for foreign investors, or no taxes for major corporations. It was a commitment to protect the income of seniors."

Despite the PM's spin, the Liberals are arguing that the fact is the Tories were well aware last year when they made the commitment not to tax income trusts that companies like BCE and Telus could have transformed themselves into income trusts. 

That is why former finance minister Ralph Goodale was looking into the issue at the time. 

The broken promise has prompted Interim Liberal leader Bill Graham to provide his harshest criticism to date of the Tory government. 

"(Harper) knew very well that companies were thinking about this. He didn't have to know every company," he said after question period on Thursday.

"If they didn't know that and they made that promise, they shouldn't be in power today because of their total, utter incompetence when it comes to managing the economy of Canadians."

Graham called the Tories' broken election promise "as close to fraud as you can get."

The Conservatives are also facing a backlash from angry voters and even their base in the oilpatch over the decision to tax the trusts after promising not to do so. 

Former Tory MP Garth Turner told PoliticsWatch that the election promise not to touch the trusts may have made investors "extremely hostile" because a lot of them may have put more money into trusts than they should have. 

Turner said the broken promise not only hurts middle-class voters he and Tory strategists targeted in the last election, but has also hit the party's core constituency hard. 

"Middle-class, older people, middle-income people, upper-middle income people, oilpatch, Bay Street, corporate Canada. This is really the bedrock of the Conservative party."

Turner said he suspects Finance Minister Jim Flaherty may have pressured by the bureaucracy to make the move he described as a "nuclear bomb."

"I believe it was a department of finance move to get the minister to do something they've wanted to do for the past two years. That's what I think happened. They almost got Ralph to do it and now they got Jim to do it."

The income trust decision has been one of the highest profile broken campaign promises to date. 

But despite the general opinion in Ottawa that it was the PM's first broken promise since the election there have been other issues where Harper and the Tories have raised expectations during the election campaign. 

According to a number of books recently published about the election and the first days of the Harper government, the PMO has gone to great lengths to do almost the opposite of his predecessor, former prime minister Paul Martin.

Martin had a transition team made up largely of 14 close advisors, Harper only had a handful, most of them strangers. Martin dithered. Harper tries to appear decisive. 

But slowly, Harper is appearing to mimic Martin in the raising the expectations and then failing to deliver category.  

On the same day Flaherty announced the income trust change, the Tories were accused during a concurrence motion debate in the House of Commons of breaking the PM's election commitment to help Canada's North. 

During the election, Harper wrote a letter to the premiers of the three territories saying that a Conservative government would "recognize the unique circumstances faced in the north regarding the delivery of programs and services to residents." 

But on Tuesday, the Tories were the only party to vote against NDP MP Peter Stoffer's motion to put in place an exemption to marine fees charged on vessels delivering goods North of 60. 

Other commitments that seem like they may not be delivered are well known and seem to have been solved or disappeared using semantics. 

One of the government's five priorities, reducing health-care wait times, just suddenly vanished from the prime minister's speaking notes after the election. The fiscal imbalance the Tories promised Quebecers it would fix during the election campaign is now referred to as "fiscal balance." 

Promise made, promise reworded. 

"The government's flagrant flip-flop on the income trust is just another example of the promises the Conservatives enjoy breaking," NDP Jack Layton said in question period on Friday morning. 

Layton then ran off a litany of what he sees as broken Harper promises until he ran out of his allotted time for questions. The appointment of a senator to the cabinet, a Clean Air act that makes the air "dirtier," the wait times promise and so on. 

After question period, Layton said he sees similarities between Harper and Martin when it comes to raising expectations too high. However there is a difference in style. 

"Mr. Martin broke his promises in a kind of clumsy way whereas Mr. Harper breaks his promises in a very direct way. 

"It amounts to the same thing when it comes voters voting for one thing and getting another. It was the same with the Liberals as it's turning out to be with the Conservatives."


The Legislative Update is posted every Friday afternoon when the House is sitting. To stay informed on all the political events read PoliticsWatch's  Morning Briefing updated at 9:30 a.m. ET Monday to Friday and the Daily Agenda updated at 6:00 p.m. ET Monday to Friday.
  
______________

Here's what's happening in the House next week 

Monday to Thursday

The government plans to deal with the following bills

Bill C-16, fixed dates for elections (report stage)
Bill C-26, payday loans
Bill C-6, Aeronautics Act amendments
Bill C-17, the Judges Act amendments
Bill C-27, dangerous offenders

There's a possibility that the government could also deal with Bill C-31, the voter ID bill. 

____________________

Committee Highlights

Monday, November 6

> Alan Leadbeater, the deputy information commissioner, appears before the Commons access to information, privacy and ethics committee. 

Tuesday, November 7

> Immigration Minister Monte Solberg, Justice Minister Vic Toews and Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn will each appear before their respective committees. Toews appearance before the justice committee will be to discuss Bill C-10, the minimum sentencing bill.  

Wednesday, November 8

> Public Works Minister Michael Fortier will discuss the government's new procurement strategy when he appears before the government operations and estimates committee.   

> Full Schedule


____________________

Bills the Tories have tabled in this Parliament 

C-2 An Act providing for conflict of interest rules, restrictions on election financing and measures respecting administrative transparency, oversight and accountability

Status: Passed in the House June 21

This is better known the Federal Accountability Act, which a number of new measures and a massive list of amendments to current laws aimed at cleaning up government. The bill is the government's No. 1 priority and the Tories want it passed before the summer recess in June, but already some senators are threatening to hold up the bill because it creates a joint ethics commissioner for the House and Senate. 

C-3 An Act respecting international bridges and tunnels and making a consequential amendment to another Act

Status: Passed in the House June 22

C-4 An Act to amend An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act

Status: Royal Assent May 11

C-5 An Act respecting the establishment of the Public Health Agency of Canada and amending certain Acts

Status: Passed in the House June 20

C-6 An Act to amend the Aeronautics Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts

Status: Second reading May 5

C-7 An Act to amend the National Defence Act

Status: Introduced April 27

C-8 An Act for granting to Her Majesty certain sums of money for the public service of Canada for the financial year ending March 31, 2007

Status: Royal Assent May 11

C-9 An Act to amend the Criminal Code (conditional sentence of imprisonment)

Status: Third Reading November 2

C-10 An Act to amend the Criminal Code (minimum penalties for offences involving firearms) and to make a consequential amendment to another Act

Status: Referred to justice committee June 13

C-11 An Act to amend the Canada Transportation Act and the Railway Safety Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts

Status: Referred to the Transport committee September 21

C-12 An Act to provide for emergency management and to amend and repeal certain Acts

Status: Referred to the public security committee September 22

C-13 An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on May 2, 2006

Status: Royal Assent June 22

This is the budget implementation bill. The bill was accidentally given unanimous consent in the House on third reading when none of the opposition parties objected after confusion over who would speak to the bill.

C-14 An Act to amend the Citizenship Act (adoption)

Status: Referred to citizenship and immigration committee June 13

This bill makes it easier for parents to obtain citizenship for children they adopt from overseas.

C-15 An Act to amend the Agricultural Marketing Programs Act

Status: Royal Assent June 22

C-16 An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act

Status: Returned from the procedure and House affairs committee without amendment October 25.

C-17 An Act to amend the Judges Act and certain other Acts in relation to courts

Status: Returned from the Justice committee with amendments November 1

This bill sets salaries for federally-appointed judges at a lower rate than that recommended by an independent panel. The panel wanted 10.8 per cent increase plus cost of living. The government is offering 7.25 per cent in the bill plus cost of living.

C-18 An Act to amend certain Acts in relation to DNA identification

Status: Sent to justice committee October 4

C-19 An Act to amend the Criminal Code (street racing) and to make a consequential amendment to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act

Status: Passed in the House November 1

This bill toughens punitive measures against convicted street racers. 

C-20 An Act respecting airports, airport authorities and other airport operators and amending the Transportation Appeal Tribunal of Canada Act

Status: Introduced June 15

C-21 An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act (non-registration of firearms that are neither prohibited nor restricted)

Status: Introduced June 19

This bill we effectively kill the long-arm registry.

C-22 An Act to amend the Criminal Code (age of protection) and to make consequential amendments to the Criminal Records Act

Status: Referred to justice committee October 30

C-23 An Act to amend the Criminal Code (criminal procedure, language of the accused, sentencing and other amendments)

Status: Referred to the Justice committee October 16

C-24 An Act to impose a charge on the export of certain softwood lumber products to the United States and a charge on refunds of certain duty deposits paid to the United States, to authorize certain payments, to amend the Export and Import Permits Act and to amend other Acts as a consequence

Status:
Referred to trade committee October 18

This is the implementation legislation for the softwood lumber deal with the U.S. This bill is considered a matter of confidence for the minority government. 

C-25 An Act to amend the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act and the Income Tax Act and to make a consequential amendment to another Act

Status:
Referred to the finance committee October 24

This bill toughens money laundering and terror financing laws and would give the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada the power to monitor money wiring and travellers cheques services. 

C-26 An Act to amend the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act and the Income Tax Act and to make a consequential amendment to another Act

Status:
Second reading October 24

This bill toughens money laundering and terror financing laws and would give the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada the power to monitor money wiring and travellers cheques services. 

C-27 An Act to amend the Criminal Code (dangerous offenders and recognizance to keep the peace)

Status:
Second Reading October 31

This bill places the onus on three time sexual and violent offenders to prove to the Crown they are not deserving of dangerous offender status.

C-28 A second Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on May 2, 2006 

Status:
Referred to the finance committee October 30


C-29 An Act to amend the Air Canada Public Participation Act 

Status:
Introduced October 18


C-30 An Act to amend the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, the Energy Efficiency Act and the Motor Vehicle Fuel Consumption Standards Act (Canada's Clean Air Act) 

Status:
Introduced October 19

All three opposition parties say they will vote against the government's main plank of its Green Plan.  

C-31 An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Public Service Employment Act

Status:
Introduced October 24

This bill will require voters to present photo ID at polling stations. 

: Related Links

> Check out last week's legislative update

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