The Conservative Party’s defeat in the recent federal election offers important lessons for Ontario Premier Doug Ford.
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole chose to abandon core principles to try to win an election. Long-standing stances on carbon taxes, balanced budgets and broad-based tax relief crumbled in the face of focus-group gurus.
Politicians have been trying to sell voters on the idea of a carbon tax for years. Proponents claim that a carbon tax is the key to fighting climate change. But those politicians are wrong. Higher prices don’t mean lower emissions.
In British Columbia, 13 years of carbon taxes have failed to stop emissions from going up. B.C. has the highest carbon tax in Canada, but emissions in the province rose by 11 per cent between 2015 and 2019, according to the province’s own numbers.
Carbon taxes simply don’t work.
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Ford has stood against carbon taxes throughout his political career. O’Toole, on the other hand, decided to flip-flop on carbon taxes to try to win an election.
His decision was a huge mistake. Voters consistently said the high cost of living was the number one election issue. But those who worried about skyrocketing living costs weren’t able to turn to the blue team for relief, as Conservatives were promising a carbon tax of their own.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer expects the carbon tax to cost the average Ontario family over $600 a year by 2022.
Ford ran hard against carbon taxes and won a majority just three short years ago.
Lesson one for Ford: don’t back down on carbon taxes. As Ontarians grow more and more concerned about the cost of living, he needs to be able to point out that the Trudeau government’s carbon tax agenda is hindering affordability.
O’Toole also gave up on trying to be fiscally prudent. He merely promised to balance the budget within a decade, with no reductions in government spending. His forecasts also relied on very optimistic economic growth numbers without accounting for the risk of recessions.
Canadian taxpayers are already paying $22 billion this year in interest on the national debt. Interest payments are expected to double within the next five years, forcing the government to spend tens of billions of dollars on interest payments rather than health care or tax relief.
Voters were unimpressed by O’Toole’s lack of urgency in dealing with Canada’s growing debt crisis. Many saw little difference between the Liberals and Conservatives.
As Ontario’s debt grows larger and larger, Ford should remember that he was elected on a plan to fix the province’s finances after a decade of Liberal deficits. Ontario’s debt is set to hit $450 billion next year, with the province spending more on debt interest payments than post-secondary education.
The status quo is simply unacceptable. Ford needs to offer a clear plan to Ontarians, laying out how and when he will balance the budget, and he needs to be bold.
Lesson two: offer a responsible fiscal agenda that can appeal to common sense Ontarians who worry about racking up debt and interest payments for their kids and grandkids.
O’Toole also failed to include any kind of tax relief in his platform. O’Toole’s gimmicky one-month GST holiday simply wasn’t enough to motivate voters. Ford won on a tax-cut platform in 2018 – including cutting gas taxes and income taxes – but he has yet to deliver on those pledges.
Lesson three: promising to cut taxes helped Ford win in 2018, and it was a key reason why O’Toole lost the federal election. If Ford wants to avoid O’Toole’s fate, it’s time for him to bring home the goods.
On everything from carbon taxes to deficits to tax relief, O’Toole disappointed hardworking taxpayers looking for change. Ford would be wise to avoid those mistakes.
Jay Goldberg is Interim Ontario Director of the Canadian Taxpayer Federation.
Jay is a Troy Media Thought Leader. For interview requests, click here.
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