Entries from October 2007 ↓

No cowards here

Income trust investors made their presence heard, and seen, on Parliament Hill today, the first anniversary of the Flaherty Massacre. For video coverage, click on the links below.

“Today i am ashamed to be a liberal. If you haven’t got enough guts to oppose the goverment, then join them, so the true liberals can rebuild…….cowards.” – Email, Oct. 31, 3 pm.

Entering the opposition lobby beside the House of Commons, my Blackberry buzzed as I was coming back from QP. The bells had just begun to ring, meaning in fifteen minutes we’d be voting on a government motion to start approval of yesterday’s mini-budget. As usual before a vote, the place was packed, and one of my colleagues – MP Mauril Belanger – seemed to be getting a lot of attention.

I scanned the Berry. It was vibrating to tell me two things. The CBC was reporting that Belanger would defy Stephane Dion and not abstain on the coming vote. The caucus meeting I’d been in three hours earlier was being described as stormy and divisive, with a reporter saying how anguished the Liberals MPs were. My little screened also displayed the email above, which had just come in from a voter somewhere in Canada

Sitting down beside one of the MPs from the Maritimes, I showed him the email message. He grunted. Around us the noise level was rising fast as a lot of my colleagues huddled and buzzed. I saw Mauril leaving, trailed by a senior Liberal member.

My Atlantic friend and I chatted about the vote, the leader, caucus, abstaining, the election and the Conservatives. Like me, he was conflicted. We both supported the Jim Flaherty moves to drop personal income taxes and corporate taxes – after all, that’s exactly what we’d been calling for. But we also both agreed $6 billion a year could be better spent right now on a dramatic climate change strategy, or even lower income taxes, or child care or lots more doctors, than another 1% drop in the GST.

I told him about the 50 Town Hall meetings I’d had across five provinces since Parliament adjourned in June. At virtually every one, I’d asked people if they wanted a GST cut, or lower income taxes, and at every one the vote was the same – cutting the sales tax was simply not the highest priority. And yet Mr. Flaherty in the space of just 23 months would be slicing 2% off the GST, at an annual cost of almost $12 billion.

So, the vote was not simple. Complicating it was the fact PMSH had declared it would be a confidence motion. A No vote would plunge the country into an election tomorrow – the third federal contest in just three years, with a ballot day a few weeks before Christmas.

So, the choice: Vote yes to support a return to a pre-Harper income tax rate, but at the same time ratify the GST cut with no action on the environment and other issues. Or, vote no and be thrust into an election on tax cuts – when Liberals in general, and me in particular, have fought every day for lower taxes.

Complicating the decision were those factors I wrote about two days ago (“What we need”) – a rapidly eroding US economy, falling greenback, manufacturing crisis in Canada and the danger we could import the American real estate meltdown with the wrong moves in Ottawa. Jim Flaherty had been silent on that, while wildly emptying the treasury in what was obviously a political move. Clearly the economy needs lower taxation, but it also needs cheaper interest rates and some bold moves to encourage innovation and make us more competitive, especially with a $1.05US loonie.

I sat there in one of those mock antique wing chairs and thought about it all. Was it being a coward not to take Mr. Harper’s bait and end up tomorrow trying to explain why Liberals denied the country tax cuts? After all, that’s exactly the trap he’d set. Was it being cowardly to delay an election until the major issues – climate change, the housing threat and a looming retirement crisis, for example – could be dealt with? Did it show a lack of guts to be strategic and delay calling out Stephen Harper until the best moment for his defeat? Was it cowardice to refuse the bully what he wanted, exactly when he wanted it? Would it have been easier, sexier, more manly and decisive to take the bait of the Conservatives and the anonymous Internet heroes and the breathless media, and vote no? And the result?

The bells were about to stop. Time to vote. We got up, exchanged a knowing glance, and took our seats on the other side of the gold curtains.

I abstained with balls.

marshall.jpg Jilted income trust investor Dave Marshall actually pilled it off today. Dave and dozens of his friends and supporters made it to the steps of Parliament Hill with their homemade signs and their defiance, on this first anniversary of the Flaherty Massacre.

They got lots of media attention, plus the support of MPs, then they all piled into the gallery for QP and applauded wildly (and quite illegally) as pointed questions were hurled at the prime minister and his finance minister. The PM avoided all questions of responsibility, refused to apologize, and attacked the Liberals. The silver-haired crew in the gallery may have expected such disrespect, but it was still a shock to behold.

To view an MPTv video of the Income Trust vigil, click here.

To view a video interview with Finance Critic John McCallum on income trusts, click here.

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