Bribing voters with their own money as elections loom has a long and somewhat less than hallowed history in politics, but with the advent of the Harper government’s increase in the Universal Child Tax Benefit, that odorous practice has passed from art form into the realm of a blatant commercialism that has rarely been matched by its predecessors.
Since 2006, the government has handed out monthly payments of $100 for every child in Canada under age six. As of July 20, that payment rose to $160 a month, and children age six to 17 bring their parents $60 per month, with the payments being retroactive for the past six months, ensuring a hefty one time payment of as much as $520 for every child under six and $420 for every child aged six to seventeen—at a cost of $3 billion to the federal coffers.
If there was any question that the payment was being made as much for Conservative’s benefit at the ballot box as to the more laudable goal of lowering child poverty in this country, that was put to rest when federal Employment Minister Pierre Poilievre’s decision to wear a Conservative Party golf shirt when announcing the increased benefit payments in Halifax. That is a hubris that has been roundly criticized by both main opposition parties as an unbridled attempt to “brand the Conservative Party” utilizing taxpayer funds.
The largesse may have provided a bump to Conservative polling numbers in the initial bliss of opening the cheque envelopes, but as time goes forward, more and more parents are coming to realize that come tax time, the government’s tax hand will rake back much of what has been gained through the other.
It is a long-standing convention in parliamentary democracies that government announcements are not made with partisan banners or logos in the backdrop, but it seems the only legacy of its Reform Party roots this Conservative government has retained is a near total contempt for convention, or judging by the number of Conservative MPs and senators facing the courts in recent years, even legality.
This is a government which has put in play legislation legalizing illegal actions taken by one of its own arms (in the case of the RCMP and the destruction of the long gun registry data) and which has blatantly used taxpayers’ dollars to hype its own brand with voters in advertising government programs.
It has played fast and loose with the truth to an extent that might even have given Tammany Hall boosters pause in their day, touting economic stewardship even as the country slips back into recession and pink slips are more common occupants of the mailbox than government lucre—the grail of balanced books for political gain is taking precedence over the paycheques of the common man.
It is said that governments defeat themselves and are thrown out, rather than replaced by the policies of another contender. Mr. Harper and his advisors may be well advised to heed another old saw “you can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.”
The Conservatives seem to be placing their bets on fooling just enough of the people at election time. It is past time to take a close look at this government’s best before date.