September 5, 2002 Halifax Herald

Is there life after near death for Tories?

IF ASKED by the federal Tories what has to occur before their party can become a force again in Canadian politics, this would be my response: Take a deep breath and do a reality check of the reasons why the party is tied for fourth place in the Commons before selecting a replacement for Joe Clark. Hopefully, this will bring home the fact that the party needs a complete overhaul to become relevant. The following explains why it's at the bottom and what must be done, and how, if they ever hope to rehabilitate it in the public eye.

First, the party must leave behind all those even remotely connected with enacting the hated GST. That it enacted the tax so arrogantly, in what can only be described as contempt for the wishes of the vast majority of the electorate, still rankles many. In my opinion, it's the main reason the party is still held in such low esteem by a big majority. Many, especially the poor, still suffer from its enactment and resent it greatly.

Perhaps this gem by Bernard Rosenburg will give members a hint of why: "Foreign aid is taxing poor people in rich countries for the benefit of rich people in poor countries." With a few word changes, it can be used to describe how the GST is viewed: "The GST is taxing poor people in rich countries for the benefit of rich people in rich countries."

The party needs to accept that there is only one general tax that is fair in a democracy, when fairly applied - income tax. Canada doesn't even do this right. For instance, taxing annual incomes of less than $15,000 is inexcusable. Compassionate, responsible governments don't tax what cannot be construed by any stretch of the imagination as a living wage.

Sales taxes applied as general taxes are also unfair. It's OK to add them on certain items, providing the taxes on such items are used for improving the infrastructure associated with the item taxed. For example, in the case of gas tax, it should be used for highway construction and maintenance. The present use of gas tax to fund everything from soup to hay is obscene. Property tax is another one that hits the poor hard and, thus, it also is obscene. I could go on about unfair taxation for some time, but it's not what this column is about. Therefore, I'll finish that topic for now with this: The whole tax system needs to be reformed. Why doesn't some politician muster up enough courage to propose how to get it done?

Perhaps tax reform could be one of the key pieces of a future Tory platform. This might be a better issue to hone in on as a priority, rather than the political reform the party now supports, because Paul Martin, recognizing the need for it, is already championing it.

And reform is needed. This was no better illustrated than when Jean Chrétien made his welcoming speech at the recent caucus held at Saguenay, Que. He listed what he deemed to be the benefit of the Canadian political system in comparison to that of the Americans. What he accomplished was to make it crystal clear that the Canadian system is the ideal for dictatorial political parties to do whatever they want, without checks and balances and without concern for the wishes of the electorate, something that is impossible in a democracy such as in the U.S.A.

Now for the party's leadership. When Jean Charest was leader of the party, I was asked by a party stalwart what I thought was needed to get him elected. My response was: Eat some humble pie and apologize for the way the party enacted the GST. If this had occurred, I believe that Charest would have wound up as prime minister, and I believe he would have been a good one. However, he didn't; he got defeated, then went to the Liberals in Quebec.

In response to his departure, instead of being futuristic, the party dug into the past for a leadership candidate and elected Joe Clark. When this occurred, I deduced that he had less chance of becoming prime minister than I had. He has now accepted this and made arrangements to depart.

This occurrence has opened up some interesting prospects for the party. In fact, up until Aug. 21, when Jean Chrétien announced that he was stepping down before the next election, I was willing to predict that the Tories, with a new dynamic leader at the helm, could possibly make a comeback and win the next election. But with the PM's retirement settled, I'm not.

The reason for this is that Paul Martin, odds-on favourite to replace him, will be a formidable opponent. He, unlike the PM, who was viewed by many electors as the best of a rather uninspiring group of federal leaders, is genuinely popular with Canadians. He might even be capable of acquiring a real mandate of more than 50 per cent from them, something not accomplished since Brian Mulroney did it.

Therefore, if the Tories are to stop him, their challenge is to find a dynamic, youngish person to lead the party and give him/her a mandate to undertake the task of putting some fairness in the taxation system and some democracy back into Canada's antiquated system. The person must have the charisma needed to entice the people to reconnect with the political process, because the present disconnect is ominous for the future freedom of our society.

I believe that both New Brunswick and Nova Scotia have dynamic young men waiting in the wings who are capable of engineering the task mentioned - Bernard Lord and Peter MacKay.

Daniel N. Paul


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