It’s been a rough year for Conservatives in Canada as two major elections in six months have resulted in major blows for Conservative parties in Alberta and Ottawa.
In May 2015, former federal cabinet minister and bank vice-president Jim Prentice, a political moderate and patrician of the province’s Conservative establishment, led the 44-year long governing Progressive Conservatives to a stunning defeat by Rachel Notley‘s New Democratic Party.
This week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper‘s Conservatives were swept from office by Justin Trudeau‘s Liberal Party.
These two major election defeats shattered many common beliefs about politics in Alberta and Canada. In both cases, Conservative parties were defeated by parties promising moderate progressive platforms that included tax increases and significant increases to public infrastructure investment and explicit commitments to run deficit budgets, for at least the short-term period in the case of the NDP. In Alberta, both the PC Party and NDP promised various tax increases.
On the final Sunday of the federal election campaign, Mr. Trudeau spoke to an energetic crowd of more than 2,000 supporters in the Edmonton-Mill Woods riding, home of now elected Liberal MP Amarjeet Sohi. During his speech, he explained to the crowd that if the Liberals were elected on Oct. 19, that they would raise taxes by asking Canada’s wealthiest income earners “to pay just a little bit more.”
If these words sounded familiar to anyone in the crowd, it’s because they might have heard Ms. Notley deliver nearly the exact same message five months earlier when speaking to similarly energized crowds during the provincial election. And they in both cases, the message resonated with the crowd, and on election day with voters.
This new reality will certainly come to a shock to those gathering at Preston Manning‘s institute on Oct. 22 to watch the Canadian Taxpayers Federation present former Alberta Treasurer Stockwell Day with a “TaxFighter Award” for his role in implementing Canada’s first 10 percent flat-rate personal income tax in the late 1990s and early 2000s. This is the same flat-tax that Ms. Notley’s NDP replaced with a progressive income tax system only a few short months ago.
These tax increases and other changes brought in by the NDP have not been without their critics, some more vocal and violent than others. But perhaps the biggest irony of these criticisms is that even with the tax increases brought in by Ms. Notley’s NDP, corporate and small business tax rates are still lower than they were when Mr. Day served in Premier Ralph Klein‘s cabinet.
While taxes might not have been the only issue that drove voters to the polls, it didn’t drive them away. These two elections have shattered the myth cultivated by conservative politicians, newspaper columnists, think tanks and lobby groups for decades that promising to increase taxes is political kryptonite.
As Rachel Notley proved on May 5 and Justin Trudeau showed on Oct. 19, voters in 2015 are willing to reward political leaders who present smart, sensible and responsible plans for increased taxation and government revenue.