The late Dalton Camp held many controversial opinions about government policy, and nowhere was that more evident than on the question of deficits.
Deemed the consummate “Red Tory” for views that often straddled the line between conservatism and liberalism, Camp criticized former prime minister Jean Chretien’s obsession with cutting debt, saying it detracted from more important issues.
It’s a good thing few Canadian leaders took that advice to heart. Deficits are occasionally a necessary evil, but no one should underestimate the dangers of accumulating debt on the backs of taxpayers. (Cue the Muskrat Falls opponents.)
This week, the Canadian Union of Public Employees released the results of a poll they commissioned through Vector Research. It found that most people don’t support this province’s recent budget cuts, and that a majority would be fine with tax increases as a way to reduce the deficit.
The fact that most people don’t like government budget cuts is hardly surprising. Most people don’t like going to the dentist, either, but it’s a trip they will make nonetheless.
But the notion that most people support a hike in taxes seems utterly ludicrous. And if you look at the way the question was asked, you can see why the results may have been skewed.
Here’s the question: “Would you be willing to pay more taxes in order to help reduce the government’s budget deficit if you knew the tax increases will be shared by everyone?”
Now, everyone assumes they’re paying more than their fair share of taxes. So, if you pose a question like that, most will assume the extra burden will fall on those “others” who aren’t pulling their weight.
It’s telling that of those polled, people earning lower incomes were more likely to support tax increases, while those earning more than $70,000 a year were more likely to oppose them.
Overall, 59 per cent of respondents would accept the general premise of the question.
NDP Leader Lorraine Michael, echoing the Dalton Camp motif, said she doesn’t think the deficit is a big deal, and that the poll numbers seem to reflect the fact that people don’t buy the government’s explanation for why budget cuts were necessary.
“It is my experience when talking to people that if they see taxes being spent wisely and being spent for the common good and taxes being fair, they do understand the need for taxation and they understand why taxes may have to increase at certain points.”
This vague support for the principle of paying for services through taxation means absolutely nothing. When the rubber hits the road, no government earns brownie points by raising taxes. Even those largely unaffected will usually find a reason to complain.
Here’s the thing. People may say they don’t like budget cuts. But it’s not the idea itself they don’t like; it’s the potential reduction in services. And there are plenty of reasons to think some of the cuts announced in the spring were a little too deep and poorly thought out.
That’s the kind of argument people understand.
The only thing this poll achieved — given Michael’s reaction — is to further entrench negative stereotypes about the NDP.