If we are to trust Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s powers of observation — and Hansard’s ability to record those observations — just a handful of Liberal MPs stood in their places in the House of Commons on Dec. 13, 2007 and voted against the very corporate tax cuts that now, more than three years later, are dominating pre-budget politicking.
Minutes ahead of the final vote on Bill C-28, the Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Bill of 2007, the Liberal whip Karen Redman (who would lose her seat in Kitchener, Ont. to Conservative Stephen Woodworth) pleaded to the Speaker that Robert Thibeault, the Liberal MP from West Nova (who would lose his seat to Conservative Greg Kerr) be allowed to vote on the bill even though he had arrived at the House after the doors had been closed and all entry barred for the vote. Her request was rejected but not before Harper rose to say: “Mr. Speaker, since the Liberal whip indicated that the member for West Nova was delayed, I wonder how much further delayed the other 100 members are? How far away are they?”
They were, as it turns out, very far away because, had they shown up, they would have likely been forced to vote with the Bloc Quebecois and NDP agains this bill and that would have forced a general election.
I was compelled to research the circumstances of the passing of Bill C-28 as this is the bill that contains the corporate tax cuts that Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff and his caucus now vow to vote against. There’s just one problem, of course: They are three years late for that vote.
While Jack Layton and his NDP caucus and Gilles Duceppe and his BQ caucus are counted in Hansard as voting against the corporate tax cuts now coming into effect, then Liberal Leader Stephane Dion and the future leader Ignatieff did not vote either way on the issue. Just six Liberals voted against the corporate tax cuts and all of them were, like the late Thibeault, from Atlantic Canada (They would be Brison, Cuzner, Eyking, Regan, Savage and Russell). This, you may recall, was the budget that contained the so-called Atlantic Accord, which changed some of the equalization terms for Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador and which turned out to be a controversial enough notion that Danny Williams organized his successful ABC or Anybody But Conservative campaign for the 2008 election and which prompted Nova Scotia Conservative Bill Casey to finish his parliamentary career as an independent MP.
But because of that 2007 vote, corporate taxes on New Year’s Day this year dropped to 16.5 per cent and will drop to 15 per cent on New Year’s Day 2012. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty need not mention a word about corporate tax cuts in this year’s budget and those tax cuts are coming next year.
The 2011 budget implementation bill, then, may very well be completely silent on the issue of corporate tax cuts.
And that gives both the Bloc and the NDP the perfect fig leaf to vote in favour of Flaherty’s 2011 budget should they see enough in it to satisfy their own supporters. Say, for example, Flaherty provides some relief on taxes for home heating oil or commits to boosting CPP and OAS payments. Then, Layton is perfectly free to say his party is voting for measures important to NDP supporters and, in any event, Layton and other NDP MPs already stood up and voted against those horrible corporate tax cuts. Even better for Layton, he’ll stand up and say that when he voted against corporate tax cuts three years ago, the Liberals didn’t even bother to show up for work that day.
Meanwhile, if Liberals are serious about suspending the corporate tax cuts they say we cannot now afford, they would have to defeat the government, win the subsequent election by campaigning, at least in part, that they would immediately introduce legislation suspending next year’s cuts. If they wanted to do more than that, and reverse this year’s cuts, then they would, of course, be campaigning to raise corporate taxes. (Probably a politically popular move if the Liberals are appealing to their left-leaning voters but not so much for those leaning right who then could be pushed to vote Conservative).
 The procedural rules for the House of Commons include the following instructions for “Recorded Votes”: “When Members have been called in for a division, no further debate is permitted. From the time the Speaker begins to put the question until the results of the vote are announced, Members are not to enter, leave or cross the House, or make any noise or disturbance. Members must be in their assigned seat in the Chamber and have heard the motion read in order for their votes to be recorded. Any Member entering the Chamber while the question is being put or after it has been put cannot have his or her vote counted. Members must remain seated until the result is announced by the Speaker.”