Senate launches an inquiry on Harper’s broken promises

- February 16th, 2011

The Liberals in the Senate kicked off an inquiry into what they the Conservative government’s ever-growing list of broken promises, Tuesday.

James Cowan, the Liberal leader in the Senate, said he decided to launch an inquiry to remind Canadians how hypocritical Prime Minister Stephen Harper had turned out to be.

“He is so sanctimonious and so critical of previous governments, and to think that in five years, they have broken already 150 promises, I think Canadians need to know that,” Cowan told QMI Agency.

One Liberal senator plans to stand up almost every day during the next month to highlight a Conservative flip-flop in a 10- to 15-minute-long speech, Cowan said.

The Liberal leader’s first speech this afternoon was about income trusts. I’ve included it below.

Other broken promises include fixed election dates and the setting up of a public appointments commission that would ensure merit-based appointments to federal positions. The Liberal Research Bureau came up with a list of 145 broken promises last month.

Conservative House Leader John Baird sent QMI Agency a note saying Harper had “delivered for Canadians” since 2006 and outlined promises the government had kept.

“Whether it was our promise to cut the GST from 7 to 6 to 5 percent; or keeping our promise to clean up Ottawa with the toughest anti-corruption law in Canadian history (the Federal Accountability Act); our standing up for the men and women of the Canadian Forces; our hard work on protecting the Canadian economy during the global economic recession with our Economic Action Plan; or our tough-on-crime agenda that also respects victims rights, Canadians know they can count on Stephen Harper and our Conservative Government to always do the right thing,” Baird wrote.

“This partisan attack by Liberal Senator Cowan that has no basis in fact demonstrates the desperation of the Liberal Party to try and score cheap political points,” he said.

Speaking Notes for Senator Cowan

Harper’s Broken Promises: #1 – Income Trusts

The purpose of my inquiry is to reflect on the lamentable record of the Harper administration since it assumed office in 1996, and to do so by focusing on its ever growing list of broken promises to Canadians.

I know that my colleague, Senator LeBreton, will be pleased to hear that I have taken my inspiration from an Inquiry she launched almost exactly 8 years ago, on February 11, 2003.  Her inquiry concerned alleged waste during the years that the Right Honourable Jean Chrétien was Prime Minister and the Honourable Paul Martin was finance minister. Actually, that is not quite accurate because she labeled that period “the Martin-Chrétien years” and in her remarks that day repeatedly referred to the government simply as “the Chrétien-Martin Government”.

Be that as it may, in her speech, Senator LeBreton made a valiant, though unsuccessful attempt to show that Prime Minister Chrétien and Finance Minister – Paul Martin, were wasteful of taxpayers dollars as they successfully fought to eliminate the massive deficit that their government had inherited from the Mulroney/Campbell/Wilson/Mazankowski Conservative government.  While they battled the deficit left by the Conservatives, they created jobs for Canadians.  From the time the Chrétien government took office in October 1993, until the end of the year 2000, two million new jobs were created.

In any event, it was that Inquiry launched by Senator LeBreton that convinced me that it would be useful to place on the public record, for all Canadians to examine, how the Harper Conservative government is faithfully following in the footsteps of the former Progressive Conservative government in breaking its promises to Canadians.  We all remember how that earlier administration earned such a reputation for breaking its promises that its Prime Minister earned an unflattering moniker which I don’t believe would be Parliamentary to repeat in this chamber, but which was certainly in common usage at Tim Hortons establishments across the land.

I understand that the record of the current government would lead any reasonable person to conclude that it too has only the most tenuous relationship with the truth.  A good place to begin in looking for evidence for this hypothesis is the Prime Minister’s famous promise on Income Trusts. This was not the first – or the last – promise broken by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, but it was one of the most heartbreaking.

In the Conservative Party’s 2006 federal election platform, in a section headed, “Security for Seniors”, Mr. Harper promised:

“A Conservative government will…preserve income trusts by not imposing any new taxes on them.”  (p. 32)

Here’s what he wrote in a National Post op-ed in October, 2005, when there was talk that the then-Liberal government might tax income trusts:

“This reckless action has caused uncertainty… and so has wiped out billions of dollars in market capitalization from Canadian companies and tens of thousands of dollars from the retirement nest eggs of individual investors. Most notable was the damage done to Canadian seniors who may not have the time to recoup their losses.

Income trusts are popular with seniors because they provide regular payments that are used by many to cover the costs of groceries, heating bills and medicine…. So one must ask, why is the government clamping down on the retirement savings of seniors and investors?”

During the campaign, Mr. Harper made repeated, on-camera, uncategorical promises to the Canadian people that a Conservative government would not tax income trusts. He falsely told Canadians that the Liberals would “raid seniors’ nest eggs” with “a tax on income trusts” but that a new Conservative government “will never let this happen.”  He urged Canadians: “Don’t forget – don’t forget this!”

Six months after the election, he asked Canadians to forget everything he had said.  On October 31, 2006, in what has been called by some “the Halloween Massacre”, Finance Minister Flaherty announced that yes, the Conservative Government would bring in a tax on income trusts.

$20 billion were wiped out in the first day of trading.  Within two weeks, that figure ballooned to $35 billion lost.  Investors were stunned.  And the hardest hit were Canadian seniors – men and women who, as Mr. Harper himself had said, depended on income from these trusts to buy groceries, pay their heating bills and fill their prescriptions.  Deceived by his repeated promises that a Conservative government would never tax these trusts, they found their life savings suddenly gone.

Diane Francis of the Financial Post, in a column dated September 9, 2008, wrote:

“The trashing of the trusts has been an unmitigated disaster, along with other policies imposed by Finance Minister Jim Harper [sic].”

She described how the trust affected some 2.5 million Canadians.  She said,

“The income trust fiasco has created $2 billion a year in tax leakage, and counting, instead of stemming it as promised; it disrupted the junior oil and other markets by removing competitors for their assets; it blackened Canada’s reputation to offshore investors…many of whom were in the UK and banked on Harper’s promise and, worst of all, has spawned a spate of foreign leveraged buyouts of Canadian assets and corporations.”

In an earlier column, on January 28, 2007, she accurately summed it up:  “This Income Trust Mistake may just be the most unbelievable, unjustifiable, arrogant flip flop in Canadian current history.”

Minister Flaherty ultimately – albeit several years later – had the grace to apologize.  When cornered at a conference by one still-irate senior, Minister Flaherty apologized, saying he had only been Finance Minister for 6 months “so it was probably a politically unwise thing to do — certainly for me personally.”

Prime Minister Harper, by contrast, arrogantly tried to deny that any promise was broken.  He said:

“The commitment was not that we would have no taxes for Telus. It was not that we would have no taxes for BCE. It was not that we would have no taxes for foreign investors or no taxes for major corporations. It was a commitment to protect the income of seniors.”

Colleagues, let me read to you once again the commitment from the Conservative Party election platform:

“A Conservative government will…preserve income trusts by not imposing any new taxes on them.”  (p. 32)

Promise made – promise broken.  The hundreds of thousands of Canadians who sadly believed Mr. Harper, and watched in horror as their savings disappeared, have learned the hard lesson that with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, what he says is not what you get.

And the income trust fiasco is just one of the more blatant examples.  In the days and weeks ahead, we will hear the sordid details about a great many more.

Categories: Celebrities, Liberals, Senate

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1 comment

  1. Douglas says:

    Wow! Can you tell me where we can find Cowan’s daily notes. These need to be distributed far and wide..

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