View From the Hill by Keith Beardsley Harper – Harper Government Getting Challenged on Fiscal Responsibility

dr evil 2CFN – Fiscal responsibility has been the hallmark of the Harper government from day one. It’s therefore quite interesting to see in year seven of his reign that the opposition is focused on trying to destroy the credibility the Tories have on that front. It’s a good strategy on their part, enabled by some help from the government side.

It is said that governments defeat themselves in their second mandate IE. years five to eight. In year seven voters see Tory senators falsely claiming housing funds and now being forced to pay back tens of thousands of dollars. We have the questionable use of taxpayers’ dollars to send out Trudeau attack pieces through ten percenters; the Auditor General reporting there are some $3 billion unaccounted for; and another huge ad buy for their Economic Action Plan ads that taxpayers see little value in. The opposition is right to target this version of fiscal accountability.

Yesterday in Question Period the Liberals employed a tactic we used quite often on them. Scott Brison reduced government spending down to something that the general public can understand and relate too. Essentially the Liberal talk point is- every time you play an Economic Action Plan ad you have spent the equivalent amount of money that could have given 32 students a summer job. Simple stuff, but it resonates with Canadian families struggling to get their kids through university. It also makes for great talk points on the BBQ circuit which is coming up shortly. This type of attack will resonate with taxpayers who see the ads as nothing better than a chance to have a bathroom break or grab a snack while they interrupt their TV program. The government pushback that they have saved Canadian families $3000 in taxes since 2006 is lost on Canadians especially as I suspect none of us feel $3000 richer.

Thomas Mulcair for the NDP was focused on the missing $3 billion dollars. Perhaps he recalls our success against the Liberals with the “Billion Dollar Boondoggle” attacks. Those attacks helped to chip away at Liberal credibility and the term is still remembered by the public more than a decade later. Once again government pushbacks are weak. When your only defence is to quote the Auditor General (AG) you have a problem.

I can’t imagine the Harper of 2006 responding in the same disinterested way that he is now in 2013. He would have been kicking butt to get answers to find out where the money went or if it was an accounting error etc. Auditor General’s reports are not written overnight. There are months of discussions with departments leading up to the public release of the report. Did officials report the AG’s concerns to their ministers? If so when? Mulcair is on to something if he can sustain his attacks. “When did you know, what did you do and when are you going to report back to us” is a theme that has worked for opposition parties in the past.

The Tory front bench is looking tired, perhaps the Prime Minister should have done his shuffle a few months ago (right now Jason Kenney and James Moore are by far the best performers when they stand in for the prime minister). In year seven, the Tories still have lots of time to pick up their game, but they will have to do it soon and they will have to stop shooting themselves in the foot.

Keith Beardsley is a senior strategist for True North Public Affairs in Ottawa, as well as a blogger and political analyst. He can often be found running or cycling on his favorite bike trails. To sponsor this column please  email!

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  1. – “year seven of his reign” (sic)

    Freudian slip? Always knew Harper acted like a sovereign/dictator.

    – “senators falsely claiming housing funds”

    The Duffy case so far: First the false claim; second the forced payback, greeted by the Harperites as a gesture of – get this -“leadership”; third the payback turns out to have been a gift (an outright No-No according to Senate rules) by – wait for it – the PM’s chief of staff. Is that where the “leadership” part comes in?

    The moral of this immoral Conservative story so far: it’s OK to steal so long as you don’t get caught; if you do get caught, it’s called “leadership” to apologize and pay back. And if the method of payback is illegitimate?

    Over to you, Houdini Harper.

  2. Spot the missing words from Mr. Beardsley’s opening sentence.

    “Fiscal responsibility with a twist has been the hallmark of the Harper government from day one.”

    Who’s been in over his head from day one?

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