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COLUMN: Election promises made are rarely kept

'You can probably count on the fingers of one hand the number of election promises actually kept, to the letter, by our federal governments.'
2021-08-26 Elections Canada RB 3

Party promises are one of the worst things about Canadian elections.

One, you can probably count on the fingers of one hand the number of election promises actually kept, to the letter, by our federal governments during the last 20 years or so.

Or that’s how it feels anyway.

Two, it’s almost worse when those promises are contained in the party’s platform, which is supposed to be cast in stone, or at least as solid as anything a party says it will do, if it’s elected.

With the federal election a week away, let’s have a look at some of what’s being promised by our would-be prime ministers and hope-to-be-governing parties.

The one which caught my eye right away falls into the category of an empty promise, because of the timing.

The Conservatives say they will ‘secure the economy’ by balancing the budget during the next decade. Erin O'Toole, party boss, has said he would do this without cutting government spending outside of rolling back temporary support programs related to the pandemic.

Just one problem with this promise: Even in a best-case scenario for O’Toole, a majority government on Sept. 20, he has a four-year term of office. There’s no guarantee the Conservatives would govern beyond those four years.

So his promise should have been to balance the books within four years. Or cut the deficit in half, or to a certain number of dollars, within those four years.

Anyway you look at it, this is a daunting task. Canada is facing a deficit of about $138 billion this year and yes, much of that is because of the global pandemic. The Parliamentary Budget Office projects the federal deficit will decrease to about $25 billion by 2025.

So a balanced federal budget during the course of the next decade is not only unlikely, and perhaps won’t even be O’Toole’s responsibility, but it’s not a promise Canadians will hold him to  because it’s an empty one.

The other parties aren’t any better, of course.

The Liberals should already be in voters’ bad books for not only calling an election during a global health emergency (it hasn’t gone away yet), but just two years since Canadians last went to the polls and while the Grit minority government was working.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and company obviously thought a majority government was up for grabs, so an election was called. 

The Liberals might want to check their polls again.

One particular aspect of the Liberal platform caught my inquiring eye. They are promising to restore employment to pre-pandemic levels, to even go beyond the previous pledge to create one million jobs by extending the Canada Recovery Hiring Program, which subsidizes businesses which hire new workers, until March 2022.

Does anyone believe that’s sustainable? That government subsidizing businesses to hire new employees will restore the number of workers to pre-COVID numbers?

Well, maybe until March 2022. The carrot only lasts as long as it’s dangled on the stick.

Next in my sights is the New Democratic Party, which is licking its chops in anticipation of attracting those voters who have had enough of Trudeau and the Liberals, and can’t stand the Conservatives. 

The easy criticism of the NDP platform is that Canadians have heard most of it before  in 2019 to be precise.

But what struck me is the long-promised (but never delivered) NDP wealth tax  a one per cent tax on households with assets of more than $10 million. What’s different is that NDP boss Jagmeet Singh had previously wanted this tax levied on those worth more than $20 million.

He says this tax one-per-cent could generate $10 billion in revenue. I’d like to see that number broken down.

The NDP is also talking about an excess profit tax, 15 per cent on large corporations that made an exceptionally good buck during the pandemic. The estimate is $8 billion for this plan.

So that’s an extra $18 billion in potential revenue an NDP (presumably majority) government could squeeze out of wealthy Canadians.

And it would have to be a majority, because the NDP’s chances of convincing the Liberals or Tories to do this are next to zero.

Ontario voters don’t have to worry about the Bloc Quebecois’ election platform, since that party is only about all things Quebec and isn’t running candidates anywhere but there.

And now we come to the Green Party.

Somehow, the Greens found themselves unable to field any candidates in two local ridings. They simply couldn’t make Election Canada’s deadline for confirming candidates. Somebody was asleep at the switch.

So I won’t be picking apart even one promise in the Green platform, since many voters in the region won’t find Green candidates on the ballot.

It would be too easy  fish in a barrel, as they say.

And the People’s Party of Canada? Its candidates got 1.6 per cent of the vote in the 2019 federal election. That’s about the only argument against the PPC that needs to be made, although there are many others. Call us when you get some votes.

The real problem with federal election promises, other than they’re rarely kept in their original form, is that by the time the votes are counted and all the MPs are sworn in and set up their offices, most Canadians don’t care anymore.

We don’t expect our politicians to keep their word from the campaign trail, their promises, their nods of approval.


Someone, I don’t recall who, once told me the bottom line about politicians and what most (not all) are like.

“Politicians do what they need to do to get elected and, once elected, they do what they need to do to stay elected.”

A touch cynical, perhaps, but worth thinking about as we move to this election campaign’s final week and are deciding where to cast our ballots Sept. 20.

What exactly will we get for that vote?

Don’t look at election promises for the answers.

Bob Bruton covers city council for BarrieToday.

Bob Bruton

About the Author: Bob Bruton

Bob Bruton is a full-time BarrieToday reporter who covers politics and city hall.
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