That ’70s political show, again

The decade that won't go away in our political debate.

VICTORIA – As the federal parliament slid once again into partisan mayhem, former finance minister John Manley was on CBC television, making me wish he would bring his voice of reason back to Ottawa.

Liberal and NDP supporters had been taking turns with accusations that the Conservatives’ corporate tax cuts only help the rich.

“That’s stuff that we used to hear in the ’70s,” Manley said. “I thought that people had grown away from that.”

He then patiently explained that the key holdings most in peoples’ retirement plans are bank, petroleum and other blue-chip stocks. His Liberal government’s strategy of competing for business investment in a global economy has wisely been continued under Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Yet much of our political discourse at all levels of government still imagines class warfare between tycoons in silk top hats and a ragged, powerless peasantry.

For B.C. voters, 2011 is shaping up as the most politically empowered year ever. The May 2 federal election now gets in line with a by-election for Premier Christy Clark, a referendum on the harmonized sales tax, municipal elections in November and potentially, an early provincial election as well.

Will all these contests raise the level of debate? So far it doesn’t look good.

This fourth federal election in seven years could have had one benefit. But Clark did not see fit to abandon the hare-brained scheme to rush through the HST referendum in June, and now the B.C. government risks losing the tax argument amid all the noise.

If the HST vote had been left to September, more people might come to appreciate that taxes on business investment and income are going out of style. An Angus Reid poll came out last week finding that one third of B.C. residents would now vote to keep the HST, compared to 54 per cent who would take B.C. back to the 1970s.

Another contest being overshadowed is the B.C. NDP leadership, and that’s a ’70s show as well. Raising the minimum wage to $10.25 isn’t good enough. Candidate Nicholas Simons tried to raise his profile by suggesting that it should be hiked 50 per cent, to $12.

Heck, why not raise it to $20? If you’re stuck in the ’70s and can’t comprehend the downside of state-imposed prosperity, why not just make poverty history?

Federal NDP leader Jack Layton informed an anxious nation that he wouldn’t support the Conservative budget because it doesn’t “lift all seniors out of poverty” or “create” enough doctors so everyone can have one.

Cuba has “created” plenty of doctors. Mind you, they get paid $25 a month in addition to their food ration cards, so perhaps that socialist Utopia should raise its minimum wage.

I watched another ’70s show last week, attending the B.C. Teachers’ Federation convention at the Victoria Conference Centre.

Before Education Minister George Abbott arrived, delegates passed a typically self-righteous resolution demanding all levels of government immediately get rid of poverty. How? Create poverty reduction plans with measurable goals.

Right, kind of like those five-year plans for tractor production the Soviet Union had back in the ’70s.

Once Abbott arrived to hold out the olive branch, the BCTF’s usual demands resumed. More teachers, more support staff and raises of 10 per cent or more.

Does anyone on the BCTF executive know how to synthesize information? Can’t they see a connection between the big raises and staff increases they demand and what’s available for other programs?

There’s a clue to our stagnant political debate. It’s largely formed in public schools.

Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press and BCLocalnews.com.