If we let the government continuing increasing taxes, and then feel ‘grateful’ when they give some of that money back to us, why wouldn’t politicians keep trying to get away with it.
With recent surveys showing the Liberals with a substantive lead in the polls, many people ask “how is this possible,” or feel the polls must be wrong.
And while individual polls can certainly be off, the trend is what really matters, and the trend has been going in the Liberals’ direction for some time.
As Ryan Grieve noted on Twitter, a big part of the reason for this is that Trudeau has virtually no opposition:
“Trudeau faces no serious opposition from the other parties or the media.”
That lack of opposition also partly applies to the Conservative Party, who are struggling under Erin O’Toole to resonate with the public.
But there is also a deeper issue going on here, and it’s the fact that politicians increasingly feel they can get away with buying the public off with our own money.
I’m not talking about the CERB here, as you can argue Canadians were entitled to that money considering it was government’s who shut down businesses and caused massive job losses.
However, the Liberals are clearly moving beyond the idea of temporary programs in response to a crisis, and towards locked-in programs that permanently expand the size and role of government.
Both Justin Trudeau and Chrystia Freeland have been talking about spending of up to $100 billion over the next three years, spending that wouldn’t be ramped down over time, but would instead become part of ongoing federal spending.
And similar to how Trudeau called the pandemic an ‘opportunity,’ Freeland is using similar terms:
“I really believe COVID has created a window of political opportunity and maybe an epiphany, as you put it, on the importance of early learning and child care,” Ms. Freeland said Thursday. Her November economic update promised to “lay the groundwork for a Canada-wide child care system.”
Note how politicians didn’t say this about the border and immigration controls.
If Canada had taken border security seriously and had an immigration system that wasn’t porous and obsessed with political correctness, the virus could have been mitigated before entering the country, thus avoiding much of the health and economic damage we’ve suffered.
Yet, you don’t hear the Liberal government talking about the ‘political opportunity’ or ‘epiphany’ there, do you?
Back to the issue of spending, it is clear the Liberals are also emboldened by their experience on the carbon tax.
First, they introduced a new tax on Canadians.
Then, they took money they had taken from taxpayers elsewhere, and sent it out to people, claiming it was a ‘rebate’ for the new tax and claimed it offset the cost (of course for most people it didn’t).
Despite it being a clear example of shuffling money around in a shell-game, there are many who felt it meant the tax wasn’t really a tax at all.
The problem with that is it would be possible to do that with anything.
You could introduce an ‘internet tax’ and then take money from the treasury and give it out to people and claim the ‘internet tax’ was ‘revenue neutral.’
But that wouldn’t make it true.
You would simply be introducing a new tax and moving other money around the system. The new tax and new expense still exists.
The Liberal government thinks they are going to get away with it
A key issue here is about how politics – even at the most superficial level – is fundamentally based on philosophies on governing.
One philosophy, which is often called ‘conservative’ but is really what classical liberalism was about, is that the government should be limited, and the needs of individuals and local communities should be prioritized over the centralized state. Answers come from individual initiative, creativity, freedom, and innovation, and society works best when people are free from government control.
Another philosophy is that of statism, which has been expressed in both socialist and fascist governments, running the gamut from more democratic-statism to authoritarian-statism. The basic idea there is that government should be in control, and that people exist more to serve the state and the interests of those who in power, who should ‘direct’ the course of society, rather than trusting individuals and more localized authority to make decisions freely.
Ironically, the Liberals – who were once a more classical liberal party – have clearly veered away from their roots and towards a more statist approach.
In Canada, statism is unfortunately ascendant at the current moment.
This past year has witnessed immense government intervention, and few politicians – including very few ‘conservative’ politicians, have had the courage to stand up for individual rights and freedoms.
Faced with fear, politicians across the political spectrum veered further and further towards centralized state power.
As a result, there are few high-level political defenders of classical liberalism and freedom left in this country.
Canadians can’t point to one provincial government and say ‘this government sought to defend individual freedom and the rights of people to make their own free and educated choice about their own level of risk tolerance.’
And so, after a year in which politicians across the political spectrum showed they were statists at heart when the chips were down, it is easy for the Liberal government to make the case for a permanent expansion of government intervention.
Many people have fully internalized the idea that the government can tell us when it’s okay to leave our homes, when we can open our businesses, what we can buy, who we can see, which protests are okay and which aren’t, and more.
And while some will say that this attitude will leave when the pandemic is over, the reality is that over a year of internalizing a certain way of thinking doesn’t just go away.
When people have become used to accepting that our ‘rights and freedoms’ are merely privileges that can be doled out or pulled back by politicians, it’s way easier to think that government spending is somehow a ‘gift’, rather than a redistribution of money they took from us in the first place.
Stick to principle, or try to win with the right combo of shifting positions?
After considering how this year as made it easier for the Liberals to push the expansion of the role of government, the question remains how much opposition we will see to this trend.
On principle, the federal Conservatives (and conservatives at all levels), should be seeking to reverse this trend, and make the philosophical case for more freedom through less government.
However, many will fear going against the trend, and rather than taking a courageous position, there will be a temptation to try and shift towards the new ‘consensus,’ and win by promising to expand government ‘more competently.’
The problem of course is that this ends up narrowing the window of political debate in Canada, and leaves people with the choice of ‘statists with C branding, or statists with L branding.’
And, as I wrote in a previous column, trying too hard to be all things to all people ironically makes it tougher to win than if a party sticks to their principles.
Courage is needed
Statism often coincides with fear.
And if we lived in a world where people were perfect, we could trust that any short-term expansion of the government would fade away when the crisis ended.
But that’s not how human nature works.
When politicians get more power, they want even more, and then more, and then more.
They start to feel they are uniquely brilliant and have an imperative to ‘guide the people’ and the nation in the ‘right direction.’ They think, ‘just one more new tax, just one more government program, and I’ll finally fix everything.’
Over time, any respect for individual choice and freedom starts to fade, and politicians seem to remember only that they must keep expanding their own power. They forget that it’s our money, and our rights they are taking from.
That’s why courage in the face of the statist trend is so important.
There are still millions of Canadians who believe in limited government and who believe in respect for individual freedom, and if we all speak out then those politicians who oppose the statist trend will feel more emboldened to push back as well.
Freedom and a resistance to centralized control are deeply ingrained in our history and in the human story, and they are values worth fighting for.