Getting The Facts

In present form, the 2015 election will be very closely contested. Conscientious voters wanting to equip themselves with the relevant facts will have to be careful about choosing their sources.

Political parties and advocacy groups may select only the facts that suit their point of view or distort the facts. In some cases, they may say things that are just not true.

Last week James Hutt, provincial coordinator with the Nova Scotia Citizens’ Health Care Network (a union-based advocacy group), talked about the government’s plan to slash health care funding. “The federal Conservatives are cutting $36 billion from health care over the next decade,” he said. “For Nova Scotia, what that looks like is $902 million.”

This bears no resemblance to the truth. Federal transfers to provinces and territories for health care have been growing at 6% per year and will continue to do so until 2017, after which they will increase based on the growth rate of national GDP (including inflation).

A movement to equalize payments on a per capita basis helped rapid growers of population like Alberta at the expense of slow growers like Nova Scotia. Nevertheless, in the current year federal transfers to Nova Scotia will increase 5.3% to $897 million.

The Liberal party—until recently—had a similar version of the same story on its website: “The Harper government’s long term plan for public health care has been to reduce funding to the provinces, territories, and Aboriginal governments.”

This seems to have disappeared shortly after I asked for the basis of the assertion. Probably just a coincidence.

The NDP policy book, recommended for reading in my article of June 26, is now absent from the party’s website. Another coincidence. Those who were disappointed to not learn more about today’s NDP can click here to read it.

At time of writing, the Conservative website is entirely devoid of content about its own policies—but one can find the oft repeated “just not ready” attack ad. The NDP have joined the attack ad business with their own set of distortions.

The Conservatives have attacked the Liberals for their tax plan, quoting tax expert Jack Mintz in a National Post article, saying: “In fact, for family incomes above $45,000, the Liberal plan will raise the marginal tax rate.” Of course, they choose not to quote him saying “marginal tax rates will fall for those with modest incomes.”

So, how is the discerning voter to become properly informed? In general, pay no attention to what the parties say about each other. There may be a grain of truth in there somewhere, but it is not worth the effort to discover it.

Secondly, don’t assume that the think tanks and university professors that the media seek for comment are neutral. Many of them come with a distinct bias, and the fact that they have been chosen often reflects the bias of the media outlet. Pay attention to them, but check out who they are afterward on the Internet.

It is reasonable to read what parties say about themselves, of course, recognizing that it comes with spin. But ask questions. Phone the party’s candidate in your area and see if she or he has anything to say beyond what is on the website. For example:

Why is Tom Mulcair promising that he can abolish the Senate when the Supreme Court has said that all provinces have to agree (Only Saskatchewan agrees. Quebec and others have expressly ruled it out)? If there is no change will he (like Harper, before 2011) promise to never appoint any senators? When will we see the total cost of all his spending promises?

Much of the Liberal platform is about migrating away from fossil fuels. What future outcomes would they welcome for Nova Scotia’s offshore energy projects? Why should we expect government to make wise investment choices in renewable energy, given the disastrous track record of the provincial Liberals in Ontario? What proposals would they bring to the discussions they propose to host concerning a changed voting system? Are they committed to balanced budgets?

Will the Conservatives accept deficits if low oil prices create a recession? Do they have any plans at all for lowering greenhouse gas emissions? Do they have any ideas for the economy other than lowering taxes? Are they running solely on track record and attack ads, or will there be a platform soon?

These—and many other questions—can be difficult. It is unreasonable to expect fully satisfactory answers. Nevertheless, discussion with a candidate can reveal whether there is much substance in the party’s positions, and whether the candidate has given them much thought.


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