Issues in the Canadian federal election, 2006
These are some of the issues that played a major role in the 2006 federal election in Canada. The Conservative Party of Canada formed a minority government after the election, defeating the Liberal government.
- 1 Health care
- 2 Sponsorship scandal, income trust scandal, and the "culture of entitlement"
- 3 Quebec sovereignty
- 4 Gun registry and crime
- 5 Social issues and "family values"
- 6 Taxation
- 7 Fiscal imbalance
- 8 Canada-United States relations
- 9 Environment
- 10 Parliamentary reform
- 11 Electoral reform
- 12 Parliamentary stability
- 13 Minor party positions
- 14 External links
Healthcare is perennially a major issue in Canada. In previous election campaigns, both the Liberal Party, and the New Democratic Party (NDP) have campaigned to be seen as protectors of Canada's Medicare system. The Conservative Party, and its predecessors have campaigned on "fixing" the Medicare system in various ways, but have remained quiet on the issue (in comparison with the other two federal parties). Many on the political right support a two-tier health care system which would provide private health service for those willing (and able) to pay; though the Conservative party has stated that it is adamantly against two-tier health care.
The Conservative Party and the Bloc Québécois also supported returning jurisdiction on health care to the provinces (as originally designated in the BNA Act).
The left opposes the increase of for-profit influence in the health care system, and often claims that health care is an essential service, and should be equally available to all Canadians, regardless of ability to pay.
Sponsorship scandal, income trust scandal, and the "culture of entitlement"
The sponsorship scandal, or "Adscam", continued to hinder the governing Liberals, with the opposition parties trying to infer that the sponsorship scandal was just one example of what they called the "culture of entitlement" within the Martin (and formerly Chrétien) government.
The Liberals were attacked by the opposition on this issue, particularly by the Conservatives and Bloc Québécois, especially after inquiry hearings in early 2005.
All opposition parties cited the incident surrounding lavish expenses at the Royal Canadian Mint by former Liberal cabinet minister David Dingwall and the alleged insider trading following the alleged leak of information surrounding income trusts (see also Taxation, below) in particular.
The phrase "culture of entitlement" became a rallying cry against the Liberals and was frequently mentioned in speeches by the opposition leaders throughout the campaign.
Polls showed that, outside of Quebec, most of the public had no opinion about Adscam.
Midway through the election campaign, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police announced that there was enough evidence to proceed with a criminal investigation into whether a leak occurred before a Liberal government policy announcement on income trusts. It was alleged that a few people used this information to their advantage in the markets. Allegations of an income trust/insider trading scandal brought the issue of corruption back into the spotlight and was expected to further hinder the Liberal campaign.
With the increase in Quebec of support for André Boisclair's Quebec sovereigntist Parti Québécois, a provincial political party, and Gilles Duceppe's Bloc Québécois, its federal counterpart, the Liberal Party tried to rally support for it as the defender of Canadian unity. Paul Martin appealed to Québécois federalists to vote for the Liberals to prevent vote-splitting, and will appeal to other Canadians that he, as a francophone representing a Quebec riding, would be a better choice for prime minister than Stephen Harper. On December 19, Harper released a platform proposing that Quebec would be allowed separate representation in certain international organizations and forums, especially those dealing with cultural matters.
Gun registry and crime
Most Conservatives strongly opposed the gun registry, while the other parties generally supported it. The Conservatives promised to scrap the long-gun registry (handguns and restricted firearms would remain registered) and introduce tougher gun-related crime laws, including minimum sentencing for gun crimes. A few Liberal backbenchers had spoken against the registry; however, they were overwhelmed by the party support.
The Liberal Party proposed banning handgun ownership with limited exceptions for licensed owners who use guns for target practice, despite that it has been illegal carrying a handgun since 1934. The Liberal proposals included more money for RCMP gang squads, money for gun buy-back programs, 75 more border customs agents, and stiffer penalties for crimes involving guns.
The Conservative Party opposed banning handguns, and proposed mandatory sentencing for crimes committed using guns. The NDP and Bloc Québécois did not announce specific positions on the ban.
Because of a rash of gun crimes in the major cities, notably Toronto, the issue became one of the main issues in the middle part of the campaign.
Social issues and "family values"
Although Canada's generally socially liberal policies have enjoyed fairly consistent levels of support in the last decade, there were criticisms from the Christian right and other conservative groups, especially in the rural areas, that Canada's policies on abortion and same-sex marriage have become far too liberal.
Most Conservative Party members oppose legal recognition of same-sex marriage, although 26% of Conservative delegates at the 2005 Biennial Convention voted in favor of it. While the Liberals endorsed same-sex marriage as party policy, many members disagree (a few strongly). Most of the Bloc Québécois and most New Democrats are strong supporters of same-sex marriage, and the Green Party has formally endorsed it.
After the same-sex marriage bill passed on June 28, 2005, a poll by Strategic Counsel pegged support for gay marriage at 55%, opposition at 39%, and 6% undecided. These numbers were not broken down as per level of opposition/support nor the necessary invoking of the Notwithstanding Clause, which might be required to revert to the traditional definition. In November 2005, a poll taken by Environics Research said 66% of Canadians considered the issue of same-sex marriage "settled and it's time to move on." 
In terms of top election issues, same-sex marriage consistently, according to polls, was at only 6% or less on the top of Canadians' minds. Health care was the top priority, along with government accountability. Belinda Stronach cited the Conservative stance on social issues among her reasons for crossing the floor to the Liberals in May 2005, while Pat O'Brien cited the Liberal position when he left the Liberals in June 2005.
Officially, while the Liberals endorsed the decriminalization of marijuana, they had let a bill enacting this policy die several times. The Conservatives took a traditional American-style approach to drug use, viewing it in moral terms, while the NDP, Green Party and of course, the Marijuana Party of Canada all endorsed outright legalization of marijuana, citing the experience with alcohol prohibition and noting that the explosion of marijuana grow-ops in residential areas is the "bathtub gin" of this generation.
An attempt to link the murders of four Alberta RCMP officers in March to marijuana-growing largely backfired, and according to a November 2004 SES poll, 57% of Canadians wanted marijuana users left alone.
The Conservative Party rejected many calls to restrict abortions during their 2005 convention, although a large pro-life caucus means that individual members may bring the issue up again through private bills. Their post-convention policy document states that "a Conservative Government will not support any legislation to regulate abortion." The Liberals were somewhat divided on abortion, although with far more support of abortion rights than opposition. The Bloc, Green Party and NDP were staunchly pro-choice.
The decision of the Liberal Party to adopt, at its last convention, the legalization of prostitution as an official policy, did not become an issue during the election. Legalization was strongly opposed by most Conservatives and many Liberals, but supported by the NDP.
Unexpectedly, child care became a major issue as well, possibly the #2 issue behind health care in the early part of the campaign. The Conservatives took the initiative by choosing to offer parents $1200 per year for each child under 6. Paul Martin's aide Scott Reid attacked this proposal on the grounds that they are likely to spend on beer and popcorn. He later apologized for the comments.
The Liberal Party proposed a national child care program to expand the number of spaces in licensed child care facilities, although they had difficulty negotiating with the provinces. The NDP believed that a national child care program should be created with no negotiations from the provinces on the issue, and that the federal government should be in full control. The NDP proposal was very unpopular with all the provinces as a further intrusion of the federal government into provincial issues.
The Liberal Party's proposals on taxation were set out on November 23, 2005, in the "Fall Economic Statement" provided by Minister of Finance Ralph Goodale. Goodale proposed to lower the tax rate on the first bracket of taxable income for individuals from 16% to 15%, followed by 1-percentage-point reductions in each of the two middle rates by 2010, and to work with the provinces to develop a tax credit for low-income working people to address the high marginal tax rates for people leaving social assistance (welfare). For corporations, Goodale proposed to accelerate the elimination of the Large Corporations Tax (a tax on capital), eliminate the corporate income surtax and lower the general corporate income tax rate from 21% to 19%. The Liberal Party is also proposing to increase the amount of capital gains that can be earned tax-free from the sale of small business shares from $500,000 to $750,000.
The Conservative Party proposed to reduce the Goods and Services Tax to 6% immediately and then 5% within five years, and to increase the amount of income on which small businesses pay a lower tax rate from $300,000 per year to $400,000, and to reduce that rate from 12% to 11% within five years. The Conservatives argued that the large fiscal surplus ($9.1 billion in 2004) enjoyed by the federal government provides the opportunity to cut taxes in order to stimulate the economy. The Liberals pointed out that the Canadian economy was operating at or near the "full employment" level, and therefore is not in need of stimulation.
In 2004, the Conservatives promised to end "corporate welfare" and replace it with tax cuts for all businesses. The Liberals, the Bloc Québécois and the NDP opposed large tax cuts, and argued that money should instead be spent to improve social programs. The Green Party ran on a platform of what it calls a "green tax shift", which would lower taxes for small businesses and families, and raise taxes for polluters, heavy resource users and other forms of activity that have environmental, social or economic costs to society.
The 2005 budget originally implemented relatively modest tax cuts which have been criticized by both the right and left. (Parties, major and minor, from the centre to the right demanded much greater tax relief, including support for families raising children at home from the Conservatives; parties from the centre to the left, including the NDP, hold that corporations and higher-income Canadians should have to pay higher taxes.) However, a later agreement between the Liberals and NDP rescinded the tax cuts, was praised by the left, but demonized by the right (especially business leaders).
The rise of high-yield income trusts was also an electoral issue. Starting in 2002, several large Canadian companies converted into income trusts in order to avoid double taxation and reduce or eliminate their income tax payments, making the trust sector the fastest-growing in Canada in 2005. Conversions were almost halted in September 2005 when Finance Minister Ralph Goodale suspended advance tax rulings on trusts, drawing criticism from pension funds, investment banks and investors. Trust activity resumed on November 23, when the Department of Finance announced, several weeks ahead of schedule, that the trusts would not be taxed and that a dividend tax credit would be introduced to match the trust advantage. The move was applauded by financial circles at the same time as it was criticized as a last-minute vote-buying attempt. 
The Liberal government came under fire for the very strong stock market rally that immediately preceded the announcement, suggesting leaks from government insiders to financial circles. Opposition parties requested an official investigation on insider trading activity on that day. The Ontario Securities Commission rejected the suggestion, saying it amounted to political interference; the Royal Canadian Mounted Police however, launched an inquiry on December 29. 
All major parties, except the federal Liberals, claimed that there is a fiscal imbalance between the federal government and the provinces, and spoke of plans to reduce it. The Bloc Québécois was the most vocal party on this issue.
On December 19, Stephen Harper committed a Conservative government to addressing this problem .
Canada-United States relations
U.S.-Canada relations have divided Canada more than ever since the 2003 Invasion of Iraq. Most Conservatives believe that closer relations with the United States (such as a North American security perimeter and deeper integration through North American Free Trade Agreement) are necessary for economic and political reasons. Most of the Bloc, NDP and Greens believe that Canada needs to move away from the United States, especially with the re-election of President Bush in 2004. The Liberals are deeply split, with many on each side.
The Americans' rejection of NAFTA's final ruling in Canada's favor in the U.S.-Canada softwood lumber dispute on August 10, 2005, raised questions about if and how Canada would retaliate. Free trade, however, was not a major issue in the election.
In the west, issues such as BSE and agricultural tariffs inspired anti-US feelings. In British Columbia, many expressed outrage over the attempt by the U.S. to extradite Marc Emery to face trial and perhaps a lengthy prison sentence for a cross-border trade in cannabis seeds, which Canadian officials had ignored with full knowledge for years.
In addition, the Bush administration in the United States wanted Canada to openly join the National Missile Defense program (currently Canada participates in some parts of the shield). The Conservatives were open to negotiating the issue with the USA, while the Bloc, the NDP, the Green Party and some Liberals strongly opposed it. Prime Minister Martin announced in February 2005, that Canada would not join the missile shield; this has upset some Liberals who supported missile defense.
The Liberal government was criticized for its policies on environmental matters. Criticism was expressed by all other parties regarding the Liberal Party's management of Canada's carbon dioxide emissions, and how Canada will meet its obligations to the Kyoto Protocol. While the Conservative Party criticized the Liberals' environmental plans as being fiscally irresponsible and unmanageable, the NDP, the Bloc Québécois, and especially the Greens wanted to see environmental protection as a priority for the federal government.
Other environmental issues such as water quality in Aboriginal communities also received attention. All parties except the Conservative Party supported the ratification of the Kyoto Accord.
The Conservatives accused the Liberals of perpetuating "undemocratic practices" in Parliament, by limiting the powers of MPs. Martin called for some reform, but did not been act upon it. The Conservatives promised an elected Senate and standing committee and provincial review of judicial appointments. The NDP and the Bloc spoke of abolishing the Canadian Senate - all parties claim to want to reform it. The appointments of nine Senators on March 24, 2005, intensified the debate; it angered many Conservatives, especially in Alberta.
On December 14, 2005, Stephen Harper announced that, if elected, he would appoint elected Senators. It would not require a constitutional amendment because the Senators would still be appointed by the Governor-General on the advice of the Prime Minister. The Liberal Party retaliated by saying that, while they support Senate reform, they would not support progressive (partial) reform. The stance the Liberal Party took is that Senate reform should be done all at once, rather than in small steps, as the Conservatives proposed. The western populists have long favoured a Triple-E Senate, the NDP have always favored abolishing the Senate, and the Liberals' opinion on how the Senate should be reformed has remained somewhat vague. The Bloc views parliamentary reform as a matter for the rest of Canada to deal with after Quebec separates.
On the issue of electoral reform, the Conservatives promised fixed election dates and a review of the electoral system. The NDP and the Green Party promoted the idea of proportional representation voting -— both parties win a considerably smaller proportion of seats in the House of Commons than of the popular vote under the current first past the post system.
Meanwhile, one referendum in British Columbia in May 2005 nearly succeeded in requiring single transferable vote in future provincial elections, and another referendum held in November 2005 in Prince Edward Island on using mixed-member proportional representation failed. Ontario was also considering such reforms, as is Quebec. Changes at the provincial level will put pressure on the federal government to make similar changes.
Parliamentary stability was a possible factor in the campaign. Polls consistently showed that the election would likely result in another minority government, either Liberal-led or Conservative-led, with the expectation that that would likely lead to another election in 2007. Voter fatigue could become a major problem negatively affecting participation by the public.
Minor party positions
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