There are a few sayings that I really follow closely and/or truly believe in the wisdom of. One of those sayings that seems to come back with increasing frequency these days is the following one: those that don’t know history are doomed to repeat it. It’s amazing how often history manages to repeat itself in our politics and how quickly it seems that lessons from mistakes made in the past are forgotten. Times changes, technology gets better and approaches to campaigning evolve yet when it comes to those past mistakes, some act as if those things don’t matter in a newer age, that somehow those advances wipe out the lessons learned from those campaign missteps.
But the truth is that those lessons from past mistakes remain very germane to our politics and campaigns today. Repeating those mistakes can be just as damaging today as they were when first committed years or decades before. So it was with that axiom in mind that I saw a video from Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s leadership campaign making the rounds, with a certain pledge that falls right into this category. What is the mistake that’s being repeated this time?
Yep folks, Andrew Scheer promised during his leadership campaign to implement a $4,000 federal personal income tax deduction for parents who send their kids to private schools. According to economist Jim Stanford in a piece in the Toronto Star today, that promise could cost the Canadian government between $1.5 billion and $2 billion a year. This promise brings to mind one of the more ill-fated campaign mistakes of recent history, when then-Ontario Conservative Leader John Tory sunk his campaign on making a similar promise. Tory himself admitted that it was a mistake after the campaign, and since then it seemed like many had learned from it.
But now we see this issue rearing its head again, with teachers’ unions speaking out against this proposal and what it could do to the public school system. That’s a real fear, as Stanford points to in the example of Australia, who made similar policy change in the 1960’s. And for a leader trying to distance himself from the problems of Doug Ford, many of which are in the education system, this won’t help that cause.
There are a few striking things about this pledge from Scheer that potentially make this all the more problematic for the blue team. First off is bringing back the spectre of what happened in Ontario in 2007 and activating educators and parents against Conservative candidates in Ontario. It’s generally agreed at this point that neither the Liberals or Conservatives can win this election without a strong showing in Ontario, and if this group of voters is motivated against Scheer, it could deny them government by itself. That becomes a greater possibility when you add the troubles that Ford has had because this promise reminds everyone of those issues, and ties Scheer closer to them.
Secondly this promise is one that not only doesn’t fit on the Federal scene, it opens up a new box of problems that run contrary to what the Conservatives have been saying on other issues. Remember, education is a provincial jurisdiction, a place where the federal government has no say. By giving this kind of tax credits to private school parents, it could easily be seen as interference in a clearly provincial jurisdiction, as it could lead to more students leaving public schools. That would lower the public funding those school boards receive, as they fund on a per student basis, which could lower the quality of public education for so many. And that’s assuming that the Conservatives stopped there. What if they later increased that credit, accelerating that process? That’s what has happened elsewhere and would be a part of the discussion here.
Add to that the fact that the Conservatives have been attacking the Liberals for years now for “interfering in provincial jurisdictions” when it comes to the environment and most notably, in regards to carbon pricing. Saskatchewan and Ontario’s court cases against the Federal carbon tax is built on idea that the feds are interfering in provincial jurisdiction. That entire argument gets undercut when the Conservatives decide to try to interfere in the clearly provincial jurisdiction of education, one where there is no ambiguity about who is in charge of it. That undercutting comes completely at their own hand and of their own doing; it could potentially be an unforced error of the worse kind, adding to the fact they’re even having this debate to begin with.
Finally this issue will be harder for the Conservatives to blow off as nothing because of the circumstances in which it the pledge was made. Remember Andrew Scheer won the Conservative leadership by a microscopic margin of less than 1% over Maxime Bernier. Much has been made about Scheer’s pledges to the dairy sector and the effect it had on his win, but you could make the same argument about this pledge too. This is something that many social conservative groups have wanted and asked for in the past; that’s how it ended up in John Tory’s platform in 2007 to begin with. So it can be argued that Scheer owes that group as much, therefore could potentially have big problems if he backs away from that pledge now right before an election when the heat is on. Does Scheer “dance with the one that brought him” on this promise, or does he run away from it out of political expedience? Neither option is very appealing or helpful to the Blue Teams cause.
In the end mistakes like these give the other parties a nice big target to go after, which is why these kinds of mistakes can really hurt. That was the lesson learned by the Tory Tories in Ontario in 2007 and you would have thought that lesson would still be fresh in mind. But nope, and on the Red Team you have a leadership team that came up under the McGuinty Liberals, the very same team that won in 2007 because of Tory’s mistake. Will history repeat itself this time? We’ll see what happens, but this pledge could really come back to bite the Blue Team in the rear end. Or at least that’s what history has taught us.