Ten Populist Ideas For Harper 

August 1st, 2015 | J. Hodgson 

We’re only a couple months away from the election now and the Conservative Party isn’t exactly in fantastic shape. The campaign plan is likely set at this point, but I’m going to provide a few last minute ideas from outside the Ottawa bubble. These are ‘curveball’ ideas used to shake up the normals and get the party some badly needed populist traction.

Idea #1. Create a new national holiday on June 6th, in honour of John A. MacDonald

Canadians work long and hard. We also have long brutal winters. Creating a new summer holiday will be welcomed by all.

Why June 6th?

John A. MacDonald died June 6th, 1891. What better way to celebrate his life and achievements than by enshrining a national holiday in his honour? Canada’s current Conservative Prime Minister paying tribute to Canada’s first Prime Minister is good optics. Harper could stand in front of one of the many John A. MacDonald statues around the country and make the announcement with much fanfare. Host a barbeque event in order to celebrate the announcement. Be relaxed and friendly. Be Calgary Stampedesque.

When the Liberals and NDP criticize it, they’ll probably say it’s cynical. Harper is trying to connect himself with MacDonald. Another national holiday will be expensive for business. It’s too close to Victoria Day…

Doesn’t matter. People will hear ‘extra summer holiday’ and love it.

Idea #2. Exempt books from GST

Canada is a nation of readers. Our long winters demand we find indoor stuff to do with our time. A recent campaign to exempt tampons from the GST happened quickly and was generally well received. Let’s do the same for books. It would only cost about $75 million in lost revenue.

Here’s an interesting article about Argentina being a haven for book stores. Buried in the article is the revelation that books in Argentina are exempt from sales tax. This policy functions not only as a subsidy for home grown book stores, but also as a not so subtle encouragement of reading. Both of these policies would reflect warm lights on Harper.

Imagine standing in downtown Toronto inside a funky independent bookstore like Book City or Sleuth of Baker Street and making an announcement about exempting books from GST. Interviews with the owners talking about how this will help their business. Readers saying they can think about buying more books etc.

Make it applicable to all reading material...magazines, newspapers, textbooks...especially textbooks, and e-reader material. All or nothing. Maybe the intelligentsia will stop showcasing the Conservatives as the anti-intellectual party...if only for a day.

Idea #3. Speaking of the GST...cut the GST

I proposed cutting the GST back in April and then, late in May, John Ivison reports that he’s hearing about a possible GST cut.

So do the book thing early in the campaign and save the overall lowering of the GST for the last couple of weeks before the vote.

Idea #4. Double Parks Canada’s budget

Currently Parks Canada has a budget of about $660 million a year. The Conservatives have taken lots of grief for being frugal on this portfolio. It’s also a political football as we’ve seen with Ontario Liberals holding up Toronto's first urban national park in the name of “protecting the environment”.

“Protecting the environment” is code for “leftists trying to stop things and make conservatives look bad”. So what to do?

Put Harper in front of a beautiful backdrop of rugged outdoorsy Canadiana and announce the doubling of the Parks budget. Canadians understand that “doubling the budget” for something is impressive. They also understand that national parks are a treasure of natural beauty because at some point we’ve all been to one. So this gets Harper three things:

-Conservatives care about the natural world and they care about maintaining protections on our natural beauty.

-They are making a massive investment in this.

-Harper cares about the environment.

This undercuts whisper campaigns about Parks Canada being a constant under-funded mess. It undercuts Harper’s environmental critics. It associates the Conservatives with conservation. It’s big, it’s bold and people will understand it.

Idea #5. Bring in a national minimum wage at $12 an hour

Wait! Don’t click away yet...I’m sure you’re wincing at this seemingly non-conservative idea, but I’m proposing populist ideas to help you win an election.

Save the macroeconomic anti-minimum wage spreadsheets for Fraser Institute lectures. I’m familiar with the evidence (although as we move into the 21st century things are changing and new studies need to be made). For now, hijack the “common man” talking points from the left and position this policy as helping to make ordinary people’s lives a little bit better. This policy will resonate with low income workers, because they’ll see a possible pay raise on the horizon. It will also resonate with high income workers, because they’ll feel good about lifting up the working poor.

The best part will be the push back. Viewers at home will see Harper trying to better low-income wage earners with “progressive” policy and then they’ll see a variety of relatively unpopular Premiers, angry at the federal intrusion. Harper will essentially be upstaging people like Wynne and Couillard...and they’ll hate it. Sweet wedge.

It will also be wonderful to watch Mulcair and Trudeau try to dance around the issue, trying desperately to figure out how to respond. Mulcair’s base will despise him for opposing this and Trudeau will look like a snotty rich kid trying to explain why it shouldn’t be done. Actually it should be done just for these reasons alone. It would be so good. Earlier in the campaign would be better.

If you’re concerned about the real implications of the policy, just set it at a reasonable $12.00 starting in 2017 and then don’t index it for inflation. Painless. Heat without fire.

Idea #6. Make the charity donation tax credits the same as for political donations

When Jim Prentice tried to roll back deductions for charitable giving it resulted in a massive backlash. Everything that was bad about that decision...everything that resulted from it...could be the exact opposite for Harper with idea #6.

If the charitable tax credit was given the same level of support as political donation tax credits, it would currently cost the government roughly $600 million in lost revenue. (Assuming millions of people don’t immediately start donating massive sums to charity...and they won’t.)

Imagine the optics on this one. Harper making this announcement in the lobby of the Canadian Cancer Society surrounded by people in the nonprofit sector. All of them would realize what this announcement would mean (ie. incentivizing more revenue) and they’d sell the policy on Harper’s behalf. Harper tapping into the good-will of Canadians to self-fund much of the social programs that leftists want state socialism to fulfill...is a recipe for some amazing conservative minded coverage. Reporters would have to break down the details in order to explain things to their viewers, but the overall takeaway would be...Harper is helping charities.

Again, Mulcair and Trudeau can’t counter this without looking cold-hearted.

Idea #7. A 10% across-the-board pay increase to everyone in the Canadian Forces

Harper took a lot of heat when Julian Fantino was in charge of Veterans Affairs. The Conservatives are the only party that supports the military properly, but they aren’t getting the credit they deserve. Whether it’s the F-35 issue or the ship building delays or PTSD support, you can always count on the media to find a cloud inside every silver lining.

So, announce a 10% across-the-board pay increase for members of the Canadian Forces. Yes, I know that our forces are already some of the highest paid in the world. But ordinary people don’t know this and policy to support the troops sells big. It stirs patriotism and impacts individual service members.

This element of Canadian culture has experienced the biggest change over the past twenty years. In the early 90’s, after the Somalia affair, people were embarrassed by our troops and the respect was gone. Chretien and Martin slashing the military budget was welcomed.

Not anymore. Since 9/11, a pro-military cultural change has occurred and shows no signs of slowing down. For a measly $1 billion more a year, the CPC would garner a rich harvest of goodwill (phase it in over 5 years, or something, and it’s not much to handle and you still get the “10% increase!” headlines. Win-win!).

Idea #8. Bring back 30-year mortgages

Yeah, there is a bubble forming (and popping?) in the Canadian housing market, but Canadians love real estate. They understand it and they want it. Buying a house is seen as a hallmark of maturity, class and respect in Canadian society.

Lowering interest rates was a good idea, but the banks in Canada aren’t passing along the savings. Changing the mortgage rules to specifically make homeownership easier is a political winner. Speak in the language of helping people pursue the dream and you’ll look like a champion of the common man.

Idea #9. Match donations on a one-to-one level for the Trans Canada Trail

You’ve already made an announcement matching donations on a $1.00 match for every $2.00 privately raised. Nobody remembers this though. So re-do the announcement during the campaign, but make it better. Match it one for one.

A beautiful location somewhere along the trail would make for a perfect photo-op. The goal of completion by 2017, in time for Canada’s 150th, would stir patriotic feelings in conjunction with admiration of Canada’s natural beauty. Slam dunk.

Idea #10. If things get desperate…

I wrote this last year. It’s a little tongue in cheek, but if things look bad...feel free to pull from it.