Blogs & Comment

All shall have ponies

Tory leader Stephen Harper promises to double the annual contribution cap for tax-free savings accounts after the federal budget is balanced.

Almost two weeks into the election campaign, Stephen Harper continues to run for re-election in 2015. The strategy, it seems, is to hope the media plays along and that voters don’t notice.

Thursday morning in Vaughan, Harper pledged to double the annual contribution cap for tax-free savings accounts, from $5,000 to $10,000. The catch? It will only take effect after the federal budget is balanced, which even the most optimistic futurists don’t foresee happening until 2015-16. That is, more than likely, it won’t take effect until after the next federal election.

This is the second such promise from the Conservatives. Readers will recall that Harper kicked off the campaign by promising to allow parents to split, or share, up to $50,000 of their household income for tax purposes. Whatever the merits of the proposal (and it is a matter of reasonable disagreement), what was most striking about the announcement was that it, too, will not take effect until the deficit is eliminated in 2015-16;  And even that plan hinges on the government finding $4 billion dollars in annual savings, which almost no credible economist considers plausible under current tax and spending plans.

There is, of course, a strategic genius to this. The Conservatives get all of the benefits of the headlines, without having to do a single thing about it in the next parliament, even if they win a majority government. So they get credit for both social-welfare ambition (all shall have prizes!)  and fiscal probity (but not till we can afford it!). One presumes that their next announcement will promise a pony for all young girls in the land, with similar noble and unattainable caveats.