This post was written by Andy Gibbons, who is no longer with the company.

The release of party platforms used to be the seminal event of a party’s election campaign.

In Britain, this is still largely the case where party leaders sign ‘pledge cards’ and release manifestos at the outset of a campaign.  Fleet Street and the political punditry across the pond opine for weeks. Party leaders use their platform as basis of their appeal to voters; platforms are branded and marketed for the electorate.

Not so much in Canada.  Election platforms have become nearly irrelevant and treated as such by observers.  The same goes for the party leaders who, in the two debates this week, made scant mention of their ‘platforms’.  Instead they repeated different commitments and promises but never referred to their respective documents.

It is not that there aren’t substantive issues outlined in these documents, because there are (sort of). It is more that our parties don’t truly view them as the cornerstone documents they once did.

Rather, all of the key parties have election platforms. .  The Liberal Party’s is entitled “Your Family. Your Future.  Your Canada.”  The Conservative Party’s is entitled, “Here for Canada: Stephen Harper’s Low-Tax Plan for Jobs and Economic Growth”. The Liberal platform comes in at 96 pages while the Tories’ comes in at 67.

Conservative Platform Themes  Liberal Platform Themes
Jobs & Growth The Economy: Better Choices
Hard-Working Families Families, Finances and the Future
Standing on Guard for Canada Clean Resources, Healthy Environment and the Economy of Tomorrow
Law-Abiding Canadians Bringing Canadians Together
Communities & Industries Canada in the World: A Global Networks Strategy
Integrity & Accountability

The centerpiece of the Liberal platform is their “family pack”, which includes the following:

  • A learning passport for students ($1,000/$1,500 a year for low-income students);
  • Early childhood learning and care fund;
  • Family employment insurance benefit and family care tax benefit;
  • Expansion of Canada pension plan and enhanced guaranteed income supplement; and,
  • Green renovation tax credit.

Traditionally, the Liberals have been opposed to targeted tax credits and incentives so these platform measures mark a departure for them.  The Family Pack is designed in a similar way to the Conservatives’ previous tax credits.  The Liberal Party understands that they need to better balance their desire to be substantive in policy while also making those policies creative and more sellable.

The Conservative platform is largely based on Budget 2011 which never saw the light of day because of the election call.  The major emphasis is on keeping taxes low and returning to balanced budgets rather than significant spending commitments.

The most interesting aspect of the Tory platform is their spending commitments which are contingent on meeting their fiscal targets.  This is an innovative way for the Conservatives to make spending promises while continuing their commitment to fiscal prudence.  The commitments include:

  • Income splitting for families with children;
  • Doubling the contribution amount for the tax free savings account; and,
  • Changes to the child fitness tax, doubling amount and extending it to adults.

Neither platform is likely to be remembered in years to come in the way the 1993 Liberal Red Book platform did.  However, by taking a closer look and breaking down the respective documents, we can see trends and themes emerge in terms of how the respective parties are targeting the electorate.

In the case of the Liberals, gone are the grand promises and broad policy initiatives.  For the Tories, their record is their platform.

Andy Gibbons is a vice president in the public affairs group in Ottawa.  He has an in depth understanding of the intricacies of parliament from serving as legislative assistant to the former chair of the Operations & Estimates Committee of the House of Commons.  He also served as political aide to the opposition critic for Public Works & Government Services.