In politics, nothing is more important than credibility. Politicians can deliver stirring speeches and launch searing attack ads, but if they don’t tell the truth, nobody believes any of it. And, one way or another, voters will hold them accountable.
After our “election about nothing,” Erin O’Toole has a serious credibility problem.
Take his flipflop on the carbon tax. O’Toole once railed against the carbon tax. “Families, people on fixed income like our seniors, they don’t have more coming in yet they see costs going up, the carbon tax adds to that and raises the cost of everything,” O’Toole said in 2018.
When running for leader of the Conservative Party, he promised Canadians he would fight carbon taxes. He even signed the Canadian Taxpayers Federation’s pledge: “I, Erin O’Toole promise that, if elected Prime Minister of Canada, I will: Immediately repeal the Trudeau carbon tax and reject any future national carbon tax or cap-and-trade scheme.”
His own leadership platform acknowledged that “a carbon tax is not an environmental plan, it is a tax plan.”
But then in the run-up to the election he blindsided taxpayers, not to mention many members of his party, and announced he would hammer families with a carbon tax of his own and also impose a second carbon tax through fuel regulations. His carbon taxes would have soaked a family for nearly $20 every time they fueled up their minivan.
To add insult to injury, he claimed his carbon tax was “not a tax at all.” If you’re going to break your promise, at least have the spine to tell the truth rather than play word games and insult Canadians’ intelligence.
We do want politicians to be able to change their minds. Take the famous quote: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” But changing your mind on a big, important issue should be a rare event. A politician whose mind seems to be on a swivel will soon lose all credibility.
O’Toole also turned his back on reining in government spending. He and his party’s ads constantly remindedCanadians that “Trudeau is borrowing $424 million each day” and that “Canada's debt is already over $1 trillion.” He talked the talk. But he didn’t walk the walk.
Instead of providing a credible plan to balance the budget, O’Toole proposed continuing the spending spree. He said he would spend about $50 billion more than the Trudeau government’s last budget. His “plan to return to fiscal prudence,” according to his leadership platform, turns out to mean outspending the Trudeau government that took per person spending to all-time highs even before the pandemic.
Then there was his backtrack on the Liberals’ gun ban and buyback scheme. The buyback could cost taxpayers billions of dollars but it won’t make Canada safer because it targets law-abiding citizens rather than criminals. The RCMP union said the scheme could even make Canada less safe because “it diverts extremely important personnel, resources, and funding away from addressing the more immediate and growing threat of criminal use of illegal firearms.”
The Conservative platform first promised to repeal the Trudeau government’s gun ban. But after a little blowback from the Liberals and the press O’Toole took out his magic marker and added a footnote: “All firearms that are currently banned will remain banned.”
In terms of credibility, it’s often “one strike and you’re out.” Or at most two. But O’Toole had three strikes in not much more than a month. He originally said he would make life more affordable by scrapping the carbon tax. He said he would get irresponsible spending under control. And he said he would make Canada safer by stopping illegal gun smuggling rather than wasting money taking guns from licenced gun owners.
Maybe he hoped voters wouldn’t notice his campaign platform proposed exactly the opposite: raising the carbon tax, increasing runaway spending and maintaining expensively ineffective gun policies. Voters aren’t stupid. They held him accountable. And they’re not likely to forget. Once you’ve lost your credibility it’s very hard to grow it back.
This column was first published in the Financial Post on Oct. 1, 2021.