On Campaign Lies and Distortions, Conservatives Are Leading the Pack

The verb “promise” is defined by Merriam-Webster as “to pledge to do, bring about, or provide; to suggest beforehand: give promise of.” We hear a lot of politicians “promise” a  lot of things in an election campaign, some grandiose and nigh impossible, some more reasonable and attainable. As voters, we know these are pledges and we know that many will not be kept. Yet most of us–despite the highly cynical political atmosphere in which we live–are idealistic enough to believe that some of what we’re being told will happen. So we head out to the polling station and cast our vote for the political party whose promises align most with our values. 

The loftiest promises get the most attention during the campaign and afterward, when they inevitably fail to be kept. (Ahem, balanced budget–the empty promise that all parties make on the regular.) These failings become fodder for the next campaign, when political opponents cite broken promises as proof that the incumbent government “lied” and cannot be trusted. Some go further and claim that incumbents not only lied in the past but are lying about their future plans, harbouring secrets that will lead to all kinds of nightmarish outcomes. Which leads me to Canada’s current federal campaign. 

The Conservative and Liberal parties are in a virtual tie with two days to go before the election. Both have distorted the truth, sometimes egregiously, as seen in this report about Chinese language ads run by both parties on Facebook. Some claims come down to semantics. For example, the Conservatives claim that Trudeau lied about lowering taxes for the middle class. In fact, he did lower the income tax rate, so one could spin this as Trudeau telling the truth. The problem is that his cuts to tax credits and income splitting for families raised  the amount of tax some families pay. (Abbotsford News) So, the Conservatives are also right that some families are paying more tax. The whole campaign has been filled with this kind of spin, with the facts rarely being presented fully. 

Clearly the Liberals and Conservatives are both guilty of distorting the truth and some fear-mongering, as witnessed by the Chinese language ads. But it seems the Conservatives might be getting more desperate because they have really ramped up the lies of late. And, wow. These are some whoppers. 

I just received this card in the mail. 

Conservative Party of Canada flyer

Both of these statements are incontrovertibly false. The “secret Liberal memo” is actually a policy proposal submitted by Liberal MP Adam Vaughn as a suggestion on how to combat housing speculation. As an article from TVO notes, “Vaughan’s paper never went anywhere. It’s not a part of the housing platform the Liberal party has announced this election, the party explicitly disavows the idea, and, since the idea is politically suicidal, there’s no reason to think they’re fibbing on this one.”

As for the “massive hike” to the carbon tax, the Liberal party has always been clear that the tax will increase over time. Yet it is not going to affect the average Canadian nearly as much as the Conservatives would have us believe. Like their provincial counterparts, the federal Tories fail to tell the whole story on the carbon tax. They never mention the rebate that will offset increased costs in fuel. Nor the truth about the clean fuel standard the Liberals plan to implement. Nor the fact that the Liberals have made no claim to increase the carbon tax beyond the $50 per tonne that would be charged by 2022. Yes, the Liberals could always change their minds and raise the price, but they have no plans to do so. Saying there is a “massive hike” coming is an outright lie. (This CBC report offers a good explanation of the issue.) 

Those two lies have been called out by most media outlets. More insidious are the other, smaller distortions I’ve seen from my local Conservative candidate, Terence Young. A flyer he mailed out recently, shown below, contains more half-truths and “facts” taken out of context. I’ll go over them one-by-one here.  

“Ordinary people are falling behind while wealthy and well-connected corporations are making a fortune. The Liberals handed Blackberry $40 M, gave multi-billion dollar Loblaws $12 M for freezers, $49 M to Canada-Kuwait Petrochemical, and wrote off two multimillion-dollar loans to the Irvings, one of Canada’s richest families.” Well, gosh, that sounds horrible. But let’s dig a little deeper. 

  • On Blackberry. The money is coming from  the government’s Strategic Innovation Fund for Blackberry’s QNX software which will, among other things “consolidate things like lane assistance and blind-spot detection, so that the cars of the future are safer and more reliable.” Further, the “company is putting $310 million of its own money into the initiative, expected to create 800 jobs over the next decade at BlackBerry’s campus in the Ottawa suburb of Kanata, as well as support 300 existing jobs there.” (National Post)
  • On Loblaws: This one looks bad on the surface but is part of a federal project to help businesses reduce carbon emissions.“Provincial and territorial governments, municipalities, Indigenous communities and organizations, businesses and non-profits were invited to apply for a share of the $450-million program, to fund up to 25 per cent of an eligible project. The winners were to be those with projects that cut the most emissions.” Loblaw was just one of many companies selected. (CTV)
  • On Canada-Kuwait Petrochemical. Out of context, this sounds pretty bad too, but, like the Blackberry project, this one falls under strategic innovation. The project is outlined here:

“Pembina Pipeline Corporation along with Petrochemical Industries Company K.S.C. of Kuwait, will construct a $4.5 billion, 550,000 ton per annum, integrated propane dehydrogenation plant and polypropylene upgrading facility through their equally-owned joint venture entity, Canada Kuwait Petrochemical Corporation near Edmonton…The plant will transform propane into plastic pellets that can be transported by rail to container ships. PP is a high value polymer, which can be cost-effectively transported, using existing third-party infrastructure, throughout North America and to global markets. PP is fully recyclable and can be used in a wide range of finished products including automobiles, medical devices, food packaging and home electronic appliances, among others.” (Area Development) Another report notes that “At the peak of construction, more than 3,000 workers will be on site, with the project expected to create over 200 full-time operations and head office jobs upon completion.” (CIAC)

  • On the Irvings. The loans totalled $7.4 million. Rightly or wrongly, the loans were never intended to be repaid in full. They were a form of investment doled out in 2003 and designed to offset the impact of a shipyard that was closing. The Irving Group matched federal funds dollar-for-dollar in establishing a new drywall plant to help counter job losses from the shuttered shipyard. (Global News) More on this story from the CBC. And, not for nothing, Terence Young was part of the Conservative government that, under Stephen Harper, bailed out Chrysler and GM with billions of dollars of taxpayer money. According to the Fraser Institute, “federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty trumpeted the bailout and claimed Chrysler repaid the loans in full. That was false…Do the math, and taxpayers in Canada are still short $810 million on the original $2.9 billion Chrysler loan. That will never be recouped…” The Fraser Institute assessment is also critical of the loan to GM. (More on both from Macleans.)

Another claim made by Terence Young: “The Liberals forced faith groups…to betray their deeply held beliefs in writing, or be cut off from $200M worth of summer jobs. Our Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees us freedom of conscience, religion, thought and belief which will be protected by a Conservative government.” Again, this sounds terrible, but it is only half the story. 

  • The truth. The Liberals had taken action to ensure “Canada Summer Jobs money went only to groups with ‘mandates that are consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and court decisions.’” They were reacting to news that anti-abortion groups were using funds from the program to promote their anti-choice initiatives. Initially the Liberals had proposed an attestation that any organization seeking funding for summer jobs would respect individual rights as outlined in the Charter. Some groups viewed the attestation as a “values test” that undermined their right to freedom of religion. So the Liberals changed things. Instead of an attestation, the policy states that groups that “undermine or restrict reproductive rights, promote intolerance or prejudice or that would otherwise discriminate on any prohibited grounds cannot receive funding.” (Global News) No one has to attest to anything. Service Canada reviews applications and determines who can receive funding. Yes, the Liberals’ first attempts to get this policy off the ground were clumsy and confusing. But they changed course. No one is forcing people to betray their beliefs. It is inflammatory and false to say so.

On crime, Terence Young claims that the “Liberals and our courts refuse to enforce minimum sentences.”

  • The truth. Michael  Spratt writes in Canadian Lawyer that Trudeau did nothing to change mandatory minimum sentences. So, on this issue, Trudeau has stayed the course laid out by the Stephen Harper Conservatives. What exactly is Terence  Young’s point here then? (BTW, Spratt also talks about why mandatory minimums do not work: “The overwhelming weight of expert evidence shows that minimum sentences not only do nothing to prevent crime but actually result in an increased likelihood of recidivism. Minimum sentences actually make our streets more dangerous, disproportionally (sic) impact racialized and marginalized groups and result in wrongful convictions. Minimum sentences represent a myopic criminal justice policy born of a failed tough-on-crime ideology.” Read more on criminal justice on the John Howard Society site.)

Some of what Terence Young said in his campaign flyer is true, particularly the piece about Trudeau’s ethics violations. But much of it is false and distorted, yet presented as unequivocal fact. 

Pie-in-the-sky promises that go nowhere are one thing. Outright lies are quite another. I am not condoning any particular party, although I am clearly condemning one. (I’ve never been a Tory supporter and never will be, but the fact is they gave me a LOT to work with here.) There are plenty of reasons people might not want to vote Liberal, but instead of focusing on those, the Conservatives are making stuff up. They like to shout about Trudeau’s ethics violations, but what does it say about their ethics that they base their campaign on highly sensationalist fabrications instead of facts?

The election is the day after tomorrow and I still don’t know who I’m voting for.  But I am very worried that Conservative lies will sway enough voters to turn some ridings Tory blue. If this party is willing to stoop so low when campaigning, what will they do if they actually manage to hold power, either in a minority or majority government?

Even if you do not fear the Tories quite like I do, it is clear that they have made some outrageous claims that cannot be substantiated. So take a lesson from their less-than-ethical campaigning. Do your homework before voting. Don’t take any claims from any party at face value. Dig deeper. Consult multiple sources as I did here.  Find the facts. Only then can you make a truly informed decision. 

Terence Young flyer

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