Just how weird is the Tories’ new carbon-tax attack site, Plenty.

Amid the faux-populist fulminations against the “cosmopolitan elites” who supposedly favour the tax (versus the jes’-plain-folks who would be hurt by it, including farmers, fishermen, cabbies and … economists), the pandering to lefty paleo-greens who find carbon taxes too market-oriented (the tax will “give polluters an unlimited license to pollute,” it claims, which is not only untrue but contrary to acres of previous Tory speechifying to the effect that “carbon is not a pollutant” — which is true), the undergraduate rhetoric (“weasel words”) and grade school humour (farting cows), it will perhaps be overlooked that the main thrust of the piece — that the carbon tax will not be revenue-neutral, as the Liberals claim, but rather is just another in a long line of sneaky tax grabs — is aimed squarely at the Conservatives’ own exposed flank.

Of the six historic examples the Tories provide (click on “Tax Tricks Timeline”), at least four happened under Conservative prime ministers: the income tax (introduced in 1917, under Robert Borden), the gas tax (1932, R. B. Bennett), the corporate income tax surtax (1987, Brian Mulroney), and — most astonishing of all — the GST (1991, Mulroney again). [UPDATE: Make that five of six: the “McGuinty health care premium” introduced by the Ontario Liberal government in 2004 was simply a revival of a tax first introduced under the Conservatives, and scrapped by a previous Liberal government. Another Conservative “health care” tax, the Fair Share Health-Care Levy introduced under Mike Harris, was never repealed, but simply became the Ontario surtax.]

Given this government’s increasingly reckless disregard for the truth, I had thought at first this showed a becoming candour, on the GST especially. That was until I read the accompanying copy.

“The GST,” it reads, or rather sneers, “was introduced as another ‘revenue-neutral’ tax that would merely replace the manufacturer’s sales tax.” Yes, that was the Conservative talking point of the day. It also happens to be the truth. Look it up. In 1989-90, the last full year of the MST, the federal government collected some $17.7-billion from the tax. That was equal to 15.3% of federal revenues, or about 2.7% of GDP. Flash forward to 2005-06, the last full year before the Harper government began cutting the GST. In that year, the tax yielded $33.0-billion. Tax grab? Hardly: in proportionate terms, that was down to 14.9% of revenues; as a share of GDP, it was also down, to 2.4%.

The notion that the GST was some sort of tax grab is one of those things that “everybody knows” that just ain’t so. Either the Tories themselves were unaware of this rather salient fact — or they knew, and preferred to pander to populist ignorance. Either way, I can’t say I’m surprised.

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