Well, in marked contrast to his reaction to being questioned about his HST stance last week, Michael Ignatieff at least now seems willing to admit that he has, in fact, taken a position on the harmonization plan, and even clarifies — albeit in rather vague terms — how his position differs from that of the current Conservative government.
He also confirms that, as “a party of government”, it would be irresponsible of the Liberals to say that they’d “rip up an agreement that has been duly negotiated between a federal … and a provincial government.” That doesn’t, however, mean that, as prime minister, he wouldn’t sit down with those provincial governments to discuss any “problems in the application” of the existing agreement in order to make it “fairer and more equitable for Canadians.”
On the other hand, he still didn’t have an explanation for the Three’s Company-calibre communication meltdown that apparently occurred between OLO and Queen’s Park over where, exactly, his party stood on the HST deal with Ontario, although in his defence, nobody asked him for one.
Anyway, here’s a quick and dirty transcript — and note that the first question is from none other than Colleague Rich Madan of CityTV:
Question: Last week the premier said he would ask you to clarify your position on the harmonized sales tax. I’m wondering, we have you here in Toronto today — could you clarify whether you support or don’t support the introduction of an HST in Ontario and British Columbia?
Michael Ignatieff: Look, the HST harmonized sales taxing arrangement was initiated by the Harper government. They have sought the cooperation of two provinces. There are a couple of problems. The first problem is, there is no national plan. So Mr. Harper as usual is playing one province against the other. The BC plan looks this way. The Ontario plan is different. We would have done that differently. We think this is one country. And if you’re going to do harmonized sales tax, you ought to have a national plan that has consistent national sense, so that’s the first problem.
The second problem is that if this is a deal done by the Harper government and the McGuinty government and the Campbell government and we come into office, we’re a party of government. We’re serious, professional people. We are not going to rip up an agreement that has been duly negotiated in — between a federal government and a provincial government but — and this would be my third and final remark — in those cases where there is still unfairness, there is still problems in its application, we would listen carefully to the provincial government’s concern, and see what we could do to make it fairer and more equitable for the Canadians and the provinces concerned.
Question: I’m going to ask a follow-up to Mr. Madan’s question. We know what you were saying what would you do but where do you personally stand on this agreement between Prime Minister Harper and the governments of British Columbia and Ontario? Where do you stand on this issue?
Michael Ignatieff: My view of this is — look, Mr. Harper decided to push sales tax harmonization in the middle of a recession. He got two provinces to agree. The right way to do this is to get a national plan with a harmonized sales tax proposal that makes sense for all the provinces. Instead, he’s playing one province against the other. That’s problem number one.
Problem number 2 is, were we in government and this sales tax is in place and the harmonization has occurred, it’s just not responsible for a party of government to say, well, we’ll tear it up and go back to ground zero. What we can do and what we can say to Ontarians and British Columbians is if there is unfairness, if there are problems, if there are things that are really hurting the local economy, of course we’re going to sit down with the province and say, can we correct this? Can we help? Can we make this fairer for Canadians. That, I’m prepared to do.