"Nice transit policy, but you're still scary."
As a general rule, I prefer incentives over coercion in public policy initiatives. From that standpoint, the CPC transit policy about to be unveiled might have some points in its favour:
The Conservatives have moved into the fast lane on green transportation policy, promising to make bus and subway passes tax deductible if they form the next federal government.
Details of the proposal, aimed at attracting urban voters, are to revealed Thursday at the party's caucus meeting in Toronto.
I won't get into the never-ending debate over whether the tax code should be used to encourage specific behaviour, except to reiterate that I favour carrots over sticks for this sort of thing. I won't speculate about the effect of tax incentives on 'choice' versus 'captive' transit commuters, or give you my opinion on the optimal mix of employer deductions and employee deductions in transit tax policy. I won't get into the dangers of incenting a behaviour for which adequate infrastructure is lacking - although I will ask rhetorically how long those who switch to public transit because of a couple C-notes at tax time will remain on public transit if their commute is 50% longer or stinkier, or if they have to change their work schedule drastically because there are only three buses heading their way, and they can't afford to miss one. Just askin' is all. And I certainly won't get into the idea of tax breaks for companies who let their employees telecommute and thereby do more than anyone to reduce gridlock and smog.
Anyhow, I'm not going to get into all that because James Bow already has, and besides, I simply haven't got time. Do the reading yourself if you're interested, and form your own opinions.
I will say, however, that I don't think transit trumps gay marriage - to pick an issue out of thin air - in the minds of the urban voter. Surely by now you know that the Conservatives are a bunch of scary, narrowminded bigots who eat small immigrant families by the light of bonfires heaped with copies of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. A transit policy doesn't change any of that. Just ask John Bennett of the Sierra Club, as quoted in the NP article cited above:
"It's a sign to lots of urban dwellers that the Conservatives are starting to think about things in broader terms than they usually do." (Babbler's italics)
Starting? Broader terms? Than usual?
Let me translate from PR-speak for you: "Wow, the Conservatives have stolen an NDP idea. While it doesn't change the fact that they're a scary bunch of homophobic, Bible-thumping, earth-raping, corporate puppets of the imperialist Amerikkan Bushitler military-industrial complex, engaged in a conspiracy to subjugate the world, we're going to applaud this initiative in public, because it gives us leverage to push the more palatable national parties' transit, environmental, and social-justice policies even further. Thanks for the big stick, Stephen."
I'm sorry, but the chances of a low-to-middle-income immigrant city-dweller, or a young female urbanite voting for Stephen Harper's Conservatives at election time are about the same as the chances of me taking Dalton McGuinty at his word on the campaign trail: not bloody likely. This policy may help open a few voters' minds, but it won't win a single vote on its own.
So while I believe that, apart from the strengths and weaknesses of this particular policy, acknowledging urban transit issues is a good small step into the world of the city-dwelling-voter, I think Conservatives do themselves a disservice if they mistake it for anything other than that. If we're taking small steps, we'll need a lot more of them to reach the Langevin Block.