Day's plan found in secret paper

Wednesday, November 08 – Online Edition, Posted at 5:15 AM EST

Toronto — Under the prime ministership of Stockwell Day, Parliament would hold a free vote on marijuana use, natives on reserves would lose their sales-tax exemptions, the CBC would be put up for sale, and 25 per cent of the voters in a riding could unseat a member of Parliament.

These and many other policies are contained in the official but confidential policy background document sent to Canadian Alliance riding candidates in the coming federal election. A copy of the document has been obtained by The Globe and Mail.

The "Policy Overview" is to be used by candidates when questioned by reporters, in debates or during door-to-door-canvassing. It not only elaborates on the broad outlines of Alliance policy contained in the party's released election platform, but also offers "talking points," explaining how to answer questions or elaborate on issues.

The policies as outlined in the background document go considerably farther than either Mr. Day or his official election platform have been prepared to venture.

For example, the Alliance has proposed national referendums on contentious issues if there was sufficient public interest, without defining how that interest would be measured.

The policy overview, however, sets a specific target of "3 per cent of the total number of voters who cast ballots in the last election" as the minimum number of names needed on a petition to force a referendum on capital punishment or abortion.

Based on 1997 federal election returns, 395,244 signatures would be required to force a referendum under Alliance rules.

The Alliance platform vaguely states that it would allow the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. to "raise private capital," in order to secure new funding. The talking points maintain that the broadcaster could be put up for sale.

"The Canadian Alliance government will consider bids for CBC television and internet services, subject to majority Canadian ownership ... the government shouldn't compete with private broadcasters," it states.

Phil von Finckenstein, director of communications for the party, insisted the policies contained in the briefing binders were not final party policy.

The documents "are put together by researchers to give candidates background information on issues," he said in an interview.

The policy document gives a number of details that have not been discussed on the campaign trail.

For example, Mr. Day has often promised tax credits for parents sending their children to religious or other private schools.

The platform overview goes considerably further: "The Alliance will undertake negotiations with the provinces to ensure that all parents have equal access to education that reflects their beliefs and preferences since the parents know what is best for their children."

Such negotiations could lead to vouchers, in which parents can deposit their education taxes in the form of tuition payments to the private schools.

"In essence, it will lead to a two-tier education system," protested Liz Sandals, president of the Ontario Public School Boards' Association. Wealthy citizens will be able to combine their vouchers with private resources to send their children to exclusive schools, she maintained, "and then you will have the poor, who in essence will become trapped in a default public system."

Similarly, while the Alliance election platform states only that aboriginal people should "pay their fair share of federal and provincial tax," the talking points specify that residents on reserves would lose their exemption from paying GST on goods purchased on or delivered to a reserve.

"The Canadian Alliance will ensure that Status Indians living on-reserve have the same tax obligations as aboriginal people living off-reserve and all other Canadians," it states.

The document also proposes that any federal-provincial disputes over fiscal issues, such as the bitter conflict between Ottawa and the provinces over whether health care was adequately funded, would be resolved by binding arbitration, greatly weakening the federal government's power.

The overview is "simply there to help candidates who haven't been fully briefed on the issues to become fully briefed," Mr. von Finckenstein maintained.

Copyright © 2003 Bell Globemedia Inc. All Rights Reserved.