Progressive Conservative Leader David Alward may be behind in the polls but he isn't shying away from proposing contentious policy options.
The latest Tory plan would have corporate tax cuts halted at 10 per cent compared to the Liberals who are proposing to push them down to eight per cent by 2012, which would make them the lowest in Canada.
And Alward's Tories, according to a party spokesman, would freeze the taxes on "the wealthiest New Brunswickers earning an average of $450,000 per year. All other tax reductions for low-income and middle-class New Brunswickers would continue to be implemented as scheduled."
That is a clear statement, although the average of $450,000 is odd, but leave that aside for a moment.
Alward has provided a clear ideological choice to New Brunswickers. People who believe that corporations should be taxed lower so they can create jobs and highly-skilled and well-educated people who seek high-paying jobs should vote Liberal.
And people who believe that small businesses are the economic engines that churn out jobs and that wealthier individuals can survive without tax cuts so the government can fund other programs should vote Progressive Conservative.
There is a clear philosophical divide between the two major parties on the question of taxation. Leaders on both sides should revel in a real debate.
In order for the debate to unfold, some parts of the Tory tax strategy must become more clear as the ambiguity could have far-reaching impacts on a large number of New Brunswick taxpayers and not just the wealthy.
The Liberal government has passed their tax cut agenda into law so any changes would need to be done by a vote inside the legislature. The Alward Tories need to explain how this campaign promise impacts the other four tax brackets.
Currently, New Brunswickers pay 9.30 per cent on their first $36,421 of income, 12.5 per cent on income from $36,421 to $72,843, $13.3 per cent from $72,843 to $118,427 and 14.3 per cent for all income higher than $118,427.
There are no tax brackets for what might be deemed in some quarters as the super rich. There is no tax bracket for people who make an average of $450,000. Every cabinet minister, the leader of the opposition and deputy minister in New Brunswick would fit in that top tax bracket.
And while $118,000 is a lot of money, it is not super rich.
But the Liberal tax changes require that by 2012, the second year of the next government's mandate, the tax rate for all income below $37,893 will be nine per cent and all income above that will be taxed at 12 per cent.
What is not clear from the Tory tax plan is how will Alward impose these tax changes. It seems the only option would have Alward totally rewrite the tax brackets.
The irony, of course, is that Alward who is priding himself on the nickname "the consulter" is making changes to a policy that the Liberals did carry out extensive consultations on, from hiring esteemed economist Jack Mintz to prepare options, releasing a discussion paper, holding public consultations and then introducing in its budget.
Liberal Greg Byrne called Alward's tax promise on Friday "reckless." Such strong language implies that Byrne has more knowledge about how the tax plan will roll out than the rest of us. If he does, he should share those details or relax on the rhetoric.
Alward has opened up a legitimate policy debate over the future of how people are taxed. But the Tories must now explain how each individual tax bracket will be altered under this new plan because a significant amount of people are preparing for tax cuts in the next two years and not just the wealthy.
Donald Savoie called on politicians to have an honest debate how the province will drag itself out of an economic crisis. Alward stepped up and pitched a plan but now it's time to see those details.
-- Daniel McHardie