Ask The Globe: Has Harper really increased spending on veterans?

For the duration of the election, The Globe is answering your questions – from fact-checking leaders’ statements to digging deep into policies and promises. Have a question? Tweet it with #AskTheGlobe

Globe reader N. Miller asks: To what was Conservative Leader Stephen Harper referring when he said, during the first leaders’ debate of this federal  election, that his Conservative government has increased spending on veterans by 35 per cent? #asktheglobe

Reporter Gloria Galloway in Ottawa has the answer:

In response to accusations by Liberal leader Justin Trudeau that the Conservative government had been “nickel and diming” veterans and not giving them the services they need, Mr. Harper said: “This government has made record investments in veterans. We’re spending 35 per cent more on the average veteran today directly than we were when we came to office.”

Is this true? Yes. Technically.

The annual budget of Veterans Affairs Canada increased from $2.85-billion in 2005-06, the year before Mr. Harper’s Conservatives were first elected to power, to $3.55-billion in 2015-16. That is down slightly from 2014-15 when the budget was $3.58-billion.

Meanwhile, the number of clients served by the department dropped from 220,660 to 199,154 between 2005-06 and 2014-15, largely due to the declining numbers of aging veterans from the Second World War and Korea.

So, between 2005-06 and 2014-15, the average annual expenditure per client of the Veterans Affairs department increased from $12,930 to $17,960, a jump of 38 per cent – which might suggest that Mr. Harper was being modest with his 35 per cent figure.

And it would seem to discount the complaints of modern-day veterans who say they are not being fairly or adequately compensated for their service.

But the numbers need some explanation.

The modern-day vets are compensated under what is known as the New Veterans Charter which was introduced by the previous Liberal government, supported by all parties in the House of Commons, and brought into force by the Conservatives shortly after they took office in 2006.

It replaces a system of lifetime pensions for disabled veterans with one that relies largely on lump-sum payments.

When the Liberals proposed the New Veterans Charter in 2005, Albina Guarnieri, who was the minister of veterans affairs, promised there would be increased spending of a billion dollars over six years to help ease the transition from one program to the other. And, when the Conservatives took office, they followed through with that commitment in their first budget, increasing the money to Veterans Affairs by $349.7-million to $3.20-billion in 2006-07.

The department’s budget then went up incrementally, year after year, until 2013-2014 when it started to drop off.

According to the Royal Bank’s inflation calculator, $3.20-billion in 2006 would be worth $3.72-billion in 2015. So, given that this year’s Veterans Affairs budget is $3.55-billion, the increases have not kept pace with inflation.

Also, in the intervening years, there were large numbers of soldiers returning from Afghanistan with severe physical and mental injuries – some estimates suggest more than 2,000 Canadians were wounded during that mission. Their treatment has consumed a significant portion of the money allotted to the Veterans Affairs department.

Plus, the government was forced to admit last year that, since 2006 when the Conservatives came to power, the department has returned $1.13-billion in unspent funds to the federal treasury.

So, while Mr. Harper is correct that the average amount spent by the federal government per client of the Veterans Affairs department has gone up, it would be wrong to say the department is spending more money, in real terms, on the needs of veterans than it did before the Conservatives took office.

Ask The Globe: Why isn’t Elizabeth May included in The Globe’s federal election debate?

For the duration of the election, The Globe is answering your questions – from fact-checking leaders’ statements to digging deep into policies and promises. Have a question? Tweet it with #AskTheGlobe

Globe reader @bodica23 asks: “Why isn’t Elizabeth May invited to debate?”

The Globe & Mail is hosting a federal election debate in September in partnership with Google Canada.  The debate, to be hosted in Calgary, will be streamed live on The Globe’s website and distributed on YouTube, and will focus on the Canadian economy.

We have invited the major party leaders to this debate  – those who have official status in The House of Commons.  Prime Minister Stephen Harper, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau have been asked to take part, because we believe a more streamlined, effective conversation about the Canadian economy will take place in that format.

David Walmsley, The Globe’s editor-in-chief says,  “We’ve set up the debate this way because we believe that by limiting the format to Canada’s three main party leaders, we will create a truly focused, successful discussion about the state of the Canadian economy.”

There are a total of five election debates in this campaign. The first, an English debate hosted by Maclean’s, took place in August. There will also be a bilingual debate hosted by Munk Debates on Sept. 28, and two French debates in October.

New NDP ad spoofs anti-Trudeau video to attack Harper

Thomas Mulcair’s New Democrats are launching a cheeky ad that parodies the widely viewed Conservative television spot known as “The Interview” in which four people pore over Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s resume around a boardroom table and decide he is “just not ready” to be prime minister.

The Tory ad has been running on TV since May, sometimes during prime-time sporting events, and polls suggest it has successfully created doubts in the minds of many Canadians about Mr. Trudeau’s ability to lead the country. It ends with one of the people assessing Mr. Trudeau’s record saying “Nice hair though.”

Airing on television starting next week, the NDP ad also depicts four people sitting in a boardroom, but in this case, they are critiquing the performance of Conservative Leader Stephen Harper.

It begins with one of them, a woman, saying, “We’ve had a lot of complaints.”

“Yeah,” pipes up a second woman, “election fraud, bribery.”

“Don’t forget Mike Duffy,” says a man.

“It says here he has the worst jobs record of any prime minister in decades,” says another man.

One of the women concludes that it is “time to let him go,” after which they all agree that Mr. Mulcair’s experience and priorities mean he is “up for the job.”

An announcer chimes in, saying: “Stephen Harper, it’s time to let him go.”

The commercial then ends with one of the men saying: “Nice hair, though.”

Brad Lavigne, the senior campaign adviser for the New Democrats, said in an e-mail on Friday that his party’s new ad highlights  Mr. Mulcair’s  readiness for the job of prime minister. It “makes the case why Stephen Harper should be fired and Tom Mulcair hired,” said Mr. Lavigne.

Perhaps concerned that political opponents will criticize the insertion of an attack ad into what Mr. Mulcair promised just two weeks  ago would be  a “very positive campaign,” Mr. Lavigne said the ad “is a direct reply to the attack ads the Conservatives have been running against Mr. Mulcair.”

In some ways, the New Democrats are just taking back what was lifted from them. The Conservative ad targeting Mr. Trudeau mimicked a 2011 Manitoba provincial ad used by the NDP against Hugh McFadyen who was then the leader of the Progressive Conservatives in that province.

Although the 11-week federal election campaign has now passed the halfway mark, the NDP has not spent much of its advertising budget, deliberately holding off until now to unleash what insiders say will be the biggest ad buy in the party’s history.

Stephen Lecce, a spokesman for the Conservative party, said he did not believe voters would buy into message of the NDP ad.

“We won’t be fooled by the NDP plan to impose an avalanche of taxes on Canadians,” Mr. Lecce said in an e-mail. “As taxpayers in Ontario and B.C. felt firsthand the devastating effects of NDP tax hikes, unemployment and deficits – for the NDP our message is: it’s always a bad time.”

Who were the most-Googled party leaders in every riding in August?

Stephen Harper’s down a little, and Thomas Mulcair and Justin Trudeau are up a little, but in general the order of the most-searched party leaders is the same as a month ago: Canadians are still Googling the Conservative Leader (who has been prime minister for nine years) the most (54 per cent of ridings), followed by the Liberal Leader (33 per cent) and the New Democrat (10 per cent). Elizabeth May and Gilles Duceppe were the most-searched leaders in a handful of ridings each.

While we’re all closely watching the polls — and while who’s Googled does necessarily translate into support — this does provide another data point for which leaders Canadians are interested in.

Ask The Globe: How many deficits has the Conservative government run?

For the duration of the election, The Globe is answering your questions – from fact-checking leaders’ statements to digging deep into policies and promises. Have a question? Tweet it with #AskTheGlobe

Globe reader Katherine asksHarper complains about Trudeau’s proposed deficits. Under Harper, how many years has Conservative govt run deficits#AskTheGlobe

Bill Curry, who covers finance in Ottawa, has the answer:

The short answer is six. It may turn out to be more. One would think there is an easy black and white answer to this one and yet the party leaders are offering conflicting information during this campaign. Conservative Leader Stephen Harper likes to say “We have a balanced budget.” Meanwhile NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair and Justin Trudeau often accuse Mr. Harper of running eight deficits in a row.

Let’s break it down.

The issue comes down to how much weight one gives to various budget forecasts, which are an estimate of what will happen in the future.

Federal finances operate under a fiscal year that starts April 1 and ends March 31. That means the 2014-15 fiscal year is over, but we won’t know until later this year – when the final accounting figures are released – whether that year was officially in surplus or deficit. As The Globe reported in August, those figures are expected to be released by Finance Canada during the campaign.

The most recent Conservative budget projected that the 2014-15 fiscal year will show a seventh consecutive deficit. However economists say that could turn out to be a small surplus. We should find out the answer soon.

Now where does the claim of eight deficits come in?

The Conservatives promised to return to surplus in the current 2015-16 fiscal year. The April budget forecasted a $1.4-billion surplus. But the Parliamentary Budget Officer has said the year is on track for a $1-billion deficit due to slower-than-expected growth.

That means the opposition claims of eight straight budget deficits is based on six years of official results, plus the budget forecast of a seventh consecutive deficit and then the PBO’s projection that this year will also be in deficit.

Mr. Harper’s claim that the budget is balanced is based on two sources. First, the 2015 budget forecasted a balanced budget this year. Secondly, Finance Canada provides monthly updates on Ottawa’s bottom line. Over the first quarter of the fiscal year, Ottawa is running a $5-billion surplus, though the department cautions against reading too much into such early figures.

So there it is. The Conservatives have officially run six straight deficits and the projections for the next two years are too close to call as to whether they will be in surplus or deficit. There are no official final numbers to support the Conservative claim that Canada has a balanced budget, nor are there official final numbers to support opposition claims that Canada has run eight straight deficits.

Canadians are hearing contradictory statistics because party leaders are picking the forecasts that suit their political message.

Update: On Sept. 14, the federal government announced figures for the 2014-15 fiscal year that showed it had posted a surplus.

Where do voters get their politics news? TV and the Internet, mostly

In this new digital age, how do you reach voters? Increasingly, parties need to go online. But for now TV is still king.



Abacus conducted the survey by talking to 2,002 Canadians over the age of 18 through a mix of online panels and live telephone interviews. The data were demographically weighted in line with the general population, and the margin of error is plus or minus 2.2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. The poll was conducted in January and February of this year.

Ask The Globe: Do we, as PM Harper has stated, have the cleanest electricity grid in Canada?

For the duration of the election, The Globe is answering your questions – from fact-checking leaders’ statements to digging deep into policies and promises. Have a question? Tweet it with #AskTheGlobe

Globe reader Greg Bennett asks: Do we, as PM Harper has stated, have the cleanest electricity grid in Canada?

Energy reporter Shawn McCarthy says yes – it’s true. But the answer is a little more complicated:

Conservatives’ attacks on Mulcair not too effective, survey suggests

As explained in today’s story, new survey data from Innovative Research Group suggests the Liberals are having some success with advertising rebutting Conservative attacks against Justin Trudeau. But of course, they wouldn’t need to do so if those attacks hadn’t been effective in branding the Liberal Leader as a “not ready” lightweight to begin with.

To the much more limited extent that the Tories are going after NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair, it appears they’re struggling to find an angle that’s similarly effective.

In the same early-August  survey in which it found the Liberals’ new ad has a significant impact on those who see it, the polling company also tested a pair of anti-Mulcair Conservative ads. Both use the same “job interview” format as the ones against Mr. Trudeau, but the attempts to cast Mr. Mulcair as an opportunistic career politician seemed to have more limited effect.

In fact, when Innovative Research screened the first of those spots (above) – asking respondents a series of questions both before and after they saw it – it found no statistically significant impact on either voting intentions or impressions of Mr. Mulcair relative to the other party leaders.

The second ad, which is slightly more focused on alleging Mr. Mulcair has wasted taxpayers’ money and less so on using his longevity in politics and his past as a (Quebec) Liberal to suggest he’s an opportunist, proved somewhat more effective. Among respondents who hadn’t seen it before, support for the NDP went down by five percentage points after they saw it, although it’s not clear whether that went to the Tories or the Liberals. And the share of respondents who chose Mr. Mulcair as the leader who most “cares about people like me” went down by seven points.

While significant, neither of those hits is huge when an ad is viewed in isolation. And on other perceptions of leaders’ qualities, such as competence and who cares most about the middle class, there was again no clear impact.

Considering how little these two ads have been airing so far, it’s possible the Tories aren’t using their best stuff against the NDP yet. But it’s worth remembering that, even with Mr. Trudeau, they spent a while running spots that didn’t really work before they hit their target. If they decide before this campaign is over to make Mr. Mulcair their main target, they’ll have a much smaller window to get it right.

(Full methodology for Innovative Research’s surveys are available from its website.)