Yesterday was Budget Day in Ottawa, a usually crazy day that usually brings some drama along with it. Well thanks to the Liberal members of the Justice Committee meetings killing the study into the SNC/PMO Scandal, that got cranked right up to 11, leading to threats of procedural shenanigans from the Conservatives to stop the introduction of the budget. But for one of the first times in this Parliament, the Liberals seemed to be on their procedural game as this happened:
Yep, Andrew Scheer and his Conservatives thought they had cornered the government in their attempt to stop the budget speech, therefore the introduction of the budget itself. They were going to delay and delay and make the news networks wait while stakeholders were held in the lock-ups until they relented. But someone read up on their rules obviously because while it is customary for the Budget speech to trigger when everyone can see the budget, under the rules there is no actual requirement to have that speech; they simple just have to table it. So that’s what the Finance Minister did; before a vote was called, the first of the designed attempts to stifle the speech, he rose, tabled the budget document and then spent the next 30 minutes while the bells rang calling people for a vote going on every live national news network to talk about the budget he just dropped on everyone. Game, set. But not quite match.
So, with that start to the budget drama, what was actually in there? What did we find in the last budget before the 2019 election campaign? Well, honestly, not that much:
When going over the budget docs and seeing what was in there, I guess my general sense was to be underwhelmed. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t expect huge swings for the fences in this budget; that’s what the campaign platform is for anyway. But with all the leaks that came out leaving blank details, I was expecting this budget to fill in more of those blanks. It really didn’t. The promised start towards pharmacare was underwhelming and really of no consequence; basically, arranging the bulk purchasing of drugs is not a bad idea, it’s just far from being a pharmacare plan. There was piddly help for childcare in there. The help for first time home owners is nice if you have an RRSP, but I would easily bet that the number of millennials with those is small and of those that do, they can already take from their RRSP’s to put towards the down payment on their home; I did that in 2015. But to be fair, the extra 5% coming from the government is an innovative idea for those who can actually use it, so a tip of the hat there. And it goes on from there.
In the end, it’s bits and ends towards many issues but nothing that’s going to make a drastic change. It’s a valid approach to take, but it’s not one that I think many of us were expecting. When I look at this budget as a New Democrat, I don’t feel so bad about where I sit; I personally expected this budget to go harder on things like pharmacare in an attempt to put the full squeeze on Team Orange and to really take a lot of their potential platform ideas right off the table. That didn’t happen today, especially on the pharmacare front. The government had the chance to take the idea beyond rhetoric to action, and didn’t do that, so that will make their case of “vote for me and trust me, you’ll get it after the election” a bit harder to make. That’s especially true given other key progressive promises they made last time then subsequently broke.
But of all the stories of the day, the big one was the Conservatives and how they managed to completely get played. I’ve said it here a few times that their danger with the SNC/PMO Scandal, which will go on after this budget, was overplaying their hand. Yesterday in the stretch of a few hours, they managed to get outmanoeuvered and then overplayed that worse hand multiple times. The Liberal procedural move at the start was just genius, giving credit where credit is due. But after that happened, the Conservatives could have sent Andrew Scheer out into that lobby to speak to media for the next 30 minutes about how underhanded and crappy this all was; but instead he stayed in the chamber, where no one was watching and made a scene. Then when Morneau finally rose to speak, of course the TV cameras were all on the panels and pundits talking about the budget that had been out for 40 minutes at that point. So instead of staying in the Chamber and trying to raise holy Hell, why not then step out and go talk to the media. Jagmeet Singh did that and got a prime chance to reply, getting more attention for his perspective and looking more statesmanly than Andy beating on his desk like a toddler. And finally, when he and his caucus stormed out of the Chamber and bee-lined it for the microphone, about 20 seconds into speaking, this happens:
Now don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe there is a time and a place for procedural shenanigans and such in the Chamber; it’s one of the few tools an Opposition has when the Government is totally out of line, and what they did in the Justice Committee rose to that level. But you also have to be smart about using those tactics; once it was clear that the budget was tabled and you weren’t stopping its release, they should have pivoted to a new strategy. If they had stormed out of the House then, going to the mics and saying that was a BS move on top of another BS move from earlier in the day, that would have looked much better on them. But instead of doing something like that, they overplayed their hand again and drew many comparisons all over the national news to children throwing a tantrum. That makes people question the seriousness of the whole SNC/PMO Scandal, which is more harmful to our democracy than anything else.
So, as we go ahead, this is a budget that won’t stick in peoples minds very long; it wasn’t bad, but it was far from being transformational or even consequential. It was a bland budget that just happened to be tabled before an election, when we usually see more meat on the bones. That gives the NDP some breathing room that I don’t think they were expecting, while the Conservatives look bad while having said almost nothing on the topic of the budget itself. All in all, quite the day of drama in Ottawa.