Today was the day a couple new records in Canada political history were finally settled. David Akin of Global News pointed to these on his Twitter feed recently, that when Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland rose in the House today to present her first budget, it had been 762 days since the last one (record #1) and 501 days elapsed in the 43rd Parliament before a government presented a budget (record #2). Of course, COVID did play into some of that but not all of it, as this government did present a fiscal update in November (that still hasn’t passed through the House of Commons yet I might add).
But regardless of the record-setting nature of this budget, or the fact that Minister Freeland became the first woman to ever present a Federal budget in Canada, people were more interested in the contents of it than anything else. Given the fact that we are more than 13 months into God knows how many more of this bloody pandemic, there was more riding on this budget than usual. Quite the stage to step onto for such a first. So how did it come off? Well here are some choice Tweets that speak to how I saw it:
All in all, this isn’t a budget that was going to set peoples ideological sirens off. Given the recent rise of COVID cases across the country over the past few weeks, it became pretty clear that this budget was going to be more about governing through the pandemic than it was readying for the next election. That didn’t mean that some of this couldn’t serve dual purposes, but really if this budget wasn’t looking to send us to the polls, it succeeded. There were no poison pills, no games, which was a refreshing change.
The budget did put some policy prescriptions in the window that will feature in an election campaign, whenever that comes, but they were measures that mostly met the needs of this moment. The best example of this was on childcare, with more than $2 billion promised for a national $10-a-day child-care program. For all this governments talk on progressive issues like this, this marked some of the first real dollars put behind backing them up, which surely won’t hurt come campaign time. That being said, this policy will require the provinces to buy in. So for the Liberals, if enough provinces don’t go along with it, it could die on the vine and he could blame Conservative Premiers for denying Canadians this important social program. So for me the true test of this promise will come not from the budget passing, but how hard Trudeau and his government will truly fight to make this happen. But we won’t know that for a while still.
Unlike most budgets in a minority government scenario, there isn’t the drama about if the government will fall on this matter of confidence. Jagmeet Singh and the NDP made it clear that they will support the government as long as the pandemic continues. That isn’t to say that there aren’t items missing in this budget from their wish list, including the lack of a wealth tax or greater support for Pharmacare or dental care. But as important as those issues are to the New Democrats, they aren’t enough to push them to break on their responsible promise, especially with a budget includes a national childcare plan that they have pushed for. Also there are other former NDP platform pieces in this budget, like a $15 federal minimum wage, making it feel more like a recycling of a Thomas Mulcair platform than anything else (but I’ll come back to that in a moment).
All those other issues and policies that weren’t covered in this budget will be litigated during the 44th Federal Election and right now Canadians are expecting their parties to work together for the common good. That expectation actually takes a lot of pressure off of a party like the NDP, because they can still vote for this, take credit for the wins they got in it, and push for more in the next campaign. Conversely for the other Opposition parties, I’m not sure what they get by voting against this reasonable budget. It speaks directly to the needs of Canadians in this pandemic and if you vote against it, you’re basically voting for denying people help in a global crisis. So why not just suck it up, vote yes, and blunt any credit the Liberals and NDP will get for voting yes? It seems pretty logical to me, but something tells me the Conservatives and Bloc will find a way to say no. This budget isn’t perfect & could be improved upon, but it’s good enough to allow a majority of MPs to put their differences aside to accomplish what this moment of crisis demands of them.
But one word of caution for the government here when it comes to this budget, and that has to do with things said in the past. Let’s face it, it’s one thing to pick and choose from an opponent’s platforms of the past to try to steal their thunder and voters. It’s a totally different proposition when you try to do that with policies that you so strongly attacked when the others support them. The prime example here? That $15 federal minimum wage that was in today’s budget. The NDP ran on that in 2019 and also back in 2015 under Tom Mulcair. The Liberals went after that policy hard, said that it “applies to less than 1% of minimum wage earners in Canada” and also called it a “mirage” and “misleading”. How do I know that? Well the Liberals still have this up live online as I write this at 8:19 pm EST. But in case someone finally gets wise and takes it down, here are some screenshots of the site:
Or how about this one on the NDP’s childcare plan that was just cribbed from today:
You’d think in 2021 that parties would learn to take down old websites that could come back to bite them in the rear when they did a full 180-degree flip on those policies they attack. Now that’s just on one policy, I’m sure that if I wanted to spend some time digging, I could find similar stuff on national childcare and other policies that the Liberals chose to include today. But the point is when you see what they said before, and what’s they’re saying now when they’re trying to attract supporters there way, that naturally brings about some suspicion and raises questions.
So yeah, the Liberals are doing the right thing today with some of these moves and yes, I’m good with seeing some of these NDP proposals coming closer to reality, but pardon me if I’ll wait to celebrate until I see these policies get all the way across the finish line. Given the COVID circumstances that we’re in today, this isn’t the time to risk an election on such understandable mistrust and concerns, but this is the Liberals chance to basically “put up or sit down”. Putting this in a budget is a good start, but it’s just a start. Let’s see how well they follow through to see if the historic nature of this budget goes beyond the records mentioned at the start. If they actually do follow through, then that will be good for Canadians, regardless of your political stripe or creed.