Bill Morneau’s fourth budget is in the books, and that’s a good thing since he didn’t get a chance to deliver his speech in the Commons on Tuesday because of the din made by Conservative MPs determined to keep the public’s attention on the SNC-Lavalin affair.
The Conservatives jeered. They pounded their desks and they chanted “let her speak” in reference to their demand that former Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould re-appear before the justice committee to discuss why she resigned.
Undeterred, the finance minister gamely plowed on, incapable of being heard on radio and television broadcasts, or even by his own mates on the government benches.
So let’s recap here.
Morneau’s fourth budget is not only the last instalment of the Liberals’ relentless pursuit of middle-class voters before the October election, it was a road map showing exactly which voters the party needs for another election win.
Millennials. Seniors. Blue-collar workers are all targeted for new spending, whether it’s help buying a first home, enhancements to the Canada Pension Plan or money for training. Mix in the Canada Child Benefit from Morneau’s first budget and from cradle to the grave, this government is putting more money in Canadians’ pockets.
As usual, Morneau didn’t call it spending. He never has.
Throughout his news conference in the budget lockup, the finance minister referred to investments, the need to continue to invest in Canadians even if it meant blowing by the campaign promise four years ago to balance the books by now.
“The most important promise we made to Canadians was to invest in their future,” Morneau replied when asked why the government was choosing to run deficits into the foreseeable future.
“I hope Canadians will look at what we’ve done since the beginning, to make investments in me and my family,” he said to another question about what Canadians should take from this budget.
“I think Canadians will look at us and know we delivered on our promise of more success, for more middle-class Canadians than ever before.”
Anxiety despite job growth
Underlying everything Morneau said, and every new measure he put in the budget, is a gnawing fear that Canadians may not feel any better off than they did four years ago in ending a decade of Conservative governments.
Morneau talked about that sense of anxiety even as he rang off the strong job growth numbers, how 54 per cent of those new jobs went to women. He mentioned it as he spoke about the biggest wage jump in a decade last year, and that Canada continues to lead the other G7 countries in economic growth.
Watch as Conservative MPs jeer Morneau:
“If you are a young person still struggling to find meaningful work, a low unemployment rate probably doesn’t mean that much,” he said in the speech that nobody heard.
“Good GDP numbers don’t mean a lot when the job you need to feed your family is on the line.”
New Democrats called the budget a wasted opportunity. Party Leader Jagmeet Singh said Canadians can’t wait for the measures outline in the budget that are spread out over five years, or won’t kick in until after the election.
An unusually eventful budget day
He said the NDP would bring in a national pharmacare plan now to ensure no one goes without the medications they need. The NDP would spend now to build more affordable housing, not sometime down the road.
“This government doesn’t have anything in this budget to build new affordable housing, nothing in this budget to address co-operative housing, or non market housing, instead they are offering people to use their RRSPs to buy their home,” he told reporters.
“How many millenials are able to use, to have enough in their RRSP to buy a home? It shows how disconnected Mr. Trudeau is with respect to what Canadians are going through.”
The Conservatives hammered at the failure to present a plan to return to budget balance, but only as an afterthought.
Party Leader Andrew Scheer seemed far more interested in portraying the budget as a blatant attempt to deflect attention away from the role Justin Trudeau and his office played in trying to stop the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin on fraud and corruption charges.
“Mr. Trudeau’s plan is obvious. Massive deficits to distract Canadians from his corruption before the election. Massive tax hikes to pay for them after the election,” he said.
“Canadians will not be distracted by Mr. Trudeau’s cover-up deficits. They demand answers on the SNC-Lavalin corruption scandal and Conservatives will do everything we can to get them.”
Scheer never said what the Conservatives would offer as an an alternative. Never said how his party would balance the books.
It all made for an unusually eventful budget day. A Liberal financial plan tuned into the anxiety voters might be feeling in advance of an election. The main opposition party honed in on keeping a scandal alive as long as they can. New Democrats and the Greens anxiously competing for any slice of the progressive vote they can peel away.
An election may still be six months away. The campaigning is already well under way.