Federal budget is a shrewd election plan
One hundred billion dollars in new spending. The promise of a “green recovery.” Money for youth to prevent a “lost generation.” All items in the Liberal budget delivered Monday, and all ready-to-go election slogans. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau may claim he doesn't want to go to the polls, but he apparently failed to tell that to his finance minister.
The Liberals' plan hits all its target voter groups — and then some. Its child care plan — $30 billion over five years and child care fees halved by 2022 — is designed to appeal primarily to women, who have disproportionately lost their jobs in the pandemic. Small-business assistance is geared to entrepreneurial “blue Liberals,” as well as Conservative voters who are lukewarm on their party's prospects. For left-leaning Liberals and NDP switchers, there are some tax-the-rich items, including levies on fancy boats and cars, and a $15-an-hour minimum wage for federal workers.
And for the senior set, there's a one-time
$500 payment in August 2021, as well as a permanent 10-per-cent increase to old-age-security payments for pensioners aged 75 and over starting in July 2022. That will put an extra $766 in the pocket of full pensioners and “impact” 3.3 million seniors — a cohort that traditionally boasts a high voter turnout.
Then there's what isn't in this budget. There's no universal basic income — despite the fact the idea was endorsed at this month's Liberal party policy convention by a vote of
491 to 85. There's no new money for pharmacare, despite the Liberals championing this initiative in the last election. And there is no new capital gains tax on primary residences to cool the housing market, despite the fact that Canadian house prices have on average ballooned by an astronomical 30 per cent in the last year.
Why leave those three policies out? Because the average employed home-owning middle-class voter doesn't need the universal basic income; likely has workplace health insurance to help with medical expenses; and would downright loathe any tax on their home equity. While the budget does propose to tax vacant property owned by non-residents, the Liberals know that many Canadians are only too happy that their house is rising in value. Claw back that gain, and they would face the ire of millions of voters who plan to use that growing equity wealth as their retirement fund.
From that perspective, the budget is a winwin: Not only do the Liberals avoid angering a key demographic, but they get to enrage the NDP. All three proposals are on the New Democrats' wish list, especially after the Liberals and Tories defeated the NDP'S proposed pharmacare legislation in February 2020. NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has vowed not to bring down the government during COVID-19'S third wave, but how many punches can he stand before he takes a swing back?
Finally, Trudeau extends the myriad pandemic-relief benefits, including the eligibility period for the Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB), which rises to 50 weeks from the current cap of 38 weeks. The program would have expired in June, but now will run until September. Payments will continue to run at the current $500 a week until mid-july, when they will drop to $300.
Those dates give the government plenty of electoral runway. Trudeau can go to the polls before the end of June, before anyone has had their benefits cut, or he can wait until September, at which point the economy will have probably recovered somewhat, leaving fewer people in need of the program (but still able to access it). Trudeau also gets to cut Ontario Premier Doug Ford's lawn by extending federal employment insurance benefits while Ford's provincial Tory government faces volleys from the opposition and critics on its delayed consideration of paid sick leave for essential workers — an issue that could rebound on the federal Conservatives when they go looking for votes in the suburban 905 region around Toronto.
If all this talk of engineered election politics sounds cynical, don't blame this writer. After all, it was Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland herself who recently said publicly “I really believe COVID-19 has created a window of political opportunity and maybe an epiphany … on the importance of early learning and child care.” No doubt. And an epiphany about her party's re-election chances, as well.