Federal Budget 2019 – Through the Political Looking Glass

Federal Budget 2019 – Through the Political Looking Glass

Craig Brockwell | March 2019

You have surely read and heard any number of comments and opinions on the recent Liberal budget. My analysis would not be much different than what is already out there. But, with seven months to go before the federal election, I’ll try to lay out what I believe to be the political options ahead in regards to Budget 2019.

I should further disclose that like all other government relations firm, Solstice Public Affairs tries to retain practitioners from all political persuasions. Otherwise, businesses such as ours would open and close with each political cycle. I am the partisan Liberal Partner with Solstice Public Affairs and as such I may be somewhat biased in my commentary and analysis.

The first and last budgets in any government’s mandate are by nature political. The first strives to deliver on the newly elected government’s platform and paves a political path for the next two more workmanlike budgets. The fourth and last budget outlines the governing party’s upcoming election platform and bolsters the idea that earlier promises have been kept.

Before I outline some of the politics surrounding the latest budget, let’s look at the political environment that set the stage for its creation.

The Liberals have maintained a comfortable lead over their rivals much longer than most governments traditionally do during an initial mandate. However the SNC-Lavalin affair has brought them down a notch and put some fear into their thinking. Further clarifications or declarations from the former Attorney General may compound the damage done already.

As well, the economy is slowing somewhat (other than job numbers that appear to be on a robust upsurge). And projections show that economic growth will be tepid at best over the next few years.

To date, the two major opposition leaders, Jagmeet Singh and Andrew Scheer, have not distinguished themselves in a significant way. Mr. Singh, just newly seated, is not fully endorsed by the rank and file NDP voters, and Canadians in general have not embraced Mr. Scheer to any great degree.

Nonetheless, running on ‘sunny ways’ will not cut it this time for the Liberals because some unkept promises may weaken their left flank while their failure to balance the budget in a foreseeable future will cost them support on the right. As well, Mr. Trudeau’s handling of recent political events may leave him and his government somewhat wounded going into the election.

In this context, I believe Budget 2019 provides as good a political path forward as the Liberals can hope. It holds a ‘chicken in every pot’ for those who may have voted for them in the past, those they hope to attract this time, those who are unaligned politically as well as the undecided.

From the Liberal perspective, Jagmeet Singh has little runway in which to bolster his credentials. Based upon his past as an Ontario NDP MPP, they expect his performance to be middling at best. He is not a far left progressive but rather a liberal light NDPer. He doesn’t have the Mulcair fire that might engage his base and he has less than two to three months to prove himself.

On the Conservative side, the Liberals are counting on Andrew Scheer to continue cozying up to his right flank, those so-called extreme elements of his base support the Liberals characterize as ‘deplorables’. As well, they hope that Scheer won’t get any better at developing a cogent platform or position on policy files the Liberals have put forward.

The wild cards are Maxime Bernier, Elizabeth May and perhaps the former Attorney General.

Elizabeth May could potentially hive off support from both the Liberals and the NDP. Bernier, while not demonstrating great polling numbers nationally, has strong support in some key CPC strongholds that could prove catastrophic if he were to split the right.

With all this in mind, I think the budget strikes a strong foundation for the Liberals.

It invests robustly in a few key Indigenous policies that could dampen voter loss within the Indigenous community because of the Jody Wilson-Raybould fallout.

It targets younger voters with help in the areas of home ownership, education and training.

It provides a taste of what may come for the senior voter with a move towards a national pharmacare program as well as some financial supports.

And it gives a nod to the middle demographic voter with support for training and the aforementioned pharmacare program among a light dusting of other gifts.

Unsurprising from my perspective is the lack of detail on a number of the budget announcements.

The Liberals need room to roll out the details over the next few months for two reasons: one is to drown out any new revelations from Jody Wilson-Raybould regarding SNC-Lavalin and two is to use the undefined aspects of the 2019 Budget to flesh out their own platform and respond to whatever the opposition parties may present in theirs.

I am a glass half full type of guy and have run numerous campaigns. I would rather be behind in the polls going into an election so that my voters have a reason to vote and are not complacent. I would rather have a platform that broadly targets all voter demographics with goodies.

I would rather have a seemingly weak opposition and leave little room for the left or right to position themselves in my political space, thus forcing them to take extremes.

The 2019 Budget may prove to be a masterful political stroke by Trudeau and Morneau. Time will tell. In politics, seven months is a very long time.

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