Don Newman: Budget 2018 Doubles Down on Liberal Strengths

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The Trudeau Government’s third budget tabled in the House of Commons February 27, reinforced and underlined government policies in the first two years of its mandate and outlined where it plans to go to try and win a second mandate in 2019.

What it didn’t do was directly deal with the two biggest issues overhanging the Canadian economy. The current negotiations under way with the United States and Mexico to renew the North American Free Trade Agreement, and the difficulties getting a pipeline expansion transporting Alberta oil across British Columbia to ports on the Pacific Ocean.

But then, how could it. The NAFTA negotiations may be reaching a crisis point this week in Mexico City, and the pipeline dispute is quickly growing to a Constitutional crisis between the Federal Government, Alberta and B.C.

Important as they are economically, neither is the stuff for direct government action in a budget. At least not this budget. Maybe a later budget when the dust has settled on one or both issues.

Instead, the budget doubled down on what the government has concentrated on so far. Women’s issues, indigenous Canadians, science and technology.

From now on, no budget decisions will be taken without a GBA. What is that? It is a Gender Based Analysis.

And the Trudeau Government will make it easier for women to take part in the work force. That will be accomplished by, get this, giving more time off to men. That will be done by an Employment Insurance Parental Sharing Benefit for two parent families that agree to a shared parental leave. They will get an extra five weeks of leave between them. Mom can go back to work to make more money, while Dad stays home to take care of the kids.

The most significant new thing in the budget is the creation of an Advisory Council on the Implementation of a National Pharmacare Advisory Council. It will be headed by just retired Ontario Health Minister, Eric Hoskins and its mandate will be to recommend a plan that will fill in the gaps in the current system of private and public drug insurance plans. The expectation is that it will report in time to create an election plank for the 2019 Liberal election platform.

So Budget 2018 confirms the course of the Trudeau government and holds out the possibility of a major election promise next year. For the opposition parties, they have to attack the budget for what it isn’t.

The Conservatives will attack on the lack of tax cuts, particularly to business taxes to make them more competitive with recent tax cuts in the United States. They will claim the Liberals are caught up in run away spending and with no plan to balance the budget any time soon. The NDP will base its criticism on the rhetoric of its recent convention, ‘not enough’. Not enough for gender equity, not enough for indigenous Canadians, no pledge of free University tuition for all.

Budget 2018 was not an election budget. That is still a year away. But with this budget, the themes of the election are beginning to be set.