Don Martin: Despite his denials, Trudeau seems to be budgeting for a spring election
OTTAWA -- With the Conservatives reeling, vaccines rolling and job creation rocking, the election plotting wizards in Justin Trudeau’s backrooms must be gleefully rubbing their hands with anticipation.
The signs of a spring vote are everywhere, notwithstanding the prime minister’s public posture against calling an unforced election.
Ads highlighting the merits of government relief programs are airing, Russian and Chinese sanctions are being deployed to stiffen our foreign policy spine and announcements supporting electric cars, seniors, high speed internet for Quebecers and innovation are gushing forth.
Now the mother of all spending plans finally has a delivery date.
April 19 is the start of silly season as the long overdue budget comes down to start weeks of cabinet showcasing, opposition bickering and, if the conditions are favourable, June election planning.
The long-overdue budget will build on the richest goodie package in history with up to $100 billion worth of new deficit-financed stimulus, this despite strong job growth and record high savings in many households.
The trick for election-hungry Liberals is to find a way to make their budget severely toxic to diverse opposition interests.
It will take a unique skill set to repulse Conservative savers, NDP spenders and Bloc separatists with such united gusto, they’d be willing to put their fate in voter hands just as needles go into eager Canadian arms.
A better bet would see Trudeau framing the budget as a post-pandemic policy revolution which demands a fresh mandate to implement.
Yet there’s precious little pre-budget chatter about the real villain in this pandemic – a lousy public health care system which finishes at the bottom of the G7 countries in hospital beds per 1,000 residents.
Ontario delivered its budget Wednesday with a commendable emphasis on billions more for hospital upgrades, vaccine rollouts, child care assistance, mental health support and contact tracing. Quebec is expected to follow a similar track in its budget on Thursday.
And yet public health seems to have been largely overlooked at the federal level as Trudeau goes shopping for votes in areas of higher poll-supported impact instead of merely boosting the health care transfer to provinces.
Of the almost $400 billion the feds have blown in the last year, very little is directly tied to helping provinces improve the way health care is delivered.
While the pandemic has revolutionized the workplace, turned the boardroom into a video link and rendered cash money as borderline obsolete, the health care system has yet to dramatically adapt to the crisis it has confronted over the last year.
Early telegraphing is for a federal budget which puts an emphasis on climate change, seniors, Indigenous reconciliation and business support to kickstart an economy which is accelerating all on its own.
With the exception of helping lower income families secure child care, that bonanza of stimulus spending would accomplish little beyond overstimulating an already hot economy which will surely surge even more once the pandemic has subsided.
And yet, we see an Official Opposition twisting itself into policy pretzels over what, if any, climate change policy it will endorse. Support to bolster public health care spending gets the silent treatment.
It’s increasingly difficult to resist the urge to throw things at television screens whenever Trudeau sidesteps questions about the alleged sexual misconduct of top military leaders or glosses over his government’s failures on domestic vaccinate and mask production.
Despite that, he may yet snatch a majority victory from what should be, at best, another minority win.
For Prime Minister Trudeau, the next month will be dedicated to rolling out popular creative spending, filling empty bureaucratic positions and insisting he wants to make Parliament work for all Canadians.
But behind the scenes, assuming the vaccine rollout goes well, he’ll be spewing billions of dollars wildly in every vote-buying direction while plotting ways to render Parliament dysfunctional enough to provide cover for an early election call.
Circle June 14 on your calendar as election day. Just for fun.
That's the bottom line.