Don Martin: It's a stimulus budget all right -- for votes in the next election
OTTAWA -- Reading the federal budget spending spree as it scrolls on for 720-plus pages, a certain numbness takes hold.
The columns traditionally assigned millions of dollars are now given extra zeros to become billions in what my CTV colleagues tallied up as 280 handouts in Monday’s epic fiscal blueprint for 2021.
It was a super-spreader event for spending.
Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s first budget had something everywhere for everyone who might conceivably enter the polling booth with Liberal-leaning inclinations.
Some moves were incremental, others were revolutionary.
Supported boosts for the wine sector, farmers, entrepreneurs of every minority, the CBC and that old election-goodie of fixing up small craft harbours were among the incremental variety.
And then there’s the revolutionary signature move, a $30-billion kickstart that could make $10-a-day child care as much of a Canadian birthright as Medicare. More about that later.
But it’s not until the devilish details buried in the back pages where the dilemma dawns.
Freeland advance-billed her budget as a $354-billion-deficit rescue mission to save Canada from a devastating pandemic.
But, but, but, right there in the budget forward the document proclaims that “the Canadian economy is poised to come roaring back. The rebound has already started.”
Indeed, the oracles of economic forecasting are projecting buoyant optimism above where they were just six months ago.
The 4.8 per cent growth spike is now forecast to be break-necking at 5.8 per cent, an unsustainable howl of economic activity. And it will rocket-boost another four per cent next year as unemployment drops quickly to pre-pandemic levels.
And yet, Freeland seems intent on painting this Roaring 20s rerun as a smouldering economic ruin in need of a government-financed, red-inked rebuild.
She couldn’t even stay below the cap she imposed on herself last fall when she mused about $70-to-$100 billion worth of upcoming economic stimulus. She went right off the fiscal guardrails to go $1.4 billion above that outer marker.
Of course, there are victims of this unprecedented health care horror who deserve unprecedented support.
Extending assistance programs to those stuck at home while the third wave pounds the non-essential workforce into a stay-at-home lifestyle is a justified broadening of the safety net.
And child care help is a Liberal pledge dating back decades which has been exposed by this pandemic as vital to helping spouses return to the workforce.
Once in place with provincial partnership, it will never be dismantled and we may wonder why it took this long to launch a program that returns up to $6 for every government dollar invested.
Meanwhile, lost in the slosh of deficit spending, some pandemic casualties were strangely overlooked.
It’s still tough luck for the frustrated wannabe first-time homebuyer facing obscene price increases in real estate.
The national pharmacare program remains in palliative.
And any boost in health transfers to help struggling provinces is simply ignored because, after all, transfers to areas of provincial jurisdiction don’t shine any light on the federal brand.
But this is not anything like a classic budget.
It’s a document rooted more in social engineering than stimulus, one painting the economy in many shades of green and one clearly immune from the risk of being defeated by unified opposition in the House of Commons.
This is the Trudeau government taking advantage of pandemic panic to launch the spending of Liberal ideological dreams.
They know voters are scared right now and increasingly pointing the finger of blame for third wave woes at provincial premiers.
And they’re well aware voters are wide open to government help in these helpless times and disinclined to fret how their grandkids will pay for it.
If this document screams anything, it is indeed a form of stimulus – not for the ailing economy, but for polling numbers in an election campaign they’re salivating to launch this summer or fall.
That’s the bottom line