Looking at the Liberals’ middle-class plan
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau speaks to supporters during a 2015 federal election campaign stop in Saskatoon, Sask., on Thursday, August 13, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Liam Richards
By now, you've all heard Justin Trudeau's quote of the week - his promise to grow the economy "from the heart outwards," Tom Mulcair's accusation that "touchy feely" economics won't cut it, and Stephen Harper last night in Winnipeg, citing again from his own party's ad: Trudeau is "just not ready."
The care bear moment is something voters may be willing to forgive in an 11-week campaign, but only if Trudeau can back up his plan with specifics.
A key plank of Trudeau's plan is more taxes for anyone making above $200,000. The extra revenue would support projects to boost the "middle class...the heart of the Canadian economy" (this was a revised line he used Thursday).
It's so integral to his campaign, it's what he spends most of his time talking about.
In Vancouver he said: "If you want to create jobs and grow the Canadian economy you have to give the middle class a real change to succeed;" In Montreal: "I'm very excited to present our new plan by strengthening the middle class;” In Calgary: "Invest in the middle class."
And in almost every question I've asked him - no matter the topic - he always brings it back to the economy and the middle class.
You get the point.
It's strategy. The Conservatives have branded themselves as prudent money managers, but there is economic weakness. So both the Liberals and the NDP are saying they can be better economic stewards in order to grab votes.
But what about Trudeau's plan?
Philip Cross, former chief economic analyst at Statistics Canada, says that even if the rich are taxed more, the extra money won't be enough to help a large middle class.
"The middle class in this country is so large that you're not going to be able to make that transfer (from the rich to the middle class). Or you must search for revenues elsewhere."
And there are questions, he says, about how Trudeau will deal with pitfalls in the world economy.
"There's a lot of trouble in China these days. We almost had had a major crisis in Greece and that could yet blow up over the next couple of years."
"So let's say something bad happened in the international economy. What would be his priority? Balancing the budget? Increasing taxes? Cutting spending?... How would he handle that? So there's a lot of specifics still missing."
There are also specifics missing about his ambitious plan for aboriginal education - his first major promise since the campaign started. Here's the pledge:
- Initial, immediate investment of $515 million per year in funding for First Nations K-12 education (this would increase to $750 million by the end of the Liberals' mandate)
- $500 million over three years for First Nations education infrastructure – such as schools
- $50 million in annual for post-secondary education
The Assembly of First Nations' Chief Perry Bellegarde says the commitment is a good first step. "The Liberals have a better plan because the monies are immediately accessible, and it's not tied into any legislation."
Bellegarde is talking about the $1.9 billion the Conservatives promised as part of the First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act (Bill C-33). Most of that money didn't get spent.
The bill never passed because aboriginal leaders said they weren't consulted, and they felt it gave the government too much control. "It didn't speak to Indian control of Indian education," Bellegarde says. "It was unilaterally developed. The funding...was low, and ... it was phased in over a number of years…It wasn't a respectful process."
(Side note: The Conservatives say they've "increased investment in Aboriginal education by 25 per cent,” and built over 40 new schools for Aboriginals.)
The fact that Trudeau has the AFN's support is a good sign. Investing in education is also positive. And helping the marginalized populations is commendable. But when I asked Trudeau how he's going to pay for it, he didn't have an answer.
It's still early days in this 11-week campaign. But for a leader who is trying to build his street cred and climb out of third place, he may need to start filling in the blanks soon.