PM talking to opposition leaders ahead of budget, as O'Toole balks at basic income
OTTAWA -- Ahead of next Monday’s 2021 federal budget being presented, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has planned conversations with the opposition party leaders this week, talking first to his Conservative and Bloc Quebecois counterparts on Monday.
Up first was Trudeau’s lunchtime chat with Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, who pledged to push the prime minister about having a plan to get all Canadians back to work, after voicing concern over proposals for “massive spending” made by the Liberals at their national policy convention this past weekend.
The call went fine between the two leaders, according to a PMO source speaking on background. In the approximately 15-minute conversation, Trudeau and O’Toole discussed what the budget priorities should be from their respective, but differing perspectives.
The pair also talked about the state of the pandemic and the vaccine rollout, in addition to the growing list of legislation before the House, according to the PMO.
In a readout of the call issued by O’Toole’s office, it was said that the Conservative leader asked Trudeau how many jobs the budget would create and “reiterated that now is not the time to raise taxes on Canadians.”
O’TOOLE BALKS AT BASIC INCOME
Both the Liberals and New Democrats held virtual policy conventions over the weekend, where key party members spoke and the party faithful voted on key policies and proposals they want to see their leaders advance.
Trudeau’s conversation with Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet took place after question period.
On Monday morning, O’Toole focused his criticism on one idea in particular: a universal basic income (UBI).
Proposing the implementation of a universal basic income was a topic of conversation at both party conventions, with the Liberals ranking it among their top policy ideas the party should be advancing.
“A UBI will assist seniors and low-income Canadians maintain an adequate standard of living, regardless of working status,” read the successful motion from the Young Liberals of Canada calling for a UBI to be introduced following necessary consultation, citing the success of the COVID-19 Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) program.
“It's clear that the Liberals and the NDP are in a race to the left, who can be the most extreme? On one hand, the Liberals want a massive and expensive new program to pay people not to work,” O’Toole said at a press conference Monday morning, kicking off the start of a five-week stretch of the House of Commons sitting.
A recent report from the Parliamentary Budget Officer stated that a UBI could slash poverty rates by almost half in one year, but would cost $85 billion in 2021-22 and keep rising over the following years.
O’Toole’s remarks doubled down on a statement issued over the weekend by his finance critic Ed Fast who stated that the Liberal party’s backing the idea of a UBI is “taking a big step toward their plan of reimagining Canada’s economy.”
The Conservative leader is framing the concept of a universal basic income — offering a set minimum income to all Canadians — as a “trendy” cause that would be part of a “major experiment” with the Canadian economy. Speaking from Ottawa on Monday, he said his is the only party Canadians should support if they want to see the economy get back on track.
While the Liberals have endorsed a UBI, it’s not expected to be included in the upcoming federal budget, with Trudeau previously downplaying the idea.
'LIKE THEY'RE A MAJORITY'
Still, the April 19 budget — the first in more than two years — is expected to include more details on a massive economic stimulus plan to rebound from the pandemic-prompted recession.
In the fall fiscal update the government signalled it will have more details in the 2021 budget about how the Liberals intend to spend up to $100 billion over the next few years on initiatives such as child care and a green recovery.
The fall economic update projected that the deficit was on track to exceed $381 billion if the COVID-19 case counts kept climbing — which has been the case in the months since — putting the possibility of balancing the books on ice for likely years to come.
In the latest episode of CTV News’ podcast Trend Line, Nanos Research's Nik Nanos said that with polling showing the Liberals approximately 10 points ahead of the Conservatives, “it’s like they’re a majority government,” and aren’t necessarily as afraid of an election should they lose the key confidence vote coming out of the budget.
That’s something the NDP have already signalled won’t happen under their watch, given the state of the pandemic.
“The Liberals are probably going to have what I would call a very progressively muscular budget... So I think there's going to be a very interesting dynamic and, you know, the Liberals are going to probably present a budget that's going to be like a budget that's presented by a majority government, that doesn't have any worries about being defeated, or going to the polls,” Nanos said.
Further, he said Canadians seem to be evenly split when it comes to supporting more stimulus versus tamping down future spending.
Meanwhile in the House of Commons on Monday, MPs were still debating Bill C-14, the bill implementing aspects of the November fall fiscal update.
The Liberals are calling on the Conservatives to stop their “procedural tactics” stalling progress and allow the bill to come to a vote without delay, while the Official Opposition’s position is that the government has left key questions their caucus has raised about the bill unanswered, and that “good debate on government legislation” is essential.
Trudeau’s party leader conversations were first signalled last week, when the PM said it’s “vital” all sides work together given the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, and a necessity given the Liberals’ minority government standing.
“So that’s why I’ll be inviting all party leaders to meet individually with me,” the prime minister said on Friday. According to his office, these calls are more than an optics exercise and are aimed at soliciting further constructive suggestions for the budget, which despite being due in a week isn’t finalized.
Trudeau is slated to speak with NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Green Party Leader Annamie Paul on Tuesday.