The Election Budget


From the Editor/L. Ian MacDonald

Welcome to our special issue on Budget 2019.

For the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, this year’s federal budget offered an opportunity to turn the page on the SNC-Lavalin affair, which dominated the spring news cycle. As tends to happen in politics these days, things got complicated, with the traditional budget rituals from Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s speech in the House to the annual post-budget storming of the ridings by MPs selling the government’s economic plan—especially important in an election year. Which, it was widely presumed, was a key motive in Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s decision to keep MPs in Ottawa voting.

For Finance Minister Bill Morneau, the budget was an opportunity to move on from a legacy of broken promises—he pledged $10 billion a year of deficits over four years to balance the books by 2019. Four years later, the projected cumulative deficit from 2016 to 2022 is more than $100 billion, with balance nowhere in sight, not that any government is likely to reduce the deficit going into the “goodie” period of an election.

Our budget package opens with Kevin Page, the former Parliamentary Budget Officer who went on to become founding President and CEO of the Institute of Fiscal Studies and Democracy (IFSD). Few practitioners are in greater demand in budget lockups and Kevin’s piece, Holding the Line in an Uncertain Future, shows why. 

The contributor who shares the distinction with Page of being one of the most sought-after budget analysts in the country, BMO Capital Markets Chief Economist Doug Porter, weighs in with his colleague Robert Kavcic in Pre-Election Prescription: Another Dose of Spending. 

As the events of budget week this year showed, the federal budget is a political document. But we already knew that from the budget’s title, Investing in the Middle Class. Wooing that middle class is a specialty of John Delacourt, former national director of the Liberals during the 2015 election cycle, now a policy consultant and writer in Ottawa, who gave us Trudeau’s Cri de Guerre for the Middle Class.

Conservative strategist Yaroslav Baran weighs in with a budget critique that provides an insider’s notes on the thinking behind the party’s strategy of hijacking the budget narrative to swamp the government’s message in Anatomy of a Tactical Budget Response. 

In Do his Budgets Give Trudeau a Progressive Case?, former NDP party President Brian Topp surveys Trudeau and Morneau’s four budgets and weighs them against the progressive promise of Trudeau’s 2015 campaign, when the Liberal leader outflanked the NDP on the left with a pledge of deficit spending.  

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May filed us an excellent read after a crazy week, reflecting on the SNC-Lavalin affair, the mood of the country and civility in the House in The SNC-Lavalin Cloud Over the 2019 Budget. 

From the Institute of Fiscal Studies and Democracy, Director of Governance and Institutions Helaina Gaspard measures the government’s new Indigenous Child Welfare bill, C-92, and the budget’s provisions for Indigenous Peoples against her own IFSD study of those issues in Indigenous Child Welfare: Closing the Good Intentions Gap.

Policy columnist and CBC legend Don Newman offers the counterpoint to Baran’s piece on the Tories’ budget tactics with The Downside of Obstruction.

Canada and the World

In Canada and the World, we begin with veteran Canadian diplomat Jeremy Kinsman. A re-awakened China and a post-Soviet-Russia have been flexing their muscles on the world stage, writes Kinsman in Taking a Breath to Avoid a New Cold War, yet there are “no solutions without Russian and Chinese cooperation.” 

Don Johnston followed his years at the Liberal cabinet table with two terms in Paris as secretary-general of the OECD. At the closing of his career, Johnston follows his 2017 book Missing the Tide: Global Governments in Retreat with an urgent plea for cooperation in A Choice for Humanity.

Kevin Lynch’s annual Letter from Davos delivers the impressions of the former clerk of the Privy Council as a long-time observer of the annual January forum of ideas. 

Finally, political historian David Mitchell, a long-time student of electoral reform, shares his thoughts on why it’s so difficult to make anything but first-past-the-post happen in Is Electoral Reform dead in Canada.