Striptease, budget and deficit

There was a time when secrecy surrounding the budget was considered sacred and any leak, even accidental, provoked calls for the resignation of the finance minister.

In 1983, on the eve of his penultimate budget, Minister Marc Lalonde invited the cameras into his office, as tradition dictates, to show off his new shoes. But a clever cameraman managed to find the amount allocated to a job creation program in the document held by the minister, which was, of course, the headline of the news bulletin.

The opposition was in dire straits, demanding the resignation of Mr. Lalonde, who simply added 200 million to his program, which allowed him to say that there had been no leak…


Marc Lalonde, former Member of Parliament for Outremont and former Minister of Finance under the government of Pierre Elliott Trudeau

In 1989, it was the traditional document “The budget in brief” which was read on the airwaves of the Global network, which forced the Minister of Finance Michael Wilson to present his budget that very evening in the conference room of press.

For the record, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, who sometimes lost his temper, declared that it was theft and had journalist Doug Small criminally charged. He was acquitted.

All this to say that it is contrary to tradition, and even strange, to see the Trudeau government ministers wandering around the country for several days revealing initiatives that will be contained in the budget of April 16.

A sort of striptease, more pre-electoral than pre-budget, in which practically all government ministers indulge. Daycare spaces, tenant charters, school breakfasts, extension of drug insurance, all of this will have already been announced, even if it will be in Minister Chrystia Freeland’s budget.


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (left) with Ministers Chrystia Freeland and Harjit S. Sajjan last week during an announcement in Vancouver

The strategy behind this series of announcements is transparent. Probably a little too much. First, it gives more visibility to popular announcements that risk being lost in the plethora of announcements on a budget day.

But above all, this puts projects on the table that we can oppose to the leader of the opposition, Pierre Poilievre, by challenging him to say if he would keep this or that program that the Liberals have just announced, if , of course, he had to take power.

But it is also a strategy that can backfire on liberals. First, because most of these announcements concern issues that are squarely under provincial jurisdiction.

In Quebec in particular, but not exclusively, this kind of federal interference is not very popular. Like the argument that the federal government should take care of the problems and needs of citizens without worrying too much about jurisdiction.

Unfortunately for the Trudeau government, its reputation for efficiency and always having the best means of delivering services to citizens has taken a hit in recent years. It is not at all certain that Canadians or Quebecers are impatiently waiting to benefit from a federal tenants’ charter or another Liberal promise.

The best example of this situation is the federal child care program. The flagship promise of the 2021 electoral campaign.

Radio-Canada reported a few days ago that this federal program – which was part of Justin Trudeau’s electoral platform – led to the creation of fewer than 100,000 places out of the 250,000 promised. This is less than 40% of the objective, and there are very few experts in the field who believe that Ottawa will be able to create the 150,000 missing places within two years, especially in a context of shortage labor.

Under the circumstances, promising even more daycare spaces gives the impression of a poker player who is desperately trying to “remake” himself by upping the stakes.

The other danger in this electoral striptease strategy is that the size of the federal deficit is likely to be the only surprise in this budget.

Liberals often tend to believe that citizens don’t really care about the deficit. However, in the two largest Canadian provinces, Ontario and Quebec, polls indicate that this is indeed an important concern of voters.

In Quebec, it is clear that the record deficit of $11 billion is part of the reasons for the continued decline of the CAQ government. In Ontario, even before the last budget and its record deficit, an Angus Reid poll indicated that 61% of Ontarians already considered themselves dissatisfied with the way in which the Ford government was managing its deficit.

The same fate awaits the Trudeau government, especially if, as TD Bank predicted a few days ago, the federal deficit reaches $55 billion, while the government predicted it at $40 billion just three months ago. ⁠1.

1. Read the overview of the 2024 federal budget on the TD Bank website

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