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Budget 2019: The road to October starts here

Canada's Minister of Finance Bill Morneau

Photo Credit: Stuart Isett/Fortune

Photo Credit: Stuart Isett/Fortune

Governments of all stripes—and in all jurisdictions—often have difficulty changing the political channel. It is tough—and often politically impossible—to move away from relentless opposition pressure and media scrutiny to your preferred political comfort zone.

Safe political ground is hard to find and even harder to keep.

It can be argued no Canadian government has needed such an opportunity more than the Trudeau Liberals. Behind in most polls, Budget 2019 provides the Trudeau Government a chance to return to its core focus on the middle class, with a related opportunity to re-establish its pitch to voters as champions of the middle class, as all parties look to the October 2019 federal election.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau took centre stage today to do just that, doubling down on well-established focus areas for the government since taking office in 2015. Through Budget 2019, the Trudeau Government has attempted to again lock down the centre-left vote and appeal to its progressive base, with various potentially tempting new spending measures to target groups such as millennials and seniors.

Today’s announcement, including measures such as First Time Home Buyer’s Incentive aimed squarely at millennial voters, was designed to establish a direct contrast between the Trudeau Government and the Conservatives during the next campaign.

Whether it will work and whether voters are willing to overlook the Government’s latest troubles remains to be seen. For now, Budget 2019 represents an early and vital communications test aimed at voters and target groups, and acts as a vehicle for the Liberals to (re)articulate their objectives as a party.

Other core commitments of Budget 2019 include:

  • The creation of a Canadian Drug Agency and a National Formulary as first steps towards a national pharmacare program;
  • Shared Equity Mortgages provided through the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) for up to 10% on new homes and 5% on existing homes for households making under $120,000 per year as part of the First Time Home Buyer’s Incentive;
  • The pro-active enrolment in the Canadian Pension Program (CPP) of seniors who are 70 years or older by 2020 and a full or partial exemption up to $15,000 on employment income for seniors;
  • The creation of the Canada Training Benefit which includes a Canada Training Credit to help with the cost of training fees, the Employment Insurance Training Support Benefit aimed at helping those on training leave, and new leave time provisions targeted to workers taking time away to pursue training.

For the election—and pre-campaign platform purposes—it is clear the political GPS coordinates are similar to those used by the Liberals in the 2015 campaign. The party is confident in their approach and believe the winning formula is an updated political approach in 2019.

Coupled with a relatively weak New Democratic Party, the Liberal Party of Canada has tremendous room to manoeuver on its centre-left and left flanks. This reality is reflected in this year’s budget. The budget in no way seems to reflect a Prime Minister or government convinced their approach is flawed or the path to electoral victory runs through centre-right or conservative voters.

Today’s Budget announcement also signals Prime Minister Trudeau is understandably looking to fight the coming election on his terms. And on his chosen issues. Through this Budget, the Prime Minister is looking to re-set the tone and once again find traction with his government’s message, getting off his political back foot while emphasizing the contrast with the opposition on the right and left.

To this end, Budget 2019 clearly outlines areas well within the Liberal Party’s comfort zone. It should be viewed through the lens of a government that knows the next election will not be an easy win. The government wants to ensure the opposition is busy responding to Liberal ideas rather than capitalizing on less comfortable issues, like the controversies and scandals.

We will be watching carefully with respect to how this unfolds.

Opposition reaction

The opposition parties’ reactions to the Budget were coloured by the ongoing House of Commons Justice Committee hearings centered on former Liberal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould.

The Conservative Party, under Leader Andrew Scheer staged a walk-out of the House of Commons because of the aforementioned issue, after first attempting to verbally drown out Minister Morneau’s Budget speech. Mr. Scheer’s reaction to the Budget itself rarely touched on the details within the government’s proposed plan, attempting to keep the focus squarely on the Government’s troubles over the past six weeks.

Mr. Singh, conversely, focused largely on criticizing the Trudeau Government for perceived inaction in areas for which the NDP has traditionally advocated, including pharmacare and affordable housing.

NATIONAL’s 2019 election coverage

As we set our sights on the fall election, NATIONAL’s team of seasoned consultants throughout Canada will be keeping clients, potential clients and trusted partners up to date with the best political and sectoral analysis available. Keep an eye open for fresh perspectives from some of the best minds in the business.

——— Andrew Richardson is a former Manager, Political Insights and Strategy at NATIONAL Public Relations