Tuesday October 17, 2017

Why Trudeau took questions directed to his finance minister at tax reform conference

Trudeau tells reporters he will answer them not Morneau 2:06

Listen 19:44

Read story transcript

Small business has become a big issue in Ottawa this fall. 

On Monday, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stood next to Finance Minister Bill Morneau, he announced a small business tax cut — one his Liberals had campaigned on — of 1.5 per cent.

RelatedLiberals pledge to cut small business tax rate to 9% amid backlash over proposed tax reforms

Trudeau also declared to reporters that he'd be answering the questions for his minister.

"Yeah, that was awkward," CBC's David Cochrane tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

"Everyone in our newsroom kind of gasped as we were watching it, but Trudeau is their best political weapon so he was deployed to do their toughest political battle right now — domestically anyway."

Tax Reforms 20171016

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to members of the media as Finance Minister Bill Morneau looks on at a press conference on tax reforms in Stouffville, Ont., Oct. 16, 2017. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Cochrane explains he was told by a government official that this move by the prime minister was "they needed to get their top line on the ice."

"The problem with the way that went down yesterday, to stretch the hockey metaphor, is that Trudeau is trying to be Wayne Gretzky and Dave Semenko at the same time. He was trying to be the star who scored all the goals and also the enforcer who was delivering the elbows to protect Bill Morneau."

The Liberals have been reeling from a small business backlash to proposed tax reforms.  And the perception the Liberals are out of touch with working people was only compounded this past week by news about the finance minister's personal finances. 

Morneau's villa under attack in QP1:18

Cochrane says the "aggressive approach" Trudeau took in taking questions from the reporters directed at Morneau, "shows you just how sensitive they're taking this now."

"This started as a brush fire. It's turned into a wildfire and Trudeau is the guy they're counting on to put it out."

He credits the prime minister for taking the messaging in the right direction when he referred to the tax system as the issue that needed to be fixed — "It's not the people who are the problem," Trudeau said.

"Their struggles going back to July is that it looked like they were targeting people, and it was handled in such a way that allowed their critics to say that they were calling hardworking Canadians tax cheats."

Listen to the full panel including Maclean's Paul Wells and political strategists Susan Smith's take on this issue.

This segment ws produced by The Current's Idella Sturino, Yamri Taddese and Halifax network producer Mary-Catherine McIntosh.