Federal budget 2017 — Mostly gusts of pleasant smelling warm air: Neil Macdonald
Spending isn't up much and there aren't any big goodies for anybody
So here's my favourite quote from the federal budget. It's just so darned golly:
"Ten years from now, our towns and cities will be more connected, our air and water will be cleaner, our kids will receive better care, and our neighbourhoods will be more livable. And to give everyone a real and fair chance at success, more Canadians will have access to an affordable and dignified place to raise their family."
Someone's praying, Lord…..
Okay, that was a snark.
But really. Ten years from now, everything will for sure be better and nicer and somehow, through the miracle of income redistribution, there'll be affordable and dignified places to raise families in, say, Vancouver or Toronto? Really?
A little something for everyone
Read on in the document, and you'll discover other happy things. LGBTQ2 people (the government now uses the extended version) will be more protected by this government. Respect between Canadians and Indigenous people is deepening and will deepen further. The government is paying close attention to how its spending affects women. Cities will be encouraged to compete in something called the "smart city challenge." Canada will be even more of a "beacon of diversity, openness and generosity" to the world, our soldiers out there keeping the peace and making it safer for the most vulnerable.
And of course, Canada's "middle class, and those who are working so hard to join it" will be better off.
Parliamentary reporters take wolfish delight in that famously annoying talking point. Finance Minister Bill Morneau, a great lover of talking points, tossed it out twice in just the first 13 sentences of his speech.
And no one seems to know what it actually means, which may be its genius. In the space of 10 minutes Wednesday, government officials and experts I asked came up with four answers:
Any household with a family income of less than $150,000
Any household with a family income between $27,000 and $118,000.
Anyone making more than the bottom 20 per cent of the population or less than the top 20 per cent.
The government doesn't like to define it.
My guess is policy is written around number four. Middle class means whatever you want it to mean. You're middle class if you think you are, and therefore should vote Liberal.
Anyway, all of this to say the budget was mostly gusts of pleasant smelling warm air.
Spending isn't up much, there aren't any big goodies for anybody, the government will increase the debt, but not too much, and there aren't any new taxes to speak of, although the government is considering several, all of which will strengthen the middle class, and those working so hard to join it, by making the rich pay more.
Last year's budget raised income taxes on rich people, but they're a clever bunch, and apparently they're constantly taking advantage of tax laws to pay less taxes, which is also known as "doing your taxes," but which the government thinks is unfair. So it's reviewing the situation and might do something down the road. Say, raise capital gains taxes. Or tax real estate speculation. Or maybe inheritances. Who knows? It's a secretive review.
The problem is, the government also knows it has to be careful about monkeying around too much with the top tax bracket in the age of Donald Trump. Because Trump is turning out to be a bit of a pain for the Trudeau government.
Trudeau likes adding regulations; Trump intends to cut them. Trudeau likes taxing the wealthy more, Trump intends to tax them less. Trudeau likes to add social programs, Trump is subtracting them.
In other words, the United States is likely going to become an even better place to be wealthy. And capital is mobile; rich people — even rich Canadian people — are much more willing and able than regular folks to change their behaviour to avoid taxes. They can move. Or move their money.
And the government needs more of their money to, you know... middle class.
So, best to wait and see what Trump actually does before making the rich pay more of their fair share.
Plus, there's an election in two years, and any sane government hoards money to spread around before the vote. So, no big new spending this year.
Not much of anything, really.
Why the secrecy?
Which brings us to why there was any need to lock up reporters for hours, having required an oath of secrecy, until the minister spoke.
Why not just put this all on the internet? The budget, after all, is not a classified document. It's just a political statement, and this one was pretty banal.
The answer is there needs to be an event. Events are always news. There are network specials, and everyone pays attention to the minister's speech.
Like those American political conventions that go on for days when everybody knows who the nominee is going to be. News is what you think you need to know.