Three statements made over the past year by senior members of the current federal government, taken together, have me worried sick. And tomorrow, (Monday, April 19) with a budget finally being tabled in Ottawa, we will see pretty clearly whether or not the writing is on the wall.
Last September, during a United Nations virtual conference, Justin Trudeau said this: “This pandemic has provided an opportunity for a reset…to re-imagine economic systems that actually address global challenges like extreme poverty, inequality, and climate change.”
Earlier this month, when speaking on a panel about “Protecting Canadians’ Health”, Health Minister Patty Hajdu said she is “eternally grateful that our country had a Liberal Government at the outset of this pandemic.”
And the whopper on April 8 by Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, as a precursor to her budget tomorrow, largely hinting at universal child care, that this COVID-19 pandemic has “created a window of political opportunity.”
Taken together, I can only conclude there is a pattern of belief by our current government that being in power during this horrific pandemic—with lost lives, lost freedom, and lost income—was a windfall which will allow them to accelerate and achieve their political agenda.
And yes, before I am reminded, I clearly remember that John Snobelen, when he was education minister in the Ontario government of Mike Harris, dined out on the advantages of “creating a crisis”. That too was unacceptable and, as a result, his political career was seriously sidelined. Apparently, the same fate does not apply to federal politicians.
In a recent National Post article, veteran journalist Rex Murphy, writing specifically about Chrystia Freeland’s statement, said, “This plague has brought death and vast anxiety to very, very many people. It is, to be most gentle, in any context, more than jarring for a leading public figure to characterize it as a ‘political opportunity’.”
Rex Murphy went on to say, “This is, or at the very least certainly appears to be, a plain statement that COVID-19 could or should be seen as a ‘political opportunity’ to pursue broad ideological ambitions.”
And that brings me to tomorrow’s federal budget. Aaron Wudrick, federal director at the Canadian Taxpayers’ Association, said on Twitter, better than I can, what I fear: “[The government is] hoping everyone is so desensitized to debt because of pandemic spending, that [they] can pile up even more on stuff that has nothing to do with the pandemic, reap political credit for it, and leave a giant fiscal mess for someone else to clean up later.”
Well before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Trudeau Government was on a spending spree. Remember their campaign promise to increase the national debt by ten billion dollars in order to fund their political agenda? By the end of their first term, this had more than doubled, probably a factor, along with a weak opposition and the odd scandal, in the government being reduced to a minority the second time around.
There is no doubt that most, if not all, of pandemic spending is necessary. But it is more damaging than it needs to be to future generations of Canadians because of previous spend-thrift politics. Accountability for massive spending has never been a strength or a priority of this government. Witness the recent statement of Karen Hogan, Canada’s auditor general, that billions of federal spending is simply unaccounted for.
The government’s deficit and Canada’s debt, if fully revealed in tomorrow’s budget, will be mind-boggling. Perhaps people will be desensitized to it, or perhaps they just don’t care.
However, strong fiscal management, which by definition includes a control of spending, must be an important part of any government’s responsibility. Without it, crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic cannot be fully addressed without placing unbearable financial burdens on future generations. As well, and importantly, without strong fiscal management a government’s ability to provide meaningful social programs for those who need it eventually and inexorably dries up. Think about that.
In a tweet today by David Akin, chief political correspondent for Global News, he shared this, from Bloomberg. “By the time all money is out the door, Trudeau will probably have accumulated more debt than all 22 prime ministers who preceded him combined.” Think about that too.
I have no doubt that tomorrow’s budget will be carefully crafted with a political spin that will appeal to many people. Any government would do that. But we need to look at it carefully and understand what it really means.
All signs point to more spending on programs unrelated to the COVID-19 pandemic; an opportunity for bigger government, more reliance on government, and the provision of more social programs for which there are no funds, other than debt, to support. All of this at a time when Canada’s debt is at an all-time high. If this comes to be, I see it as a pivotal move away from capitalism (which, I agree with Winston Churchill, is not perfect) toward a form of socialism. Some will vehemently deny that. Others will enthusiastically applaud it. I fear it.
As people who read this column have heard me say many times, government cannot be all things to all people. Their job is to keep us safe from enemies and disease, to protect our human rights, to foster a strong economy, and to be there for people who through no fault of their own need assistance to survive. To that end, and to the surprise of some of my Conservative friends, I do support a basic income and essential services for all Canadians who cannot otherwise achieve them. The rest, however, is up to us.
I truly hope I am wrong about tomorrow’s federal budget. I hope it curbs spending under current circumstances. I also hope it encourages people to work hard to succeed and not to depend on government unless they really need to. I hope that they encourage excellence in all matters related to our society because individuals with aspirations and ingenuity are far more effective at improving our way of life than is government. Excellence, at least in part, is driven by reward. We should never take that away. The alternative is apathy, because government will look after all of their needs
So, that is my hope for tomorrow’s federal budget. I should add that it is also my hope that the Maple Leafs win the Stanley Cup this year!
Hugh Mackenzie has held elected office as a trustee on the Muskoka Board of Education, a Huntsville councillor, a District councillor, and mayor of Huntsville. He has also served as chairman of the District Muskoka and as chief of staff to former premier of Ontario, Frank Miller.
Hugh has served on a number of provincial, federal and local boards, including chair of the Ontario Health Disciplines Board, vice-chair of the Ontario Family Health Network, vice-chair of the Ontario Election Finance Commission, and board member of Roy Thomson Hall, the National Theatre School of Canada, and the Anglican Church of Canada. Locally, he has served as president of the Huntsville Rotary Club, chair of Huntsville District Memorial Hospital, chair of the Huntsville Hospital Foundation, president of Huntsville Festival of the Arts, and board member of Community Living Huntsville.
In business, Hugh Mackenzie has a background in radio and newspaper publishing. He was also a founding partner and CEO of Enterprise Canada, a national public affairs and strategic communications firm established in 1986.
Currently Hugh is president of C3 Digital Media Inc. and enjoys writing commentary for Huntsville Doppler.
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