The Budget and the Senate
The Trudeau Government will bring down their first Budget this week. It will be a whopper but not a huge surprise. Federal officials have already indicated the deficit could be as high as $30 billion, a far cry from the ten billion the Liberals touted during the election campaign. My bet is that the budget will show a deficit lower than $30 billion so the Government can say in effect, “See, we managed a lower deficit than everyone expected”…. forgetting of course their original commitment to keep any deficit to ten billion dollars. This of course is a common political tactic, not exclusive to the Trudeau Government, but never the less it smacks of same old, same old.
Another tried and true political tactic is to blame the previous government for an unreported deficit. In this particular instance however, that will be hard to justify, even though most people will want to believe it, because even the nonpartisan, House of Commons Budget Officer, has confirmed that the former Government was on track for a small surplus in 2015.
The reality is that this budget will see a huge deficit for two reasons. First, our economy, primarily because of falling oil prices, has suffered significantly. Second the Liberals, in spite of the economy, are determined to start spending on the promises they made during the election campaign and indeed they already have.
In my view, most Canadians will not be overly fussed by the spending budget and accompanying deficit that will come down next week. We have been acclimatized to it, we are expecting it, and many just see it as inevitable.
Hopefully however, the Federal Budget will also set a clear course for real economic recovery in Canada that will not only support the vulnerable through difficult times, but also stimulate the economy through private sector growth and innovation. Alberta’s economy is in free fall. Ontario is swimming in debt larger than any provincial government in the entire world. Canada’s second largest city had to dump their waste into the St. Lawrence River because they can’t afford a decent sewage system. Surely the writing is on the wall in this country. We desperately need a viable national plan for economic recovery and growth. Is it too much to hope that we will see the seeds for this in the Federal Budget later this week?
Another election promise was fulfilled, at least in part this past week, when Prime Minister Trudeau appointed seven new independent senators to the Upper Chamber, with another 17 to follow. Only time will tell if this is really Senate reform, but having read their biographies, one can hardly question their background or qualifications. They are good appointments.
The real question however is whether the Senate can actually function as a non-partisan body. My view is, it cannot. Legislation proposed by a majority government in the House of Commons still requires approval by the Senate before it becomes law. Although they are euphemistically referred to as a body of sober second thought, very seldom does a government lack the support they require to get their legislation through the Senate. For this reason, no government, including the Trudeau Government, is going to appoint new Senators, independent or otherwise, who they believe would not support their legislative priorities.
A close look at the background of the seven new Senators would indicate that at least six of them come from a left of centre background. Certainly there appear to be no Party hacks among the new Senators, with the possible exception of Francis Lankin, who served for a number of years in the Ontario Legislature.
But as much as we have been conditioned by the media to think otherwise, it is important to note that Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Nancy Greene were not known Conservatives or political hacks when they were appointed to the Senate by Prime Minister Harper. That only happened after the fact. So the real proof in the pudding will be whether these new Senators will be co-opted to the Liberal cause and follow a consistent course of approving Government legislation or whether in fact, they will act independently.
Prime Minister Harper would not have appointed his people to the Senate if he did not believe he would have their support when he needed it. The same goes for Prime Minister Trudeau. It is a different approach but with the same end game. Make no mistake about it. It is the way the system works. Whether this is real Senate reform or just really clever optics remains to be seen. Don’t hold your breath.