Morneau
Credit: Bill Morneau on Twitter

Finance Minister Bill Morneau in happier times

The annual financial announcement was met with ravishing praise or abject disappointment, depending on where you sit on the ideological spectrum

Yesterday (March 19), Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal government announced yet another annual budget. Your feelings about what actually happened will probably hinge on where your political affiliations lie. 

Some facts that are undeniable:

  • It was the fourth budget introduced by the team, the last before the 2019 federal election.

OK, that’s pretty much it. Most everything else will be the subject of debate and partisan argument.

With that in mind, let’s decide something else pretty subjective: who won and lost in the aftermath of the budget announcement.

Winner: First-time home buyers

Damn millennials. In a thinly veiled plea to a coveted voting demographic, Trudeau and company revealed that Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. will pitch in 5 five percent to those buying their first home. It’s another 10 percent for new homes.

Those who abide by these rules will reimburse CMHC, interest-free, if and when they sell off the property. Not a bad deal.

Loser: The B.C. housing market

Experts are asking whether another stipend for prospective first-time homebuyers in B.C. (the province already has rules limiting the property tax that first-time buyers pay) will inflate the housing market once again. It could mean that, say, that $400,000 condo is pushed up to $440,000.

Winner: The idea of reconciliation

After disengaging First Nations communities with a perplexing cabinet shuffle that ended with ­­­­Seamus O'Regan as minister of Indigenous services and a brutal battle with many of them over the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, the federal government leaned heavily in the other direction.

Ottawa committed about $4.7 billion to Indigenous issues, including ending every boil-water advisory by 2021, forgiving debts amassed during land claim negotiations and providing First Nations children with basic health and social services.

Will that win over those with a bad taste in their mouths from what the Trudeau government has done on the Indigenous file so far? Hard to say.

Loser: The long-term financial picture

Although Canada's debt-to-GDP ratio sits at about 30.8 percent, some are concerned about the rate of spending the Liberal government has overseen. Indeed, Morneau admitted that the party will keep running deficits if re-elected.

That probably won’t be an issue as long as economic expansion and job growth stay the course, but Ontario Finance Minister Vic Fedeli still called the government’s insistence on deficits “disappointing.”

He also railed against the federal carbon tax and works for Doug Ford, so do with that what you will.

Winner: Biting the hand that feeds you

With a 25-percent tax break (maximum of $13,750) announced for (some) Canadian media organizations, plus a credit for those with digital media subscriptions, the government is doubling down on a strong press, one of the things Trudeau heralded back in the “sunny ways" era.

But it seems ironic, and somewhat admirable, that Trudeau is introducing this now, after weeks of being battered by the SNC-Lavalin scandal, which started with reporting by the Globe and Mail.

Loser: Bill Morneau
On that note, we’re sorry, but the image of Morneau diligently reading the budget announcement off a piece of paper while Conservative MPs yell “Let her speak” won’t fade from memory anytime soon. You can barely hear the guy talk. 

Winner: Seniors
More than 70 percent of Canadian senior citizens voted in the last federal election, a fact that isn’t lost on the Liberals. The government allocated $1.8 billion for retirees, including support for low-income seniors.

Loser: The Conservative Party of Canada
Even former Stephen Harper adviser Rachel Curran called the budget a smart political move. And it is. There isn’t a whole lot in here to criticize, and coverage of it has more or less overshadowed the SNC-Lavalin affair.

Most infuriating for Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer must have been the $3.65 billion the Trudeau government promised to compensate dairy, egg and poultry farmers hurt by recent free-trade agreements. You have to think the Opposition was intent on targeting those voters.

Winner: The NDP
The Liberals didn’t make any headway toward cutting off one of the NDP’s main platform promises for 2019: a national pharmacare plan.

This will no doubt give NDP leader Jagmeet Singh a chance to rally voters toward a cause that everyone can get behind.