Liberals talk of economy, hint at a big-ticket vision -

Liberals talk of economy, hint at a big-ticket vision

John Geddes on the makings of an ambitious, and potentially expensive, Liberal platform


Tuesday afternoon the Liberals staged an online chat, with Leader Justin Trudeau, MP Scott Brison, the party’s finance critic, and Chrystia Freeland, the former business journalist who’s newly chosen as the party’s star nominee for the upcoming by-election in Toronto Centre, all answering questions from the digital public.

This came a few hours after Trudeau, answering questions from reporters in the foyer of the House of Commons, swatted back one about why he doesn’t present more precise economic policy ideas, saying he needs time to “consult with Canadians” in devising at platform for the 2015 election.

With that in mind, nobody could expect fully formed platform points in the live-streamed event. Still, listening in with interest, I heard a whole bunch of potentially big-ticket ideas, coming mainly from Brison and Freeland, and, to a lesser degree, from Trudeau himself.

Some amounted to niche proposals, like Brison calling for the federal government to provide more summer work for students. (The government has claimed that it created 36,000 summer jobs in 2013,  plus 5,000 paid internships, and overall spends $300 million a year on youth employment.) Also on the subject of youth, Brison suggested somehow helping 20-somethings buy family businesses as they come up for sale.

Other points hit closer to core Conservative policy. For instance, Trudeau grew quite heated vowing, if he wins an election, to completely scrap the Conservatives’ 2012 Unemployment Insurance reforms, which you might remember required frequent EI recipients to show they’re actually searching for jobs, and asked seasonal workers to take jobs they’re qualified to fill within 100 km of where they live, if the pay is at least 70 per cent of what they last earned.

All three of Trudeau, Freeland and Brison expressed support, in general terms, for a national daycare and early childhood education program of some sort. And they agree Ottawa should help municipalities more with upgrading infrastructure, presumably well above the $53-billion, 10-year contribution Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced in his last budget.

Brison also suggested the federal government partner with provinces to modernize electrical grids, and invest in mining infrastructure. Freeland pointedly called for a strategy of fostering Canada’s high-technology sectors by spending more on university research, citing California’s ultra-innovative Silicon Valley as the product of patient investment in university-incubated brainpower.

There were other areas where the trio seemed excited—such as promoting entrepreneurship and tapping the Idle No More movement for ideas—but I didn’t hear anything around these topics that I’d call even the beginnings of a policy idea. I guess we can look for that in the future.

Overall, though, the session sketched the makings of an ambitious, and potentially expensive, Liberal platform: reverse EI reforms, reinstate national daycare of some sort, spend more on infrastructure, spend more on university research. Modernize electrical grids and mining infrastructure. Pay for more summer jobs for students.

The next election is a couple of years off. It’s not unreasonable for Trudeau to ask for time to talk and listen before he firms up his platform—and costs it out. In the meantime, though, anyone with a serious interest in public policy will inevitably begin thinking that if these three mean what they say, it’s all going to add up.


Liberals talk of economy, hint at a big-ticket vision

  1. Of course it will add up.

    What are we going to pay for those F-35 lemons?

  2. Geez this sounds expensive. No Blue Liberals here apparently.

  3. The daycare plan should be funded by cancelling the wasteful cash payouts to every single family, plus the money that was budgeted for the failed tax breaks for businesses who create daycare spaces that were actually used at a rate of, I believe, exactly 0%.

    • Is this the same daycare program the Fiberals announced in the 1992 general election? Come on now.

      • Absolutely the LPC should be taken to task for moving so slowly on not having even a framework in place before 2006. But we must reserve the real disdain for the ineffective expensive CPC plan which replaced it.

        • The CPC plan costs slightly over a billion, precisely what Martin’s plan would have. And Martin’s plan was not even a pale imitation of a universal childcare plan. As of 1986, the last time I saw a serious study done of the costs, implementing universal childcare across the country was estimated at $16 billion per year. Inflate that to 2013 dollars and you’re looking at $22 billion.

          The most generous proposal ever was Mulroney’s $4 billion childcare promise in 1988, which he promptly cancelled almost as soon as he won re-election. No one ever really believed it anyway. We don’t have a universal childcare plan (outside Quebec) for one very good reason – we’re not willing to pay the taxes required to fund it. Europeans are, and they have higher taxes and better daycare. How do you plan to get Canadians to cough up the extra money? Cancelling the 35 billion in proposed jet spending might be a start, but as we can see, that would fund universal childcare for all of two years. Then what?

    • Trudeau should absolutely run on taking away $100/mo. from families just so that he can raise their taxes to implement the often-promised never-delivered universal childcare program that the Liberals have been promising for over 2 decades.

      I’d love to see how that works out for him.

    • The tax credit for businesses to create spaces can’t be claimed unless spaces are created. Not a single business did. So yes, that idea failed miserably, but it also cost us nothing. Therefore, cancelling it would save nothing.

      And direct transfers to families are by far the most efficient way of redistributing income to families. Are you suggesting we end the the Canada Child Tax Benefit and the National Child Benefit? That’s grocery money for a lot of lower and lower-middle income families. You can’t feed or clothe your kids with government programs. You need cash for that.

      Assuming you don’t want to touch those, that leaves us with eliminating the $110 per month UCCB per child under six, which saves us slightly over a billion, and perhaps the silly Child Arts & Fitness credits, which combined cost the government about $135 million in forgone revenue. (See Finance Canada’s figures here: ).

      So unless you want to eliminate the CCTB and the NCB, you’re saving less than $2 billion. Given that creating a universal national daycare program would cost in excess of $20 billion per year (NAC’s 1986 estimate of $16 billion, adjusted to 2013 dollars is $22.13 billion) cancelling those programs puts us not even 10% the way there.

  4. For someone who called herself “a capitalist, red and tooth and claw”, just last week Ms. Freeland sure seems to like market interventions. Nothing wrong with that if there’s an overall good, but we need to see ourselves honestly, esp. in the economic sphere. Everyone likes a regulated free market as the basic idea, we’re really just haggling over details. Remember last election, when parties were tearing each other’s throats out over a 2% difference in corporate tax, with one side saying it was an irresponsible sop to the robber barons, the other prophesizing disaster if the tax rates rose to a certain level, as if they had not been there or higher for several years?

    • For somebody who quotes Tennyson, you got it wrong: it’s “red in tooth and claw”

  5. The main reason to hope for a Trudeau government is Scott Brison.

    • Thtop it.

    • He’s certainly appealing to a certain type of Liberal voter – a former PCer who became disgusted with what the Reform had turned the party into and who jumped ship.

  6. Oh man! They are toast!

    • Yup. Poll-leading toast at that! Two years to the next general election…. the clock is ticking.

      • They are toast, this “poll-leading” LPC is making one mistake after another, they are NOT going to be elected government in 2015.

        • Not exactly a bold prediction. I’m not sure even Trudeau expects to be PM after the next election. Holding Harper to a minority and/or recapturing Official Opposition would be a success.

          • If it’s a minority, then why not take the Prime Ministership from Harper? (Or do you expect harper to pro-rogue for six months following the night of the election?)

          • NOT a minority, not in 2015.

        • That said, if making mistakes prevents you from winning, Harper is toast.

          • NOt a chance, wishful thinking on your part, but hey, thanks for playing! ; )

    • It’s more and more likely Canadians won’t be stupid enough to make harper the PM yet again. He’s probably used up.

      • Canadians aren’t stupid; on the contrary so yes, it will be Prime Minister Stephen Harper 2015.

        • No we are not all stupid just the 39% that voted this clown in.

    • Do you care to elaborate? Reading your last month’s worth of posts, you seem to be convinced Conservatives=good, Liberals=bad without once actually elaborating on why you believe this is so.

      You speak as if you’ve already made this case numerous times, reading your comments I haven’t seen you make it once.

      • I would but there is no point, most commenters, they usual suspects, are so full of hatred and don’t have an open mind, is not worth my time trying to explain why the LPC is in bad shape (even with Trudeau). But is pure common sense, plus the typical missteps by LPC, left will be strongly divided, letting go of Rae was their biggest mistake (LPC seem not to notice that he is the only one CPC is concerned with) plus the general rookie mistakes, there is just no way Canadians (even if they want change of government) will give him a shot in next election, the economy is key and for better or for worse is on Stephen Harper’s side.

        • I’m not full of hatred and am open minded to a good argument, so convince me. I don’t think Rae leaving is a misstep – the Liberals are polling high and had more donors last quarter than the Conservatives did (yes – smaller dollars, but more donors). Plus, Justin’s personal popularity is high, meanwhile Harper’s personal approval is well below the party’s approval. This is a trend that usually forebodes a collapse in party support (see Michael Ignatieff).
          As for the economy, it’s only on his side so long as he delivers. He’s right now failing to build pipelines and close trade deals, nor can he attract foreign competition to the wireless sector. He talks the talk, he has yet to walk the walk.

    • I wouldn’t say that. Mulroney dangled a $4 billion per year daycare program in 1988, and promptly cancelled it after he won the election. Chretien dangled a similar promise in 1993, and promptly cancelled it after he won. Voters might well grasp at that soap bubble a third time.

  7. In my view Trudeau is going to have to suck it up and offer to put the gst back up [ that or the CIT, which i think might be a harder sell overall] He doesn’t have to do it all at once of course; and it should be sold perhaps in concert with a corresponding reduction of M/C income tax, along with a good sales job on just what the cost of $14billion each and every year heading out the door of the treasury really has amounted to. That shouldn’t be that difficult really for a talented communicator.

    As for cost cutting and savings…it would be a tough sell for anything less then a majority govt, but sorting out Harper’s expensive and not so little boutique tax credits that he has littered the landscape with, might be a good place to start.
    How about reversing the stupid on crime Harper crime policy? A few bucks to be saved there, not that money is the most important consideration. And one commitment i’d like to see is to generously expedite land claims and revenue sharing with FNs. This would provide certainty for business and equity for FNs. And it is about time. If the Harper got is returned, lord only knows what they are going to cost us in court cost alone. Actually what have they cost us in wasteful and pointless litigation so far? How bout the partisan advertising bill? That must be stratospheric by now.
    Anyone who wants to run on a broad m/c ticket might do worse then reminding Canadians that targeting specific vote friendly sectors of the voting population will no longer be the policy of the Canadian govt, even if it still remains that favoured by the Harper govt.

    • I formally nominate kcm2 as the policy generator the Liberal party is seeking (although that “no more targeting specific vote-friendly sectors of the population” bit could be a tough sell to party greybeards from Montreal, not to mention Toronto’s Sikhs).

      • Anyone who wants to run on a broad m/c ticket might do worse then reminding Canadians that targeting specific vote friendly sectors of the voting population alone…

        Does that fix it up for you?

        • Carry on, soldier. Hail victory.

    • My how the Liberal party has come full circle. In 1993 Chretien was running on scrapping the GST. Now you’re suggesting they run on raising the GST?

      Other than card carrying Liberals, nobody would vote for a party who promises to raise the price of everything by 2%.

      • Er , people DID vote for a party that DID have the gst 2% higher. Are you on drugs by any chance? I find reality stimulating enough as it is.
        Obviously the timing is important. Raising taxes is probably not a great idea in this economy. But it wont always be that way.

  8. Expensive?

    Spending the right amount of money on the right things is the least expensive way to run a government.

  9. Let’s raise taxes, pay people not to work, set up expensive overhead and hope that the few who come up with good ideas are going to develop them in Canada and not somewhere where there is a growing market.

    Yup, should work. Just like these ideas in various guises have worked in Quebec all those years.

  10. The Liberals are going to have some serious capital shortfalls, from the taxpayer revenue side of the equation, in order to finance all the really neat policies that Junior expects to sell to the Canadian public come 2015. That’s why they’re in panic mode right now. Trying desperately to brand themselves as having answers to questions that Canadians find important. They may be slightly ahead in the polls at this point in time, but when the rubber hits the road they’ll be left far behind when Stephen Harper and Thomas Mulcair decide that it’s time to reveal Justin Trudeau for what really he is. Someone more interested in the next photo-op, sound bite, and popularity contest, than sound fiscal management.

    • Yup. This is exactly the same path Dion and Ignatieff took. Promising boat loads of new spending without specifying how they’d pay for them. Canadians aren’t stupid, and most understand that things need to be paid for.

      If the CPC can balance the budget by 2015 and then offer some small spending increases while maintaining a balanced budget, the Liberals won’t have a chance. Nobody will vote for a party promising to put us back in the red after we’ve spent more than half a decade trying to get back into the black. Except card carrying Liberals, of course.

      • Not one Conservative has balanced a budget because that is their hidden agenda . They use deficit spending as a diversion to give corporations welfare . The only party that has and can balance a budget so far has been a Liberal government . Harper couldn’t balance a budget he hasn’t been given the go ahead . By 2015 Harper will have quit and given the speech “I’m Not a Crook “

    • The Liberals are 26 points ahead of the Cons and only 5 ahead of the NDP . Harper is in a downfall . Harper will quit before he allows Justin or Thomas to beat him , He quit before and he’ll quit now

  11. Trudeau, born with a silver spoon in his mouth, and never had to work a real day in his life, unless collecting speaking fees from charities and unions while an MP counts as work. (No wonder he has time to sit around and smoke pot.)

    Brison, investment banker.

    Freeland, hangs out with investment bankers and 1%’ers. Just like Michael Ignatieff, really good at being a courtier.

    And we are too believe that they have the interests of the middle-class in their hearts.

    • Well we already know the Cons don’t.

  12. Ah, the old state babysitting promise again. Mulroney promised a $4 billion daycare program in 1988, and promptly cancelled it. Chretien did the same thing in 1993, and promptly cancelled it. Martin tried to bring in a puny $1billion a year program to create a few spaces, we dodged that bullet too. Of course they’ll dust off that old promise for another go at it. Avoiding a “national childcare program” is what will keep me voting Conservative regardless of how badly they screw things up.

    In 1986, the NAC-SoW did a study that pegged the cost of a universal national daycare program at $16 billion – per year. Plug that into the inflation calculator over at the BoC website and you come up with $22.13 billion in today’s dollars. Suddenly 35 billion dollar planes sound cheap by comparison.