Paul Wells: This is not a revolution, Mr. Trudeau

Today’s Trudeau Liberalism? Chances are, Pierre would have trouble recognizing it. Paul Wells on Justin Trudeau’s marginal change

Adrian Wyld/CP

Adrian Wyld/CP

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Dinty’s restaurant, a comfy roadhouse on the far side of Gatineau from Ottawa, was full of bright-eyed middle-class families who had gathered for lunch on a recent Monday. Well, half-full. The back half of the restaurant was empty. The middle was packed with reporters and camera crews. The front, featuring the aforementioned bright-eyed families, was part of an elaborate mise en scène by the Liberal Party of Canada. The party’s leader, Justin Trudeau, was making an announcement.

Trudeau has been squeezed lately by competing impulses. On one hand, the desire to save his best campaign material for the election campaign, which everyone now knows will take place in the autumn. On the other, the worry among some natural Liberal supporters that if Trudeau is not talking about his ideas for governing, it’s because he has none. The announcement at Dinty’s was designed to quiet some of the complainers by putting some ideas in the window.

“Today I am excited to be sharing with you two big parts of our plan,” Trudeau told the reporters, standing in front of the photogenically arrayed families.

Related: Does Trudeau’s bemoaning of young Canadians’ prospects make sense?

First, he said, he’d increase taxes on a small number of the most affluent Canadians so he could cut taxes on incomes between about $45,000 and $89,000. “That’s a $3-billion tax cut for the people who need it most,” he said. Not for each of the people who need it most, mind you. Because at $3 billion per head, that would add up. The cut from 22 per cent to 20.5 per cent on this second income bracket would amount to roughly $1,000 per person in that bracket.

This is classic economic populism. The new top rate of tax, essentially a four-point income tax hike for people earning more than $200,000, would sting. But it would sting people who earn a lot of money and are hard to feel sorry for. Canadians who’d benefit from the cut in the middle are far more numerous than those who’d pay for it at the top. So as long as Canadians are self-aware—as long as they know how much they earn and how much tax they pay on it—it makes political sense to increase taxes on a few and cut them for many. There’s precedent. In 1993 Bill Clinton introduced a new top rate of 39.6 per cent on incomes over $250,000. The U.S. economy didn’t do badly for the rest of that decade.

That was half of Trudeau’s announcement. The rest was a new Canada Child Benefit to replace assorted family benefits that have been in place under Harper. For a lot of families, Trudeau’s proposed child benefits would be more generous than those they receive now under Harper. How would he pay for that? Partly by cancelling income splitting. Partly by coming up with $2 billion in “new investment,” the source of which Trudeau didn’t explain. It’ll come up when he releases his full platform later, he promised.

Related: Let the great family-tax battle begin

A few observations.

First, I’ve been quick to criticize Trudeau plans that, to me, make no sense. The top of that list would include his so-called “Medicare approach” to a federal role in supporting provincial efforts to limit carbon emissions. As far as I can tell that plan wouldn’t work at all. But his income tax scheme is clear enough, and it creates more winners than losers. It’s odd that it cuts the second-lowest tax bracket, rather than the lowest: it’s a plan to help the not-too-poorly-off. Basically if you can’t afford lunch at Dinty’s, then good luck to you. But that’s a choice, and now that Trudeau has suggested it, he forces the other parties to defend their own choices. Elections should be about that sort of thing.

But what strikes me most about Trudeau’s populist tax shift and his family benefit is how much they resemble Stephen Harper’s choices, not how much they contrast. A decade ago, Liberals enjoyed running against Harper on a plan to create new, government-regulated daycare spaces. Trudeau hinted he might announce some such plan before this autumn, but he’s committed so much money to enriching Harper’s family benefits he won’t, in any circumstance, have much left over for daycare spaces.

Both the tax shift and the enhanced child benefits represent change at the margin. Trudeau is free to depict them as a revolution, but it just isn’t so. I intend no criticism here; it’s just something worth noting, because it suggests the extent to which, even under a guy named Trudeau, the Liberals have been chastened by the events of the past decade. Harper conservatism envisages a federal government that mostly just redistributes money from some parts of the country to others that enjoy more favour in the eyes of the governing party. Trudeau would redistribute the money in different ways. There’s a real choice between the two, and Tom Mulcair’s NDP will offer still another. But what Trudeau proposed at Dinty’s was a long way from the sort of government his father used to run. These days, Trudeau Liberalism is closer to Harper Conservatism than it is to anything Justin Trudeau learned at home growing up. Both he and Harper have a substantial electoral interest in denying their similarities, but they’re there.


Paul Wells: This is not a revolution, Mr. Trudeau

  1. “But what Trudeau proposed at Dinty’s was a long way from the sort of government his father used to run.”

    His father ran govt from 1968 to 1984 in the last century.

    Why would you expect Justin to do the same things as his father?

    • Seems to me, at this early hour of the day, that Harper’s policy resembles more that of Trudeau père, while Justin Trudeau’s is inspired bu Mulroney-Wilson.

      • A new era requires new solutions…I dunno why we always look towards the past.

        “If the 19th century is to be governed by the opinions of the 18th and the 20th by the 19th, the world will always be governed by dead men.”
        Elizabeth Cady Stanton

  2. Really, what Trudeau done is outflank the cons and dippers at their own game, not a lot of news people have panned this piece of policy only some conservative bloggers and writers who just like to bash Trudeau because of his fathers past or bash and insult him because they can’t wait to see him loose in the next election, but I have a funny feeling Canadians will catch on to this new grit policy and realize the liberal party are as good or better than the other two parties put together when it comes managing taxpayers money. When are authors like this one, going to get over PET, I thought he died back in the nineties, but some just can’t let him RIP, the guy is DEAD, GONE, FINI, get over it, move on, this is a new century and generation. Trudeau can evolve like the rest of the world, but sometimes, not every apple is the same that falls from the tree. This policy the grits put out helps more Canadians in a fair and equitable way, not just one segment of society, you know the NDP left, and the Cons right, right down the middle. NDP, number one are too close to unions for me to even attempt to vote for. I don’t mind unions, but I hate mouth piece unions more.

    • Would you rather see him loose in the nest election, or tight in the next election?

    • what about the 2 billion he would make up; how is he going to make it up – what new revenue is he counting on.

  3. It seems to me that in order to introduce anything ‘revolutionary’ one must first get into power.

    In order to accomplish that, especially running against Harper one must do what works.

    In this case Trudeau is using Harper’s own tactics against him.

    Once in, then hopefully the change in governing style and substance from that of Harper would be ‘revolutionary’.

    • Couldn’t agree more, especially beating Harper at his own game which he and the cons thought they owned, tax cut policy. That’s all Trudeau needs to do now, is to continue to hammer the message out to the public, that there is a new fair tax sheriff in town, and he don’t wear a black cowboy hat.

      • sure everyone gets a tax break what a generous politician – yet he has no idea where its coming from. 2 billion is a lot of money, in the context of the federal budget no, but it does have to come from somewhere…

  4. Mr. Wells,

    There really is no mystery about how Trudeau will get the money he needs to implement his platform. He’s already stated his intentions. Whatever revenue he loses through tax cuts to the middle class, will more than be made up for by his incoming carbon tax.

    Don’t forget, his number one advisor is Gerald Butts….the same guy who talked the provincial Liberals into implementing the Green Energy Act.

    Middle class famiies….here’s your tax cut, followed immediately by, “here’s your tax increase”…and at the end of the day, they will raise more money by tax increases, than they lose through tax cuts.

    People will pay more for energy, and businesses will pay more for energy…and what McGinty and Wynne did to Ontario, will soon be shared across Canada if Trudeau ever becomes PM.

    The question is, are people paying attention? Business will pass along the price increases through increased product/service prices, and Government will be able to tax those once again. It’s a Two-fer !!!….

    The Government will be rolling in the dough….the middle class…not so much.

    Not really a mystery.

    • When the facts don’t support you, it is always best to create a scenario that fits your opinion.

      • Not a scenario Gayle….

        Trudeau actually mentioned it in a press conference prior to his announcement of his newest policy.

        I didn’t create a scenario…..Trudeau did.

    • You said: “The question is, are people paying attention?”
      Yes they do pay attention. People in Alberta, by electing NDP majority Government, after 44 years of PC rule sent laud and clear message to the PC Party and to the Con/Reform Party in Ottawa. Time for a change in Ottawa too, and not soon enough in my books.

      • a provincial NDP gov’t by no means reflects an NDP or Liberal gov’t federal gov’t. Alberta sent a message and that message has been heard, no way they toss the Conservatives federally – not saying the Conservatives will win, just saying Alberta will not completely change overnight…

  5. I may have missed it, but I can’t see where Trudeau claimed to be “revolutionary”.

    In my opinion, whether a policy is considered revolutionary depends on time and place. In Canada, circa 1980, this would not be revolutionary. But after 9 long years of tax benefits targeting the people Harper approves of – 2 parent families and stay-at-home mothers, not matter how rich they are – a policy that actually treats people fairly and equally may also be revolutionary.

    • Gayle, you miss a lot of things.

      As for fairness, what the Conservatives are doing is the epitome of fairness. Those who pay the most in taxes, should logically see the most in returns. If you don’t see that as being fair, then you don’t know what the word means.

      Why should a guy who pays $65,000 per year in taxes not see a greater return of HIS OWN MONEY…than the guy who pays NO Taxes?

      Your envy is showing.

  6. The very idea that the Liberals are more in favor of giving the money to the parents to look after they children is rather than creating a huge national day care program indicates a HUGE ideological shift.

    It clear shows that the Liberals have realized that the socialist ideological that the Liberals have been adopting to go after the NDP voters does not represent Canadian values (2015).

    I welcome change in Liberal policy. If for some reason the new natural governing party gets blown up by poor leadership or personality (Stelmach/Redford/Prentice) Canadians will have an option that is not pure proven a disaster wherever it is tried socialism.

    Now the Liberals need to get some leaders and candidates that actually support capitalism to drive a socially responsible agenda like the CPC.

    • It’s only a huge ideological shift if you are so right wing that you actually believe subsidized national daycare equates to socialism. Or if you actually believe the LPC does not support capitalism (one wonders, if that were the case, why the LPC was so damaged financially by the decision to limit corporate donations to political parties).

      • Why should it be subsidized? If you want to go to work outside the home you should have to pay the freight.

        • You can make the same argument for tax benefits for people with children. Last I heard, having children is a choice.

      • State run programs that provide for the needs of the individual is the definition of socialism.

        You do not think that the Liberals trying to fine tune the CPC method of supporting of families with children is not a shift away from socialism? The Liberals had abandoned all promise that they made in the 1993 Chretien red book and have had reaffirmed by every Liberal leader since.

        In 2015 Trudeau has admitted that Harper’s concept is better,… The Canadian people are not in favor of any more state run programs.

        • Definition of socialism

          Socialism is a social and economic system characterized by social ownership of the means of production and co-operative management of the economy, as well as a political theory and movement

          • And that is what is WRONG with Socialism, Emily,

            No one has the right to my labour, nor the benefits I derive from it. It belongs to ME….if I want to share it, that is my choice. When Government takes it away from me, it becomes a criminal ideology.

            If you want something….EARN IT.

          • Emily provided:

            “Socialism is a social and economic system characterized by social ownership of the means of production and co-operative management of the economy, as well as a political theory and movement”

            Emily, it is this point that makes Socialism wrong and criminal.

            “social ownership of the means of production and co-operative management of the economy”

            Why should the “social” have any ownership of something AN INDIVIDUAL creates? I didn’t offer it to anyone….the STATE TOOK IT. That is called theft.

            And by Co-operative management of the economy…well congrats, Stalin and Lenin couldn’t have said it better.

            What if I want to manage my OWN part of the economy? Forcing me to submit to any level of Government is cooperative, it is confiscation.

            Everything about the socialist ideology goes against human nature and fairness. Again, if you want something…get off your lazy ass and earn it. It is not my job to support you and your lifestyle. If you want to stay in the poor-house, that is your business. But stay the hell out of my house. No one has a right to the fruits of my labour but me and mine.

        • You have proven my point. Thanks!

          • Gayle,

            After reading your comments about various topics at this website, I think the only point you have ever proven, is the one atop your head. If you don’t understand the logic of an argument, then perhaps you should think a little longer before you hit the “send” button.

  7. Man, it’s hard to keep up. Andrew Coyne and otters tell us Alberta hasn’t really been conservative in 20 years and the left is winning across the country, Wells tells us the left isn’t really the left, it’s more the right. So if Trudeau is closer to Harper by Harper than Trudeau but Harper isn’t really conservative and the left is winning does that mean everything is just kind of where it started?

    • LOL

      Perhaps it’s time to move away from old Cold War ideologies before everyone is dizzy!

    • Whatever happened to the concept of “centrist”? That used to be a common descriptor for the Liberals. Somehow, over the years, it seems the CPC has successfully managed to define anyone left of them as “leftist”. Which is nonsense.

      • Keith,

        Given that the only major parties in opposition to Harper are the Socialist NDP, and the Liberals under Justin Trudeau…….harper is quite accurately describing them as leftist. Of course, no one really knows what Justin Trudeau actually believes in, as apparently being the PM to Trudeau is a matter of birthright.

        If his dad wasn’t Pierre Trudea, Justin would still be just an invisible part-time substitute teacher smoking pot during his weekend snowboarding lessons.

  8. This is just a small portion of the liberal platform; I suspect there is even more to come on the fiscal side. I would wait before making some final judgement on the difference between the liberals and the conservatives. And even if the difference is not that big on monetary issues, a change on other aspects like justice, environment and foreign policies would be so welcomed at this time.

    • Keeper,

      Even is the Liberal and Conservative financial policies are very similar, there is still one major difference that should matter to anyone who works, pays taxes, and votes.

      Unlike Justin Trudeau, Harper actually understands economics; and the impact policies have on Canadians. Do you honestly think that any of the Liberal “Policy” that comes out during the campaign were actually Trudeau’s ideas?

      If you really believe that…..give your head a shake.

  9. I despise what Harper has done to the image of Canada and our democracy, had hopes for Trudeau but now see him as almost a clone. Mulcair?? May is the only one now that I respect. Have been voting for 1/2 a century and most of that time voting has been a waste as we elect MP’s to go to Ottawa and represent the party and keep their mouths shut instead of representing the people who elect them! Should eliminate party politics and the control of the party king.

    • JR in BC…

      It is pretty much understood around the Globe that Canada is doing rather well on the world stage; both financially and morally. Maybe you aren’t personally, but that isn’t my fault; nor Harpers.

      As for respecting Elizabeth May…..which of these actions caused her to earn your respect?

      1. She said, “Canadians are stupid” (she is an American who now has Canadian citizenship)
      2. She believes that there are too many humans on the planet, and doesn’t really like other humans building homes and heating them. It ruins her view.
      3. She is a 9/11 Truther……George Bush must have done it.
      4. She believes that OMAR KHADR…..is a classy guy. The fact Khadr and his clan are avowed supporters of terrorism (and have parcipated in it) are not a fact for May to condemn….after all, Khadr and his clan are helping her out with point Number 2 above. They, and those like them are doing their damndest to help reduce the human population of the planet.

      Do us all a favour……on voting day, please waste your vote on May.

  10. Coming out going for haymakers usually just makes you open and burnt out at the gate.

    This particular strategy of unifying and simplifying child tax benefits makes sense, and making it even more equitable makes even better sense. Applying these in an intelligent way instead of flagrantly trying to buy votes with poorly executed policy will always win out.

    If there is any similarity between Harper and Trudeau, it will be that sometimes revolution is best served through incrementalism.

    • So you are saying Harper is a revolutionary and Trudeau is taking small incremental steps to become more like Harper?

      • BC Voice of Reason….

        Given Trudeaus limited intellect…..I think small steps are all he can handle in any event.

  11. Very funny Mr.Wells. This hysterical tripe certainly lived up to the hysteria implied in the title. Well done sir!

    This is the exact kind of crap ensuring that all of Canada will be enjoying it’s very own Alberta moment this fall.

    Goodbye Harper and good riddance :).

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