The control freak budget

It’s as if Canadians were four-year-olds in need of training wheels on almost every choice, financial and social alike


Here’s how you should think about Budget 2017 and its 280 pages: Imagine a boss who micromanages everything.

You know the type: The one who drops by your office to review and delete a sentence in your presentation—the lone outlier with flair, minus corporate-speak; the boss who will call, e-mail and text until you respond; in general, the control freak CEO who cannot delegate because that would relinquish control—to you, an adult.

That nit-pick, in-your-space-and-face approach is the pre-eminent way to understand the federal budget, released by the Justin Trudeau government and delivered in the House of Commons by Finance Minister Bill Morneau on Wednesday.

The budget is ostensibly about the middle class. But if that were the focus, the Trudeau government wouldn’t so intensely try and decide everything for us. It’s as if Canadians were four-year-olds in need of training wheels on almost every choice, financial and social alike.

Take savings: It is one thing to institute a government-managed pension plan in the 20th century and mandate a minimum amount of retirement savings via that vehicle. It is another, in this century, to raise CPP premiums yet again starting in 2019.

If the politicians want us to save, without making our choices for us, they could have reversed last year’s mistake. Recall how the Liberal government cut the amount of cash Canadians could shelter in their Tax Free Savings Account, to $5,500 from $10,000.

Instead, this year Canadians will see a tax hike: Employment Insurance taxes/premiums are going up. That less-TFSA, higher-EI, more-CPP is a one-two-three punch to taxpayers; it’s also a sign of a control freak government.

In another bit of evidence, Budget 2017 continues the Trudeau government attempt to re-brand 1970s industrial policy. That policy is better known by the non-fake news, non-Orwellian name of corporate welfare. But the government is re-branding its political picking of winners and losers as “innovation.”

Thus, Morneau’s budget promises that the centralizing power on the Rideau will: “help connect companies on a global scale, [taking] an innovative and collaborative approach to solving modern challenges”. The budget offers up $400 million for a new government-directed venture capital fund (think slush fund but for high-tech), $950 million to create business “superclusters” and $1.4 billion for green technology. (The government even deigns to “help” women entrepreneurs (page 86), a patronizing 1950s, the-boss-will-help-you-out intervention.)

Minister of Finance Bill Morneau speaking in Ottawa March 22, 2017. (Photograph by Blair Gable)

Minister of Finance Bill Morneau speaking in Ottawa March 22, 2017. (Photograph by Blair Gable)

All the empirical criticisms of politically-directed subsidies to business aside, consider how likely it is that a government that announces policy in circular clichés—of innovation that is “innovative”—or has a Finance Minister who offers banalities like his government will foment a “culture of life-long-learning” and “put our best foot forward”, can innovate anything except ever-higher taxpayer bills for corporate welfare.

Besides, there is nothing novel about billions more in taxpayer-funded lolly for corporations. This is the same industrial policy that has been standard under every political party since at least 1966. That was when Bombardier received its first grant from government (when Lester Pearson was prime minister and the Rolling Stones were hip).

How about on the social side? The Trudeau government promises $7 billion for daycare. That’s an assumption that parents would rather see more subsidies for non-family care for their children. It pushes up against the seven-in-ten preference of Canadians to raise their under-six children themselves. But the daddy-mommy state knows best.

Or ponder the desire of the politicians to micro-manage career choices and wage outcomes. The politicians and civil servants who wrote the budget pay homage (page 221) to the false notion of a gender wage gap. Except it doesn’t exist: Discrimination based on actual same staff positions has been outlawed for decades. The median wage gap between men and women results from hours worked, time in the workforce, and differing career choices between men and women.

As scholar Christina Hoff Sommers points out in an American context, anyone who claims a gender wage gap exists “are not merely bad at math, but at telling the truth.” In Canada, the last time a federal government went down this micro-managing, gender pay policy road, in the 1990s, it meant billions of dollars in back-pay and raises for civil servants.

Here’s the budget summary: a withered ability for the middle class to save; more tax dollars directed at political priorities; higher EI premiums for all entrepreneurs but more tax dollars for favoured businesses—and hints at recycled social engineering.

All of it reveals a government with micromanaging interventionism in its DNA. It would make a 1970s prime minister proud.


Mark Milke is the author of Tax Me I’m Canadian: A Taxpayer’s Guide To Your Money and How Politicians Spend It.


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The control freak budget

  1. All these media types believing they know the best way to run the economy!

    How be you folks in the peanut gallery just REPORT the story and cease criticizing [or praising] what our ELECTED officials do?

    Let us voters decide if we like it or not.

  2. My favourite: “superclusters”. I haven’t heard the word ‘cluster’ since before the 2000-01 tech bubble collapse. I guess they knew they couldn’t just revive an outdated 1990s buzzword as is without being laughed out of the building. So they changed it. Superclusters, as distinct from clusters you see. Next they’ll be babbling about “super global value chains” and and the “information super super highway”.

    I suspect the revival of 90s jargon is deliberate. What government wouldn’t want to recapture some of the optimism of those heady days? But their marketing advisors (yes, political parties have those) ought to have known that those terms sound as dated as “groovy” and “far out”.

    There was an actual economics textbook called Clusters and Global Value Chains published circa 2000. It now gathers dust along with the Y2K doomer books. The concepts proved useless and distracting, as did all the politicians and policy wonks babbling about “clusters” back then.

  3. With the type of POTUS we have now, I wonder how the opposition parties would have handled this situation, seems they have become good at criticising, but very poor at finding solutions, and that’s where the MSM fails the public, they become a bullhorn for the opposition as critics to drive the oppositions message, instead of painting them in a corner over their vision to find a balance with a POTUS like we have today, and not just a budget. Political Torque Radio and Television shows don’t make decisions for the voters. I find it very interesting how these MSM Torque shows and pundits are starting to turn into entertainment, when you use advertising to sell political news, you have become entertainment, that’s the American Dream.

  4. Mark, how about you stick to writing books because your summary sucks. Here’s a saying I was taught, “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?” or in other words – if you’re so great and can do better than this, then get out of your theoretical bubble (you know, the one where you say most people would prefer to ‘raise’ their kids themselves instead of work? I HAD to work in order to bring in money and I DID raise my kids thankyouverymuch. The awesome care workers who watched and taught my kids while I was working didn’t RAISE them for me) and get off your ass and run for political office and then get yourself in as finance minister.

    Until that time, be a critic, but ground yourself in realism and bring solutions to the table instead of bitch-bitch-bitch. If the budget had new spending, those in the ‘we know better than you do’ camp would criticize that too. I could criticize your summary line by line but that’s just spouting off my OPINION, which this is. An opinion piece. And you know what is said about opinions… they’re like a**holes – everyone’s got one.

    • You were taught that? So you judge the worth of someone’s opinion on how rich they are? You sound like a loser with very thin skin. Try questioning the things you were taught instead of just swallowing them whole. Then maybe you wouldn’t come off as such a gullible bumpkin.

  5. And where is PM Pixie Dust. Oh Yeah the LPC sent him on a two weeks road trip. Why you ask? To keep the mental midget out of house and question period where he, in no uncertain terms, would embarrass the hell out of himself.

  6. Well, with the dumbing of Canada that has taken place in the recent past, Milke is not too far off when he states: “It’s as if Canadians were four- year-olds in need of… !