This is the 22nd or 23rd federal budget I’ve covered. And I’ve never seen the like of the one Bill Morneau introduced on Wednesday.
Not even in the last days of the Harper Conservatives did a budget provide for so little new spending. $1.3 billion in the current budget year, total, in all fields of government. That’s a little less than half of one per cent of all federal program spending for this year.
But times are tight. The future is a place where we can dream. So the dollars flow more freely in later years. In 2021-22, the budget’s fifth planning year, new spending peaks at $8.2 billion. Which will be about 2.4 per cent of all program spending.
This will seem a strange word to use for numbers beginning with a “b,” but this level of new spending is peanuts. Last year’s budget announced $14.9 billion in new spending for this year — more than 11 times what this year’s budget provides.
I think three things are going on here.
First, last year’s budget happened. We are still living in its fiscal world. The aggressive growth track for spending that the Trudeau-Morneau team’s rookie budget laid out is still in place. That budget, so long ago, a whole year ago — written in an age of Barack Obama and a united Europe, amid countless optimistic consultations with Canadians who could, in that more innocent age, still dream of electoral reform — spent all the money that will ever be available to any future government anywhere, including perhaps in Asia and on the moon. If a conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged by reality, this year’s Justin Trudeau is a Liberal whose wallet has been stolen by last year’s Trudeau.