Who represents the Canadian family?
Fiscal update frames pre-election debate for stakeholders
The battle for the hearts and minds of Canadians in next October’s election officially begins as Finance Minister Joe Oliver delivered the annual fall budget update and fiscal projections.
Moving the normally stuffy fiscal update out of the House of Commons and into a Toronto hotel conference room – and the media centre of the country – the governing Conservatives were clearly hoping to get their message directly into the media streams of every day Canadians.
In addition, this approach made it harder for the opposition leaders to respond to the message and splintered the location and ability of news organisations to cover the reactions from all major political players.
Conservative answer:“Conservatives can be trusted with the finances of the nation and will help Canadian families where they need it most – the pocketbook.”
In a focused and remarkably short speech, Oliver used the word families more than 25 times. He highlighted tax measures aimed at improving the lives of Canadian families and he compared the importance of balancing the government budget to the act of balancing a family’s budget.
Included in the goodies that the government is giving to families are: Income-splitting, increasing and expanding the Universal Child Care Benefit, increasing the Child Care Expense Deduction limits, and doubling the Children’s Fitness Tax Credit.
Oliver announced that these tax cuts represent nearly $27 billion that will be put back in the pockets of Canadian families with children under the age of 18 over the next five years.
This campaign-style speech laid out a core narrative for the Conservatives in the lead-up to the next election.
NDP answer: “The NDP will stop the reckless direction that government is headed and create a government that will protect the most vulnerable Canadians and ensure fairness and equality for families.”
Rather than battle the Conservatives on their ground, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair focused his response to the fiscal update on issues the NDP hope Canadians will consider when deciding on whom to vote for next year.
Mulcair expressed that his party’s top priority would be avoiding health care cuts, rolling back the retirement age, reducing further cuts to the veterans’ programs, and implementing a universal and affordable child care plan.
He did, however, have a few comments on the Conservative proposals. He called the projected surplus for next year a “mirage,” as he believes it is based on billions of dollars in cuts to much needed programs. He vowed the NDP would fight the government’s plan to introduce income-splitting, in the name of less fortunate Canadians.
Liberal answer: “The government is only interested in helping the rich. We are the only party fighting for middle-class families in Canada.”
In his brief response to the budget update, Trudeau said he believes the current government is out of touch with Canadians and is solely focused on getting re-elected. Trudeau argues that the income-splitting benefits would only benefit a wealthier 15 per cent of Canadians, but will do nothing for the other 85 per cent. Instead of tax breaks for the rich, Mr. Trudeau says he will focus on helping the middle-class benefit and grow.
The Liberal tendency to avoid discussing policy specifics is no accident, with the party wanting to focus more on the problems associated with the current government.
What does this mean for stakeholders?
One question. Three distinct answers. It is clear that for those hoping to influence public policy the answer to who represents the Canadian family is a critical one. Can corporations join the debate about how to best support families? Can groups with specific mandates on the environment, healthcare or international trade break through to policy makes with their priorities?
What is clear is that a campaign is under way. Outside actors must remember this critical factor when engaging with government over the next year – or miss out on any chance to see their priorities taken seriously.