The story of Tuesday's budget will be about much more than the size of the deficit

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support for as little as $5 per month!

Like this article? rabble is reader-supported journalism. Chip in to keep stories like these coming.

On Tuesday, the new Trudeau government will bring down its first budget, and it has been working hard, in advance, to manage expectations.

The prime minister let the cat out of the bag on Old Age Security (OAS) when he told a New York audience his government would cancel the Conservative plan to advance the age of eligibility from 65 to 67.

Justin Trudeau followed his predecessor's example in choosing a foreign venue for that announcement.

Stephen Harper was in Europe when he announced his plan to hike the OAS age requirement.

Trudeau also used the occasion of Earth Hour to foreshadow that the budget will have money for projects that foster environmental sustainability.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau earlier told Canadians the government would come nowhere near its promised deficit of $10 billion. He forecast that federal deficit, without additional spending, would be no less than $18 billion.

Knowledgeable observers are now speculating that the actual deficit figure on Tuesday will be at least $30 billion, triple the amount the Liberals said a few short months ago.

Getting that number out there well in advance of the budget is a classic managing expectations tactic.

Liberals have become masters at avoiding budget surprises

When he was finance minister, Liberal Paul Martin did the same in advance of his 1995 budget, which famously (or notoriously) included deep cuts to health and social transfers to the provinces.

Martin got the ball rolling with his economic update of November 1994, when he promised the Liberal government would balance the budget "come hell or high water."

His minions then leaked most of the 1995 budget to The Globe and Mail and the CBC, who happily played along, thinking they had a scoop.

By the time Martin's draconian measures were formally announced in the actual budget the media had been well prepared and reaction was muted.

The danger for today's Liberals, who are trying to soften public opinion to accept larger than anticipated deficits rather than deep cuts, is that, for the media and opposition politicians, deficits are easy to understand and describe. Long term and sustainable growth policies are much more complex.

We can count on the Conservatives and many in the media to jump on the deficit figures and make a huge fuss over them.

The NDP will likely be more discreet, even though the party, incongruously, championed balanced budgets during the last election campaign.

The third party in the current Parliament has now re-branded itself as Canada's progressive opposition and will likely focus more on matters related to economic inequality, fairness and the environment than on the size of the deficit.

The Liberals will prove slippery target for those firing from the left, however.

They have already moved on such important files as missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and climate change. On economic policy, the differences between the Liberals and their critics to the left are likely to be more a matter of nuance than fundamental principle.

Progressives who, at this early stage, still have a right to feel hopeful about this new government might, nonetheless, want to drill deeper to see what it is at its core.

So far, Trudeau has done nothing to offend Big Business

First, it is worth noting that the Trudeau government is all about the middle class.

It hardly ever talks about the poor, and virtually never talks about working people, let alone the working class.

Hugging the ephemeral middle class has been the U.S. Democratic Party's strategy since Bill Clinton's era in the 1990s. That is when the Democrats decided they had become too much the party of racial minorities and social activists and had ceased to appeal to lunch bucket voters.

The Republicans used to get many of those (white) lunch bucket folks to vote against their own economic interests by appealing to their attachment to -- in Barack Obama's famous phrase -- "God and guns."

Bill Clinton won many of those working people back, in part, by promising to "end welfare as we know it" with a "hand up, not a hand out" approach.

Clinton also made a point of saying he was pro death penalty. His predecessor, Michael Dukakis, committed political suicide during a televised debate when he openly admitted he opposed the death penalty.

Canada's Liberals have carefully studied the Democrats' strategy.

Trudeau's party has scrupulously avoided doing or saying anything to overtly offend Big Business.

Nor has it made an issue out of the growing gulf, in Canada as elsewhere, between the richest one per cent and the rest of us, especially the poorest 25 per cent.

The Liberals' signature tax cut measure completely leaves out the millions of Canadians with taxable income below $45,000 per year. And while it admirably hikes the taxes of those with taxable incomesof $200,000 and above, it too generously rewards the relatively comfortable cohort with taxable incomes between $90,000 and $200,000.

That is not a way to promote greater economic equality; but, at this stage, few seem to have noticed.

The middle class tax cut is now law, but it will be worth looking hard at what else the Liberal government does on taxes in Tuesday's budget, and asking who are the real winners.

What about corporate taxes or EI?

We can be almost certain that there will be no change to the current low corporate tax rate.

Even the Conservatives complained that large and well-financed corporations were sitting on piles of dead cash and not investing it in jobs.

It will also be interesting to see what the budget says about employment insurance (EI). Will it lift any of the restrictions the Harper government introduced, which mean that only four in 10 unemployed Canadians have access to EI?

The Liberals also made major spending promises for First Nations education and other services to Indigenous people, the CBC and other cultural agencies, foreign aid, fiscal transfers to the provinces for health care, and, of course, infrastructure.

The budget is where the rubber hits the road on all of those commitments.

It will be important, on Tuesday, to read its fine print carefully.

There should be a lot more to talk about in the Trudeau government's first major piece of legislation than the deficit number. 

Photo: flickr/ UN Women

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable. has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.