Chris Selley: A federal budget from a government that has abandoned its poetic phase
|National Post 19 Mar 2019 at 13:45|
Well, that’s just the kind of guy he is. Starting this year, so long as your household income is below $120,000, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation will pitch in 5 per cent of the price of your first home — 10 per cent if it’s a new home, the construction of which the government hopes to incentivize.
That’s Item One in the 460-page federal budget tabled Tuesday in Ottawa.
On a new $400,000 condo, you could put down your own $20,000; CMHC would chip in another $40,000; and your monthly mortgage payment, on a 25-year term at 3.25 per cent, would drop by a not inconsiderable 12 per cent. You would reimburse CMHC, interest-free, if and when you sell. Cost to the taxpayer: $121 million over six years.
If you’re worried giving home-seekers free money might just push the price of a $400,000 condominium nearer to $440,000, Finance Minister Bill Morneau would first of all like you to stop. (“You’re wrong,” he admonished a reporter who dared suggest it during a press conference in the budget lockup Tuesday.) But if all else fails and you’re forced to rent, the feds also found $10 billion extra over nine years to throw at the Rental Construction Financing Initiative, a CMHC program that offers low-interest loans to qualified builders. The goal is 42,500 new rental units in a decade.
The overall impression is of a government that might be leaving its poetic phase behind
Can’t even think of home ownership until you pay off your student loans? Again, the government is here to help: From now on you’ll pay the Bank of Canada’s prime interest rate, instead of prime plus 2.5 points. And for the first six months after you graduate, you’ll pay nothing. The budget document introduces us to Angela, a recent psychology grad carrying $13,500 in student debt who landed a job at “a medium-sized consumer goods company.” (It doesn’t matter where she works. The writers just wanted to add some colour.) Angela will save something like $2,000 in interest over 10 years.
There’s also the new Canada Training Benefit, which the government intends to help Canadians with “the evolving nature of work.” (Maybe your parents were right, Angela. Maybe that psych degree wasn’t the best idea, Angela.) Starting in 2020, the feds will chip in $250 a year, and you can use the accumulated credit to pay up to half the cost of courses or training. And you can draw on up to four weeks of EI to complete it.
When it comes to reconciliation with Indigenous Canadians — subject of considerable consternation among Trudeau’s more idealistic-to-gullible supporters — Budget 2019 seems to take a similarly prosaic approach. In 2017, the relevant section of the budget began with a typically mellifluous Trudeau quote: “The Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Peoples of Canada have begun our own new walk together,” he told the Assembly of First Nations in 2016. “And together we’ve taken the first steps in what we all know is going to be a multigenerational journey.”
The relevant section of the 2019 budget begins with the words “clean, safe drinking water.” There’s $739 million extra over six years to end every First Nation’s boil-water advisory by 2021; $1.3 billion over six years to forgive debts First Nations have amassed during land claim negotiations; $1.2 billion for “continuing implementation of Jordan’s Principle,” which is to say actually providing First Nations children the sort of health and social services that most of us take for granted. There is money for more abstract elements of the reconciliation agenda as well, but it’s noticeably nearer the back.
The overall impression is of a government that might be leaving its poetic phase behind. In various ways we needn’t go into here, and with two or three very notable exceptions, Trudeau and his team have revealed themselves as quite conventional Liberal politicians running a quite conventional Liberal government. Surely that’s for the best — not least for Trudeau, whose World’s Most Sensitive Man schtick barely lasted three years before exploding all over the news.
That doesn’t mean he can’t still be prime minister. It just means he can’t go around promising utopia any more. Luckily, he has billions upon billions of dollars to fill that void. He and Morneau want you to believe that all the money he spent over the last four years has made your life better than it was, and that spending even more money will make your life even better, and that deficits and debt don’t matter except in comparison to GDP, and that our current debt-to-GDP ratio is just fine. The Conservatives, NDP and Green will have other ideas. The Liberals will steal, deride or demonize them as they see fit.
It’s back to normal, basically. The emperor is naked. Votes are for sale. Caveat emptor.
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I am reminded of the Gomery inquiry. Quid pro quos, greasy influence over civil servants, too much power in the PMO: It all seems awfully familiar, doesn’t it?