The Good, the Bad, and the Expensive: Assessing Who the Liberal Campaign Platform Measures Target

October 4, 2019

On Sunday September 29th, the Liberals released their full Election 2019 Platform, titled “Forward: A Real Plan for the Middle Class.” While a number of the commitments had been released as one-off announcements over the past few weeks, this 88-page document sets forth the full vision for a Liberal Government’s second term.

The release of this document was the subject of anticipation for many interest groups, and demographics that want to see their interests forwarded under a Liberal Government.  

In this day and age, running on principles and on the Party’s record is not sufficient. Voters expect new platform items that address their priority items. With four years in government, those core voting groups that supported the Liberals in 2015, and afforded Mr. Trudeau a majority government have shifted. Some potential supporters have been lured in (mostly in Quebec) and some are now considering shifting their vote to a party that better reflects their interests, values, or pragmatic needs.

Re-election platforms tend to be less ambitious than “change platforms”, because after all, a Party seeking re-election has had four years to implement what should have been some of their best ideas put forward in the previous election. This one is no exception. Nonetheless it does contain a large number of items, with specific micro targets of voters in mind. The Platform lists 48 new spending commitments that will cost Canada $56.8 billion over the next four years. Much of this spending would be structural, as it would not automatically sunset. Indeterminate funding pledged by the Liberals, coined as “steady predictable funding”, included $3 billion a year to cities for transit infrastructure, $3 billion a year for Farm Credit Canada to lend farmers to grow export opportunities, and $15 million a year for community infrastructure for minority language communities.

“Investments on the Middle Class”

A re-elected Liberal Government would focus on investing in the middle class via targeted tax cuts, increasing the Canada Child Benefit, ensuring that people don’t pay federal taxes on the first $15,000 they earn, and increasing Old Age Security by 10%. They will also target students by giving more generous terms for student loans, including 0% interest for two years and a delay in beginning payback until annual income reaches $35,000. These measures continue to point to the fact that Liberals see the broad-scoped term of middle-class as one that resonates with most Canadians. Further, there is no surprise in the top-up of the Canada Child Benefit, a measure that played out very well for the Trudeau Liberals when in Government. The measure targets millennial parents who are starting a family and perceive the extra cash as a plus.

Further, the provision of more generous student loans is clearly a measure targeting young voters in the seat-rich battleground province of Ontario, where the Provincial Conservative government made sizable cuts that impacted this demographic. Liberals hope to tap into the discontent of this demographic and capture their support by addressing what university and college students likely perceive as a gap in funding. The strategy of pursuing federal policy that addresses Ontario provincial cuts aligns with Mr. Trudeau’s narrative seeking to draw comparisons between Mr. Ford and Mr. Scheer.

Environment & Climate Change

Other priority areas include protecting the environment, keeping Canadians safe at home while investing in Canada’s military, and continuing the path of reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples.  

Measures on the environment and climate change front include attaining carbon neutrality by 2050, planting 2 billion trees by 2030, retrofitting 5 million homes, and cutting in half the taxes for companies that develop and manufacture clean technology.  

Following the purchase of a pipeline in 2017, the Liberals have taken a pragmatic approach to climate change policy. Whereas the 2050 target is ambitious, and their policies announced impactful, none of these items suggest a change in the status quo.  

This is an area where a shift in the targeted voter can be noted. The Liberals estimate that the more left leaning voters on climate change would have to decide between an ideological vote for the NDP or the Greens vs a strategic vote for the Liberals, to prevent a Conservative government.  A target voter is also the many Canadians still undecided who care about climate change but are not fully convinced on the economic viability of the platforms of the Greens and NDP.

Immigration

Another key voting group for the Liberals is new Canadians. In line with their commitment unveiled in 2018 to up the number of new immigrants to Canada annually from 310,000 to 350,000 by 2025, Liberals announced a number of measures that speak to voters who care about Canada’s policy on immigration. If re-elected, Liberals would introduce a Municipal Nominee Program allowing local communities, chambers of commerce and labour councils to directly sponsor permanent immigrants. Additionally, Liberals would make the Atlantic Immigration Pilot permanent, and make citizenship more affordable by making the application process free. Liberals would also create a permanent, dedicated refugee stream for at-risk human rights advocate, journalists and humanitarian workers, with a target of resettling 250 a year.

Federal Spending on Care Services

Liberals also committed to providing 250,000 childcare spaces, and spending $6 billion a year on healthcare, as well as continuing to pursue pharmacare. These measures have very explicit targeted audiences and are not a surprising feature.  Greater opportunity and increased health spending are policies that align with Liberals’ ideology and targeted demographics. Both of these well align with the mantra of helping the middle class and those working hard to join it.

Camping Incentives

A policy where the Liberals seemed to have missed the mark is in creating a $2,000 bursary for 75,000 less privileged children and their families to take a four-night trip to a Canadian national or provincial park. Additionally, Liberals pledged to expand the Learn to Camp program for 400,000 kids. These measures have been heavily criticized. The micro-targeted voting group here seems unclear. Put in other terms, if a person of low income is looking to decide their vote based on which party put more money in their pocket, a tax break or tax credit would more persuasive than a bursary to take the family camping.  

Furthermore, according to the Liberal estimates, expenditure of these two measures would cost $525 million over five years, which seems even more outrageous when is compared to the $700 million that Liberals would spend in electrifying transit and transportation over the same period of time.

Gun violence

The platform pledges that in a second mandate, Liberals will give municipalities the authority to ban handguns in their communities. Liberals would also ban all military-style assault rifles, including the AR-15, and will take other steps to keep people safe from gun violence, including: introducing a buyback program for all military-style assault rifles legally purchased in Canada, with fair market prices for owners and more resources for law enforcement to administer the program.

These measures seek the vote of individuals from large urban cities who are concerned with the rising number of weapon-related incidents and homicides. While the measures would revamp the existing safeguards, there may be a sense that Liberals are not going far enough. At a press conference on Tuesday in Toronto featuring Mr. Trudeau and a handful of Mayors from the GTA, they were asked by a reporter if they would prefer an outright ban on firearms, to which all of them responded yes. Previous Liberal Minister and candidate Bill Blair said Liberals will not be moving ahead with a full outright ban because of the high cost associated to buyback all corresponding fire weapons federally.

Conclusion:

To help pay for these commitments the Liberals list seven new revenue measures, including taxes on luxury goods and speculative real estate investments, closing corporate tax loop-holes and squeezing $3 billion per year by making government spending on existing programs more efficient.

Taking the spending commitments together with revenue generation measures leaves the Liberals in a sustained deficit position of $27 billion in 2020-21, $23 billion in 2021-22, $21 billion in 2022-23 and $21 billion in 2023-24. The Conservatives will frame these numbers as reckless spending. The Liberals will defend their spending as investing in economic growth while still reducing Canada’s debt-GDP ratio over time. Further that these investments will power the countries’ transition into the future.  

In keeping with the first-term approach of ‘investing in Canada’ via significant and sustained deficit-spending, the Liberals have no plan to balance the books in the near-term. In doing so, Liberals have also foregone voters that value balanced budgets above other items. However, having seen the measure above, fiscally right of centre voters are clearly not their target. But rather those who believe that the Government has a role to play in addressing their areas of interest, don’t fully trust the alternatives on the left, or see their vote better utilized strategically, in voting for a progressive choice as opposed to a fiscally prudent one.