Kelly McParland: Was the Liberal takeover really about the coronavirus?

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Let’s start by being charitable and assume that the Liberals in Ottawa, seized by the ravages of the coronavirus and the threat it poses to Canada’s future health and prosperity, rightfully believed that they needed draconian powers to tax, spend and borrow without hindering the approval of Parliament. .
Suppose that, despite the spirit of cooperation that has emerged between elected representatives of all parties, the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau feared that good fellowship would wane as the crisis aged, that patience worsened and that the side dark of human nature pushed its unpleasant muzzle in national affairs.

Of course, OK, the Conservatives, the New Democrats and the separatists were ready to give Trudeau unprecedented flexibility to deal quickly with a rapidly evolving threat, for now. But what if they change their minds and the Prime Minister is ultimately unable to act as quickly as he sees fit without having to explain or justify his actions? The Liberals therefore slipped a few last-minute clauses in an agreement with the other parties allowing the government to keep powers that the conservative MP Scott Reid called “Henry VIII bill” in reference to the unlimited powers of a feudal monarch . Had it been accepted, as Reid noted, it would have deprived Parliament of its normal powers by the end of next year, “twenty-one months in the future, and long after the end of the health crisis ”.

Conservative MP Scott Reid called it a “Henry VIII bill” in reference to the unlimited powers of a feudal monarch

Trudeau, like him, insisted that the government had only the best interests of the country in mind. “We recognize that this pandemic is evolving extremely quickly and that it is an exceptional situation which requires extreme flexibility and rapid response on the part of governments in order to be able to help Canadians and react to a situation that we have seen evolve quickly every day, “he said. Talks continued “both to gain this flexibility so that we can take action and keep our democratic institutions and the values ​​that are so important to all of us in place.”

Faced with fierce opposition, Liberals abandoned demand for unlimited ability to raise or lower taxes as they saw fit until the end of 2021, although the Conservatives were upset by a provision granting the Minister of Finance, Bill Morneau, bottomless borrowing power. When the deal was finally made, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer noted that it included several provisions to test the unlimited powers originally demanded by the Liberals.

Even if we suspend normal levels of skepticism for the duration of this outbreak, we have to wonder what Trudeau thought. He was going through a fairly good crisis so far, assuming his duties as husband and father in a family infected with the virus while appearing daily to describe government measures and offer possible assurances. So boom! He used the situation to demand a level of one-man rule that Canadian minds could only buggy. Not just for a few weeks until things get back to normal, but until the end of next year.


The House of Commons on March 24, 2020, as legislators meet to give the government the power to inject billions of dollars in emergency cash during the COVID-19 coronavirus epidemic.



Blair Gable / Reuters


There are many reasons to tremble at what this government could do with this kind of spending and fiscal capacity. Since the first day of the Liberals’ victory in 2015, they have ignored their own commitments to fiscal prudence and the sensitivity of spending. They have made no effort to contain their balloon deficits or increase their debt. They have exceeded all the self-imposed restraint criteria and have stopped bothering to pretend to have a deadline to restore fiscal balance.

If Morneau has shown us anything during his tenure as finance minister, it is that he can talk about any new expense with minimal effort. He became an expert in verbal gibberish, speaking fluently without saying anything, leaving the most persistent investigators looking for the slightest trace of his real thoughts. To trust the duo of Trudeau and Morneau to practice discipline without Parliament or the press there to testify about their activities would be simply irrational. If the opposition parties had given their consent, they should have been brought to justice for betraying their elected role and responsibilities.

There are many reasons to tremble at what this government could do with this kind of spending and fiscal capacity.

To interpret the situation in the most cynical way, it should be noted that the Trudeau government is in a minority situation and needs the support of at least one other party to stay in power. Getting the ability to tax, borrow, and spend at will, even without the minimal constraints imposed on elected majorities, far beyond any date when the virus is likely to be brought under control, would liberate liberals nearly any fear of being brought back. New Democrats love unlimited spending. It would be difficult to find a spending plan that Chief Jagmeet Singh disapproves of. Even plans that have benefited leading corporate or business opponents could be adapted as long as adequate billions are spent on long-standing NDP priorities.

When Pierre Trudeau found himself reduced to a minority in 1972, having seen his majority reduced to a two-seat cushion over the Conservatives, he discovered that by appeasing the NDP and opening the coffers of the banks, he could buy a lifeline for him and his government. Two years later, he regained his majority while the NDP was charging. Unfortunately, Trudeau never held back on spending, setting off the deficit spiral that culminated in the 1995 debt crisis.

Is that what Trudeau was doing? Or was his takeover just another example of the bad judgment he displayed at regular intervals throughout his life? With a few healthy cries from the opposition benches, we may not have to know.

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