It seems federal Conservatives are out to bash Trudeau these days.
Trudeau Sr., that is.
In a speech to the Economic Club of Canada on Wednesday, Finance Minister Joe Oliver was repeatedly critical of the former Liberal government of Pierre Trudeau while unveiling Tory plans for balanced budget legislation. The late prime minister is, of course, the father of current Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.
Oliver said federal spending tripled between 1969 and 1979 because of the "ideology of the man at the wheel." He also accused the former prime minister of being "reckless" with taxpayer money.
"Trudeau-era debt clung to Canada like a bad flu," Oliver said, adding that the current Liberal leader would likewise "spend money we do not have, increase taxes Canadians cannot afford, and repeal tax cuts families depend on."
Oliver also vowed that the spending plan he will table later this month will "look nothing like Pierre Trudeau's budgets."
But it appears the finance minister's repeated references to Pierre Trudeau, who stepped down as prime minister more than 30 years ago and died in 2000, might be part of a larger strategy.
Of late, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has also taken to publicly criticizing the Liberal icon.
In responding to a reporter's question after an announcement in New Brunswick last week, Harper drew on the lessons of "history at the federal level" to explain why he thinks balanced budgets are important.
"I can remember as a boy, once the small deficits started to be run in the early '70s by the Trudeau government, and it went on for a generation," he said.
Harper added that such spending eventually led to "drastic cuts" to health care and education in the 1990s by "the then-Liberal government." Oliver echoed those sentiments Wednesday, saying Jean Chretien balanced the budget in the '90s by hiking taxes, cutting programs, and "slashing billions in transfer payments" to provinces.
Then, during a speech in North Vancouver this week, Harper again went "back in history." He said the Trudeau government proved how even small deficits can grow over time as increased borrowing yields "higher interest payments, greater spending, and an even bigger deficit in the future."
"The small deficits that were run by the Trudeau government back in the early 1970s became big deficits that went on for over a generation," Harper said.
"And they only ended when our Liberal predecessors dramatically hiked taxes and made enormous savage cuts to core programs like health care and education."
The prime minister added that his government won't "repeat those kinds of mistakes." Conservatives have vowed the federal budget will be balanced for the 2015-16 fiscal year.
Last month, Conservative cabinet minister Maxime Bernier also slammed Pierre Trudeau in a speech to the Manning Networking Conference. Bernier's message was simple: vote for the current Liberal leader, get his dad's policies.
Bernier, minister of state for small business and tourism, said Pierre Trudeau was responsible for increasing both the national debt and the size of the federal government. He warned Justin Trudeau would behave no differently as prime minister.
"OK, OK, some people might think, Maxime, it is unfair to compare Justin Trudeau with his father and to burden him with the record of his father. After all, is he not his own person?" Bernier said.
"Well, I'm not the one who created the Trudeau mystique. I'm not the one who made the connection in the first place. And, if he is so different from Pierre, then why did Liberals elect him to lead their party?"
Bernier, one of only five Tory MPs from Quebec, also warned another Trudeau government would interfere in provincial matters, disrupting "constitutional peace" in his province.
"A Justin Trudeau government will be destabilizing for our national unity, just like a Pierre Trudeau government was," he said.
But it appears Liberals are also quite comfortable sliding back into history.
After Oliver's speech, Liberal finance minister Scott Brison accused Harper of "near toxic levels of hypocrisy" for touting a balanced budget law after adding $150 billion to the national debt.
Brison also took to Twitter to laud the past performances of Liberal governments led by Chretien and former prime minister Paul Martin.
Chretien/Martin walked the walk: 9 consecutive surpluses & $80B off ntl debt. Harper talks the talk: 7 deficits adding $150B to ntl debt.— Scott Brison (@scottbrison) April 8, 2015
Grit foreign affairs critic Marc Garneau responded by sharing a chart comparing the surplus history of Liberal and Tory governments. He did not mention the global economic crisis in 2008 that spurred stimulus spending in Canada.
On Thursday, Aaron Wudrick, federal director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, shared a chart prepared by that organization that takes a longer look back.
Gerald Butts, top adviser to Justin Trudeau, also jumped online this week to defend Pierre Trudeau's legacy.
Pierre Trudeau gave us the Charter of Rights & Freedoms, which the Harper Conservatives resent more than his fiscal policy. #cdnpoli— Gerald Butts (@gmbutts) April 8, 2015
Butts also shared a column Harper wrote for the National Post in 2000 in which he criticized Pierre Trudeau on the same week as his state funeral. At the time, Harper was president of the National Citizens' Coalition, a right-wing think-tank and advocacy group.
Harper, who supported Pierre Trudeau as a young man, opened his column back then with an anecdote about meeting the former prime minister on the streets of Montreal.
"There I came face to face with a living legend, someone who had provoked both the loves and hatreds of my political passion, all in the form of a tired out, little old man," Harper wrote.
"It was an experience at once unforgettable, nostalgic and haunting. For Mr. Trudeau had obviously diminished as much as my assessment of him over those 22 years."
He went on to disparage the former prime minister for creating "huge deficits, a mammoth national debt, high taxes, bloated bureaucracy, rising unemployment, record inflation, curtailed trade and declining competitiveness."
UPDATE: On Thursday, April 9, Don Martin, host of CTV's "Powerplay," addressed Oliver's digs at Pierre Trudeau with a panel of MPs. Liberal Chrystia Freeland called the finance minister's remarks a "really pathetic" attempt by the government to escape its economic record of seven straight budget deficits.
Andrew Saxton, parliamentary secretary to the minister of finance, said it was fair game.
"Under the Trudeau Liberals, back in the 1970s, that was the first time that we saw federal governments go into deficits and debt during times that weren't a crisis. It was strictly fiscal mismanagement," he said. "(Pierre Trudeau) was the first prime minister who actually took us into debt and deficit not during a crisis and we're seeing very similar trends coming with the current Liberal party and with their leader as well."
Martin replied that some would say there are very similar trends in the last seven Tory budgets, as well.
With files from The Canadian Press
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