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03/22/2019 12:26 EDT | Updated 03/22/2019 12:48 EDT

Scheer’s Budget Tantrum Shows He’d Rather Walk Out Than Take A Stand

Voters deserve better from their Opposition in the run up to the federal election.

I doubt anyone was surprised that this week's federal budget contained goodies meant to tempt voters into supporting the government in next fall's election.

There was money for millennials trying to buy a first home, money for retraining, money for seniors struggling to keep their heads above water, money for laying the groundwork for a much-needed national pharmacare program, money to protect quality journalism and more.

David Kawai/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, right, and Finance Minister Bill Morneau, left, before tabling the federal budget in Ottawa on Tuesday, March 19, 2019.

While much of what Canadians heard are first-step types of announcements, this budget and the reactions of the Opposition parties give us a good roadmap of the kind of election we can expect.

Take pharmacare.

As far as I'm concerned, we can't move fast enough on bringing pharmacare to Canada. No one living in this country should be denied medical treatment just because they can't afford their medications, and our health-care system could certainly use the cost savings that come with a national drug program. This budget gave us a new Canadian Drug Agency at a cost of $35 million over four years to assess drug effectiveness and negotiate prices — an important first step in setting up a full pharmacare program.

But only a first step. In a few months, we will be in full election mode in Canada, and expect it to be defined by what next steps the parties will be prepared to make on this program and others.

There comes a time when you need to sit down, listen, debate and actually articulate what you stand for.

The same could be said for the preliminary steps taken on funding for quality journalism in Canada. News organizations are in crisis as Facebook and Google claim the ad dollars that once paid to put reporters on the street and delivered Canadians the news they need. Tuesday's budget set out the criteria for handing out that money, but lacked the urgency some of those in the industry would have liked to see. Again, fodder for the coming election.

All elections are a time for political parties to set out their visions for the country — that much goes without saying.

This week's budget, too, challenged the Opposition parties to say what steps they would take to build on ideas like pharmacare, journalism support, job training, housing and more — or to have the guts to say they would reverse such much-needed moves.

The NDP, with their leader Jagmeet Singh making his debut in the House of Commons, responded by calling for more to be done, and for it to be done faster. Good. Progressive voices need to keep pushing for more to be done, and to constantly underline the urgency for action.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Conservative leader Andrew Scheer leads members of his party out of the House of Commons during the delivery of the federal budget on Tuesday, March 19, 2019 in Ottawa.

Andrew Scheer's Conservatives, however, responded with a temper tantrum.

As soon as the finance minister stood in the House to table his budget, Scheer and his party's MPs stood up and walked out en masse in an apparent protest of the handling of the SNC-Lavalin affair.

Don't get me wrong. I like a good protest as much as anyone. I've been to more than I can count, and spoken at more protests than you can possibly imagine.

There comes a time, however, when you need to sit down, listen, debate and actually articulate what you stand for and the kind of country you want to build. Scheer missed his chance to do just that this week, to the disservice of all Canadians.

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To me, Scheer's temper tantrum shows that his party is all too willing to put petty party politics ahead of rolling up their sleeves and putting forward a credible idea or two about the direction they would take this country.

Canadians deserve better, and if that's the best the Conservatives have to offer, I'll choose progressive policies that help Canadians get back on their feet — every time.

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