As Liberal members of Parliament return to their ridings for two weeks in a row, they will be selling Budget 2018 to their friends, neighbours and local stakeholders. Bill Morneau's third budget as finance minister reminded people that he is a consummate professional at this. While some of it leaked in advance, there were still a few surprises.
Liberal MPs needed Morneau to tell a good story during the annual budget speech, because they will be doing renditions of it in snippet form for the year to come.
In terms of echoing the budget in local communities, will you likely see MPs selling cybersecurity dollars, funding for Elections Canada or reforms to granting councils processes? Probably not. Retail politics means making the promises matter to the Canadians their policies will directly affect (on top of the regular duties of shaking hands, kissing babies and now balancing babies). Municipal and provincial governments find themselves naturally touching the lives of their constituents on a day-to-day basis, but the federal government can find itself in nebulous policy territory quite quickly.
This budget was jam-packed with tidbits of note for politicians on the campaign hustings.
Outside of the political bubble, the word "budget" is usually preceded by "shoestring." This is the frame that communicating a federal budget needs to connect to.
What you likely will hear Liberals talking about:
- Extended parental benefits: This is what hits home for people. The incentive of five additional weeks of leave on EI for those who share parental leave? Sign me up!
- Colleges and universities: A lot of communities centre around an academic institution. Investments in those institutions and (re)training gives people hope that they can always learn the way to fit into an ever-changing economy.
- Entrepreneurship and small businesses: New small businesses and ideas inspire local communities to get out, go try something new and support their neighbours' ventures. The fact that Budget 2018 gears that money towards promoting gender equality will both help enhance equality and advance the visibility women's leadership in demonstrable ways in those communities. The Liberals' gender equality message may not be so pie-in-the-sky, and will instead be more exhibited by local startups led by women.
- National parks free for kids: Morneau announced in his speech that they are making Canada's National Parks permanently free for kids. This builds upon the policy they developed for Canada's 150th year celebrations. This is popular and speaks to the natural beauty that Canada has in spades. It's akin to Sheila Copps giving out free Canadian flags — the argument being that anyone who decries it is just being a humbug.
- Canada Workers Benefit: While this reform of an existing program will do wonders for poverty reduction, it also transitions well into mentioning another benefit the Liberals gave: the Canada Child Benefit. When 2019 rolls around and voters go to the polls, those three words are the ones they are going to want on their mind. The workers benefit will be noticeable, automatic and shore up their credibility among swing Liberal-NDP voters.
This budget was jam-packed with tidbits of note for politicians on the campaign hustings. This is epitomized in their micro-targeted message, "we will protect forestry jobs in Atlantic Canada by stopping the spread of spruce budworm." While this may not make a day-to-day impact in the vote-rich suburbs around Toronto or for the business community in Vancouver, the Atlantic MPs in the Liberal Caucus (which, as a reminder, includes literally all the seats in Atlantic Canada) will be able to take this home to champion. The only backlash has been that Quebec wants a piece of that anti-spruce budworm funding. Atlantic Canada will also see a boost to ACOA funding, which implies the Liberals may be buying back into the Regional Economic Development Agencies as mechanisms to dole funding out.
Depending on region and demographics, you will find some MPs pushing a pharmacare advisory council, anti-racism funding or even a popular measure like investing in the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund. Considering the last year and the passing of Canadian music icon Gord Downie, this is a salient point that brings government out of the clouds and shows they are truly listening to what people care about.
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Liberal MPs are being encouraged to host local breakfasts to highlight the budget, which can engage local residents, organizations, businesses and not-for-profits. Be on the lookout for those.
On the other hand, Conservative and NDP MPs will be sending out pithy mailers that decry the budget for being both too much and too little.
Will this $21.5 billion in new spending and a doubling down on their progressive flank be outweighed by the news cycle rolling on with new stories of who Justin Trudeau took selfies with without vetting? Possibly. However, this is where the political smarts and tactics of local MPs can help to shape the dialogue in their riding.
Expect to see Liberal MPs out at the doors as the weather improves and they have new literature in hand to share about Budget 2018's retail political wins.
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