There cannot be many groups in Canada unhappy about Tuesday's federal budget, if happiness is defined by receiving new or increased government spending.
The Trudeau Liberals showered money everywhere, as they promised they would do during the election campaign in the name of short-term economic stimulus and long-term growth. And there were many additional promises yet to be announced and funded, such as an innovation strategy, meeting every recommendation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, carbon pricing (that will cost money) and negotiating a new health-care deal with the provinces.
The Liberals must be certain that Canadians, broadly speaking, want to see spending across a range of existing programs and the creation of new ones; that they want lower taxes for families with children; and that they don't much care about the implications of this spending for increased debt.
The list of recipient groups is breathtaking in length. So is the contemplated spending. Both should make this budget easy to sell since it follows, broadly speaking, what the Liberals promised in the campaign.
It's also a budget most New Democrats, whatever they say publicly, would more or less support – and the kind of budget on which, in retrospect, a lot of NDPers wished they had campaigned.
Honest to their creed, the Trudeau Liberals do not see the private sector as the motor of the economy – indeed there is almost nothing in the budget to assist the private sector to do things by itself. In fact, the Liberals broke an election promise to lower the small-business tax rate, which left small-business spokespeople among the few with a genuine gripe about the budget.
Like their cousins in Ontario, the federal Liberals assume that government spending ("investment" was the preferred word) should guide economic activity and will improve human welfare. Therefore, Ottawa will be investing in clean technologies, physical infrastructure, high-technology firms, innovating companies, energy-efficiency measures and lots of other areas of economic activity.
Long gone was the Liberal promise to balance the budget in four years. Instead, deficits are forecast for at least six years and likely for longer than that. The public debt will increase $113-billion during those six years, although the debt-to-GDP ratio will remain roughly steady. Public debt charges will rise by $10-billion.
Some day, some years from now, another government will have to rein in what the Liberals launched on Tuesday. It may even be the Trudeau Liberals themselves who will have to start that process, since their budget forecasts rest on quasi-miraculous growth in revenues in years five and six of their projection period. But those years will come after the next election.
Likely lost in the postbudget coverage will be a focus on the biggest driver of spending. It's not anything the Liberals announced, but rather the inexorable increase of spending on programs for the elderly.
The Liberal budget did provide for an increase to the Guaranteed Income Supplement, but that change added only a bit to the almost $15-billion in spending on senior citizens over the next six years, the largest increase in the budget. With seniors growing as a share of the population, elderly benefits will drive federal spending for years to come, even without any changes.
To put the $15-billion of additional spending on elderly benefits in context: The money is almost twice the huge increase in spending on aboriginals – $8.3-billion over five years. It is about twice the increase in health transfers to provinces, and five times the increase in equalization to poorer provinces, children's benefits and more generous unemployment insurance payments.
It is far more than what will be spent on defence, whose budget for procurement was pushed back by five years, thereby easing pressure on spending in the government's first term. Liberals know Canadians don't care much about defence, and the party shares that lack of interest. Politically, therefore, reannouncing a defence policy review and pushing off major defence spending decisions suited the government's political purposes.
Instead, the budget's spending focused on middle-income families, the environment, aboriginals, the unemployed, students and municipal infrastructure, which is what the Liberals said were their priorities in the campaign.
They got a strong mandate from the largest number of voters for the kind of budget they delivered Tuesday. The bills will come due later.