The federal Conservative government released its latest budget last Thursday, March 4. From most accounts, it was a document best left not talked about in any great detail beyond its uninspired nature.
The Toronto Star referred to it as “remarkably cautious.” Our own Winnipeg Free Press named their editorial on the matter, “Timidly betting on prosperity.”
Hell, even the National Post could not maintain its hell-bent desire to frame the budget as having a “silver lining,” by describing the budget as being no better than being “not awful.”
Yes folks, the message Canadians are receiving from most of the powerful news trendsetters in this country is that a party whose ideology is based on taking political baby steps and not rocking the boat failed to deliver anything interesting or ambitious in this, their fifth tabled budget. Go figure.
Due to the woefully vague nature of the throne speech, delivered the day before the budget, there was plenty of fuel for the political commentary fire, as the media attempted to make interesting such riveting material as the possibility of introducing a Seniors Day to the already bloated list of symbolic “days” which dot the calendar.
When the real thing was laid out to Canadians on March 4, there was little to be surprised with as far as the major news outlets were concerned.
It is a dull budget, with few spending cuts advertised (those will come next year, according to popular opinion), few programs put in place worth mentioning and a general discontent with the fact that Parliament had been suspended for a month or so in order to put the thing together.
The uproar about the lacklustre budget, all told, doesn’t exactly register for those who have paid close attention to the federal Conservatives. Boring doesn’t just describe their political agenda, it is their political agenda.
But it was also interesting to follow the news accounts of the latest budget for another, more politically tangible reason: this budget is a first of its kind for the Conservatives. It is cautious and it is impossibly dull, but it also shows glimpses of a kinder, gentler Conservative party.
Think about it. The Conservatives of old, under the tutelage of louts like Minister of Finance Jim Flaherty and Prime Minister Stephen Harper, would have been straining at the end of their chain to embarrass the Liberals by placing items in the budget that the opposition could not agree with but could not vote against either for fear of triggering an election they would not win.
None of the usual “gotcha” macho posturing occurred this time around. Even though Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff referred to the contents of the budget as full of “gimmicks” – which doesn’t exactly translate to fighting words in politics – there is nothing in the document that his party could bring the government down over, and certainly nothing as inflammatory as the infamous economic update of 2008.
The budget also shows a different side of the government by acknowledging that women constitute a political group in Canada worth funding, however inadequate such funding may ultimately be.
Yes, the same party that once pledged to cut the funding of women’s groups that do advocacy, research and lobbying, who removed equality from the goals of the Status of Women Canada (before re-instituting it, quietly) has pledged to fund organizations that deal with the egregious amounts of missing and murdered aboriginal women in this country.
The government even went so far as to suggest our national anthem be changed to become gender neutral, which would have (gasp!) expanded government to create a Parliamentary committee on the matter, gone against tradition and been pro-woman. Three strikes in any conservative handbook. Such a suggestion coming from the minds of Conservative brass would have been inconceivable before, regardless of the fact that the plan was scrapped a mere two days later. Remember, baby steps.
While the government will be ridiculed for not requiring the suspension of Parliament to produce such a dreary budget, it seems as though the Conservatives have used their latest break to change their style, if not their substance.
In political terms, this means they are probably attempting to repair the damage done to their support over the prorogation mistake. They may just be dusting off their sweater vests and kittens to appeal to Canadians when this minority Parliament eventually topples again.
Andrew Tod is a politics student at the University of Winnipeg.
Published in Volume 64, Number 22 of The Uniter (March 11, 2010)