As many of you likely did, I also tuned in to the Globe Leaders’ debate on the economy on Thursday evening.
Unlike many of Prime Minister Harper’s critics, I have made my political allegiances clear. Regardless, I did my best to put any bias aside and process the debate as impartially as possible.
For the purpose of this column, I defined ahead of time what the objectives for each leader likely would, or should be.
For the Conservatives and Prime Minister Harper, fresh on the heels of delivering strong economic news to the country in the form of a $1.9 billion surplus for fiscal 2014-15 (including a $5 billion surplus in April and June alone), all he had to do was sit back, tell us “the numbers show it’s working,” and let the other two figuratively claw each other to death.
The NDP’s Thomas Mulcair had to demonstrate that he was able to pay for the massive promises he has made during this campaign. He had to demonstrate that he could do so while still adhering to his “balanced budget” promise (despite it being well publicized that Mulcair cannot balance his own personal budget).
For the Liberals’ Justin Trudeau, who was caught out by the $1.9 billion surplus news and promptly put his foot in his mouth sticking to a narrative that was no longer true, he had the most to lose.
Compounding Trudeau’s problems were his comments in the past weeks basically likening small business owners to tax cheats.
Trudeau is running out of time, is in trouble in his own riding and this debate had to be a springboard to recovery not only for him, but for the Liberal campaign.
For Trudeau, a “win” defined as “not losing decisively” simply isn’t good enough anymore, and before I get into the debate itself, I pose a question:
Is it acceptable to have a Prime Minister whose criteria for success that we lay out for him is simply “don’t lose too badly?”
I have a serious problem with that and any proud Canadian should too.
Anyhow, this story’s headline is a dead giveaway: Justin Trudeau lost, and lost badly.
The debate opened fairly conventionally, with leaders individually answering questions on six economic topics: jobs, energy and environment, infrastructure, immigration, housing and taxation – with time set aside for the leaders to exchange comments/barbs on the individual matters.
A very disciplined Harper continually repeated his refrain that Liberal and NDP economics involved either permanent deficits, raising payroll taxes or a combination of both.
Based on the data and what Mulcair and Trudeau have said, this refrain appears true, and here’s where Trudeau is out-flanked by both Harper and Mulcair, and demonstrates not only that he has a cursory understanding of economics, but isn’t ready to be handed the national economy.
This ineptitude comes into particular focus in light of news of the $5 billion surplus that Canada’s books currently show.
Bear in mind that these are independently verified numbers that are checked by the auditor general, a non-partisan institution of the federal government.
Trudeau continues to insist this surplus, despite the clear numbers, is actually a deficit. He really has no choice but to do this, because he has pledged three more deficits should he be elected.
I ask you: How would this possibly make sense, to have a Liberal government turn a surplus into a deficit “just because?”
Harper seized on this, in the moments directly after the crowd actually showed some life and laughed when Harper responded with, “Uh, absolutely not,” to the moderator’s suggestion that perhaps Trudeau was on to something with his allegation of an “infrastructure deficit” (which for the record, is a made-up term).
I’m not sure if you caught it, but Harper’s response to Trudeau economics was, “The easiest thing for anyone to do is come along and say ‘let’s just spend more’… We don’t need to spend more just for the sake of saying we spent more.”
On that, Harper is right. The moderator knew it. The viewers at home knew it. Trudeau knew it.
For me, from that point, Trudeau became a non-factor in this debate. Thomas Mulcair only fared slightly better.
By my count, Mulcair was directly and explicitly asked to cost out his various proposals no less than five times: Once in the jobs segment, twice in the energy segment and once in the taxes segment.
NDP economics is well-known through various disasters right here in British Columbia, Ontario, and most recently Alberta.
People want to know how Mulcair is going to pay for his promises if it’s a diversion from common NDP practices of big spending and higher taxes.
Mulcair’s dodging of these questions, played right to Harper.
Further, Trudeau’s continual repetition of Canada’s very advantageous debt-GDP ratio (because of Conservative stewardship) played right to Harper, and his repetition of Canada’s glowing credit rating (AAA, one of the last remaining in the G7, because of Conservative stewardship), played right to Harper.
In short, as stated in my “objectives for the three leaders,” all Harper had to do was sit back and let the other two figuratively claw each other to death.
They not only did just that, but indirectly endorsed what this government has done.
Though I do not make a habit of paying too much attention to polls, a recent one showed many Canadians are ready for change, but that same poll indicates the Conservatives are more trusted to manage the country than the other two parties.
For me, the Globe debate only served to further confirm this.
Look for Justin Trudeau to fade over coming weeks, with the September 28 foreign policy debate perhaps the final move in the chess game leading to his political demise.
It’s about time.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the views of Vancity Buzz.