Chairman's Desk

A lacklustre federal budget demands a meaningful Conservative reply on key issues

This week’s federal budget was a surprise. What’s more, it was a far cry from the Liberal election platform and the worst fears of critics of the NDP-Liberal agreement. In fact, the 2022 budget displayed, if not restraint, at least a refreshing acknowledgment of the reality around us.

That is not to say this budget isn’t worthy of criticism. It contains no long-term vision for the economy, and allocates major funding to programs that are not fit for purpose. But after years of posturing and using divisive COVID politics as a cudgel, with this budget the government has suggested a return to some kind of normalcy and — dare I say — common sense.

Now, the Opposition must respond in kind. Conservatives need to do a better job of outlining meaningful conservative approaches to major policy proposals. For too long our loudest opposition has been defined by negativity, rather than a serious attempt to address important issues on our own terms.

The policies put forth in the Liberals’ budget are no doubt partisan; they reflect the priorities of the NDP as well. But the issues they address — the cost of living, global security, climate change — are not partisan. They are realities that Canadians face every day of their lives. They are realities they expect their parliamentarians to deal with. Conservatives have strong solutions for these issues, but too often find it easier to simply tear down the Liberal approach.

This isn’t easy to do. The role of the Official Opposition is, after all, to oppose the government and hold it to task. Add to that a leadership campaign where the various contenders are trying to stake out their own defendable turf, and make a compelling case to Canadians on the issues of our time.

But consider this approach.

On housing, the government has maintained its tack of increasing access to funding for homebuyers. This approach is insufficient and will continue to fail in making a difference for Canadians. Instead, we should be advocating for a concerted effort to address supply in the housing market, through regulatory levers and other restrictions.

At the same time, Conservatives should loudly acknowledge that housing is a very new area for the federal government, which has not historically played a big role in the sector outside of Indigenous communities. Cities and provinces have a crucial role to play in addressing housing supply, and encouraging their involvement is entirely consistent with conservative principles.

Increased defence funding is one line item that will appeal to Tories. However, the provisions of the new budget are nowhere near enough to make a difference. Much of this funding will be used to simply overhaul outdated equipment; it will not meaningfully change Canada’s stature among NATO allies.

For Conservatives, increased defence spending must come with a plan to address failures in procurement and a plan to actually get new military investments done. Likewise, a renewed focus on the Arctic is meaningless without a long-term plan. Like some past prime ministers, Justin Trudeau has committed rhetorically to an Arctic strategy — but that commitment must amount to more than an annual summer trip and photo op in the general direction of the North Pole.

On the question of national dental care, there is a crucial conservative argument to be made that what Canadians really deserve is a means-tested program that targets funding directly at those who need it most. The reality is that a targeted approach can provide more resources to those who need them, without squandering money on those who don’t.

Personally, I would suggest that a means-tested approach on dental care could open the door to a Conservative-backed pharmacare program that actually supports Canadians and our economy. What a thought.

Whatever specifics we choose matters not. What does matter is that we provide conservative answers to these important questions. Otherwise, our vehement opposition will only get us back where we started: the Opposition.

This article first appeared in the Toronto Star on April 10, 2022.

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