The Trudeau Liberals’ 2024 “scorched earth” budget

Pierre Poilievre and the Conservatives may soon assume office to assess how to make the most of what is left of the country’s scorched earth. Pictured: Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland. Photo Credit: Chrystia Freeland/X. 

A scorched earth approach refers to an intent to deliberately destroy everything as one retreats, so that your advancing opponent is left with nothing of value. It is a malevolent military maneuver (outlawed by the Geneva Convention) that is described in the classic 19th century manuscript “On War” by Carl von Clausewitz: “All that the country yields will be taken for the benefit of the retreating army first, and will be mostly consumed. Nothing remains but wasted villages and towns, fields from which the crops have been gathered, or which are trampled down, empty wells, and muddy brooks. The pursuing army, therefore, from the very first day, has frequently to contend with the most pressing wants.”

The federal budget presented this week has been likened to a scorched earth document, a parting testament for the hapless and increasingly unpopular Trudeau Liberals. Political commentator Spencer Fernando writes of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s current disposition: “… as he faces terrible poll numbers, he is willing to burn the country down on his way out, in what appears to be a combination of desperate spending to try and stay in power in the short-term, and a desire to punish the nation in the long-term for daring to turn against him.”

Catherine Swift, President of the Coalition of Concerned Manufacturers and Businesses of Canada is more matter of fact with a X post summing up the budget exercise: “Trudeau has always hated Canada & wants a ‘post national state’ so will leave scorched earth.”

There is a strong consensus aligning with Fernando and Swift that concludes the 2024 federal budget is an abject fiscal policy failure and will result in impairing Canada’s economy by stifling investment and further weighing down Canadians in debt. 

David Dodge, the former Bank of Canada governor, foresaw the disastrous event: “I think this is likely to be the worst budget since the MacEachen budget of 1982, in the sense of pointing us in the wrong direction as to how we go about raising the incomes of Canadians and actually making Canadians feel better over the medium term… we’re going in exactly the wrong direction.” (Allan MacEachen was Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s finance minister responsible for a budget that introduced a slew of higher taxes and price controls, tanking the economy and prompting a recession). 

In the wake of this week’s budget address, economist Jack Mintz stated: “David Dodge wasn’t wrong, this federal budget is ‘one of the worst in decades’… the budget Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland delivered Tuesday fails to address the biggest problem currently facing Canada — our declining standard of living.”

Many financial analysts and economic institutions echoed Mintz’s negative take on the government’s fiscal approach. The Fraser Institute criticized the “insatiable appetite for new and expanded programs or services” in an editorial: “Federal budget’s scale of spending and debt reveal a government lacking self-control.” Andrew Coyne of the Globe and Mail wrote: “A government with no priorities, no anchors, and when it comes to growth, no clue,” to which Calgary journalist Licia Corbella replied to Coyne on X, “that’s putting it mildly. The damage this #cdngovt is doing will last for generations.” The second-best one-liner on the budget came from Don Martin of CTV News, who quipped, “Budget 2024 still leaves them stuck in the dumpster fighting fires.”

One of the hotly criticized policy announcements in the budget was the Liberals’ proposed capital gains tax increase. TD chief economist Beata Caranci commented: “Considering the entire package of possible tax treatment of both the business and the longer-term treatment of divestment, a higher tax on that divestment could very well be the straw that breaks the camel’s back and pushes that new firm elsewhere in a globally competitive environment.” News commentator Cory Morgan put it this way: “It’s a hell of a lot easier driving capital out of a nation than it is to draw it back in. It’s going to take decades to recover from Trudeau’s inept, corrupted reign.”

Even the former finance minister for this Trudeau government, Bill Morneau, voiced disapproval in a CBC News interview: “This was very clearly something that, while I was there, we resisted… I think we always have to recognize any measure that creates a disincentive for investment not only impacts us within the country but also impacts foreign investors that are looking at our country. I don’t think there’s any way to sugar-coat it. It’s a challenge. It’s probably very troubling for many investors.”

Morneau added some simply stated advice to his successor Freeland and his former Liberal colleagues: “Canada is not growing at the pace we need it to grow and if you can’t grow the size of the pie, it’s not easy to figure out how to share the proceeds. You think about that first before you add new programs and the government’s done exactly the opposite.”

Former Conservative finance minister Joe Oliver summed up the Liberal effort by stating this was “a dysfunctional budget that will damage the economy.” Oliver commented: “Prime Minister Trudeau long abandoned any pretense of fiscal probity, sound economic management, or common sense. He is now reduced to buying votes with demographically targeted schemes, pie-in-the-sky net zero subsidies, performative government industrial policy, and counter-productive tax hikes.”

Liberal pundit Warren Kinsella was much more blunt when he posted on X (the best one-liner!): “That wasn’t a budget. It was a suicide note.” 

So how bad can this budget document really be? Consider these ten facts. 

  1. The Trudeau government has delivered nine consecutive budget deficits. (Recall the Liberals’ 2015 election promise to produce a balanced budget within four years? Instead, in 2019, the budget deficit was $39.4 billion.) 
  2. The Trudeau government has now doubled the federal debt. The federal debt will total more than $1.2 trillion this year and in 2015 it was $616 billion.
  3. Last year taxpayers paid $46.5 billion in interest alone on the country’s total federal debt of $1.2 trillion. This is 33 per cent higher than in 2022 when Canadians paid $35 billion in interest. 
  4. The government now spends more ($54.1 billion) on interest payments than it does on health-care transfers to the provinces ($52.1 billion).
  5. Debt interest charges are now the fastest growing line item in the federal budget. 
  6. The federal government collects as much in GST annually as it pays in interest payments – both figures are $54.1 billion. (Without a national debt, the government could eliminate the GST).
  7. It is projected that Canadians will pay $60.7 billion in interest in 2028 – that is $1.16 billion every week.
  8. Federal program spending is forecasted to reach $11,901 per person, which is approximately 28 per cent higher than nine years ago in the last fiscal year of former prime minister Stephen Harper’s tenure.
  9. Blacklock’s Reporter and Andrew Coyne with the Globe and Mail have highlighted the fact that the government’s own estimated spending figures keep getting revised sharply upwards. For example, this fiscal year, federal program spending will be $483.6 billion, yet this forecasted figure has increased $16 billion as stated in the 2023 budget document, and $39 billion more than recorded in the 2022 budget document.
  10. The government has not provided a timeline for achieving a balanced budget – at best offering the projection of a $20 billion budget deficit in 2028.  

So, with this flood of red ink, imagine that while standing in the House of Commons Tuesday afternoon Chrystia Freeland maintained a straight face in stating: “We continue to stick to a responsible fiscal plan.”

In his editorial piece for the National Citizens Coalition, Spencer Fernando describes the unsaid intent of Freeland’s self-proclaimed “responsible fiscal plan”: “The Liberals have now ensured that the next government will inherit an absolute disaster. Quite deliberately, Trudeau and his ilk have set Canada on the path to long-term economic pain, declining global influence, rampant division, rising poverty, and generational conflict.”

It is not a pretty picture at all for Canadians. One might envision the scene in the recent blockbuster movie Napoleon where the General enters the conquered city of Moscow only to find it ablaze, abandoned, and emptied of stores and spoils. Similarly, if the 2024 budget document is any reflection of the conduct Canadians can expect from the Trudeau Liberals in the next 20 months, Pierre Poilievre and the Conservatives will assume office to assess how to make the most of what is left of the country’s scorched earth.

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