The return of Parliament means the return of Question Period, whether you like it or not. And when the appointed hour arrived on Wednesday, the official opposition said its number one concern in the 44th Legislature would be inflation.
To begin with, the Conservatives accused the Liberal government of having no plan to deal with higher prices. Then they suggested that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau doesn’t know how much it costs to buy a bundle of bacon or a two-by-four.
Given the hassle of going to a grocery store with a full security team and a motorcade (and the fact that Premiers are generally not responsible for home repairs at official residences), it’s easy for a prime minister to get caught up in such questions. Which means the Prime Minister’s Office may have to start preparing a daily report on the price of a carton of milk on Rideau Street.
Ultimately, the Conservatives sent their finance critic, Pierre Poilievre, to come full circle – to claim that in fact, Justin Trudeau is the approximate raison inflation occurs.
“The cost of government drives up the cost of living,” Poilievre said. “Almost half a trillion dollars in liberal inflationary deficits means more dollars for less goods, resulting in higher prices.”
Poilievre punctuated his remarks with a play on words, describing the current situation as “Justin… flation”.
Trudeau didn’t seem impressed with the clever pun. “While the Conservatives are playing silly partisan games,” he said, “we are focusing on Canadians. We know Canadians are facing a serious situation.”
So here is the first real question from the new Parliament: How responsible is the Liberal government for the inflation that Canadians experience?
Global causes, local effects
Frances Donald, chief global economist for Manulife Investment Management, was recently asked about inflation during an appearance on former liberal strategist David Herle’s podcast. She highlighted a number of factors that have nothing to do with the Trudeau government’s fiscal policy: global supply chain disruptions, COVID-19 policies in China, global droughts, pent-up consumer demand. .
Informed explanations from the United States also point to a range of international factors, many of which are linked to the pandemic. The New York Times’ Paul Krugman wrote that this surge in inflation is more like what happened after World War II than the chronic inflation of the 1970s.
“I am impressed to see the high esteem in which the member for Carleton seems to hold me, that I have been able to create a global inflation crisis with our initiatives to support Canadians throughout this pandemic,” Trudeau said in response to Poilievre.
In an interview with TBEN Power and politics Former Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page on Tuesday also highlighted a number of factors driving inflation, but suggested government support was boosting consumer demand. He also said inflation could be short-lived, but should be factored into government decisions about future stimulus spending.
Watch: What explains the rising cost of living in Canada?
While Poilievre likes to point out the amount of money the federal government dispersed during the pandemic – the big number at the bottom of the balance sheet – the Conservatives might not want to get into a debate about the exact use of the money.
The Canadian Emergency Response Benefit was $ 81.6 billion. The Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy has so far provided $ 97.5 billion. The federal government says an additional $ 19.9 billion has been sent to the provinces and territories.
Perhaps the Conservatives could find examples of excess to report. But in what ways would they have spent so much less?
Inflation was not a problem during the election campaign
While the Liberals could be largely vulnerable to the accusation that they are too loose with federal funds, the Conservatives also have to grapple with the tax plan their party presented in the election campaign that ended there. at two months.
According to this plan, the Conservatives would have recorded a slightly larger deficit in the current fiscal year before following a path largely similar to the Liberal plan. And the Page Institute for Fiscal Studies and Democracy found the Conservative plan to lack credibility.
The Liberals’ response is that their plan includes substantial federal spending to reduce child care costs and create more child care spaces, which would help lower the cost of living for many families. The Liberals are also quick to point out that the Conservatives campaigned to reverse this spending.
But liberals probably also know that if everyday items keep getting more expensive, everyday politics will become more difficult for the government – because it could be blamed for the price hike and because it could make more difficult to pursue policies in areas such as climate change.
Inflation is a liberal point of vulnerability
The cost of living is immediately tangible for everyone. And if Canadians are already cranky about the price of bacon, they might be less willing to accept any new policies that come at a cost.
So while the Liberals may highlight spending on child care and affordable housing, they are not immune to questions about what they could do to help Canadians cope with the impacts of the crisis. ‘inflation.
The Conservatives are no doubt happy to keep talking about it. They have a stronger hand on inflation than if they were fighting the government over climate policy or Indigenous reconciliation or vaccination mandates.
But whatever the rhetoric of Question Period, the bigger question is how long this period of inflation could last.
If this persists, the Liberals could have real problems, even if they are only reacting to external forces beyond their control.
If inflation eases in 2022, the Conservatives will have to find something else to attack the government.
But that’s the blessing of Question Period: Every day is another chance to shout about something new.