Focus on fiscal reality in afterglow of Trudeau’s political honeymoon

The champagne flutes are empty, the honeymoon suite has been vacated and the residual buzz on the flight back was the last carefree taste of ecstasy.

Now we are back in the cramped apartment, off to work on a rainy morning and getting on with the drudgery of the day.

Welcome, Justin Trudeau, away from the sunny-ways bliss of the ceremony and into the actual job – selfie-reduced, sleeves rolled up out of necessity not style, suddenly thrust into fulfilling the skyscraping stack of campaign promises. He wooed Canada, then the world, but at some point you just knew the election campaign had to end. Last week’s reality check of a budget was the first test of the relationship with our region, and some couples therapy might be in order for the newlyweds.

Some takeaways:

•The bromance of Vancouver’s mayor and Canada’s leader isn’t bearing fruit. Without much more federal money, the Broadway subway is a shaky proposition. The social housing scheme for the mayor’s freely offered land is scuppered. It is more likely now with the Kitsilano coast guard station  investment in oil-spill management that Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline will be built. Hey, a Stephen Harper budget could have done all that.

•On the other hand, if you’re Surrey’s Linda Hepner, you’re a happier camper. The term “LRT” and the words “Greater Vancouver” were in the same sentence in the budget document on infrastructure investment. Of course, she and others have to determine how 17% (down from 33%) of the project will be financed regionally. Easier, but not easy.

•Deficit or not, you can’t spend much money if you don’t make much money. That $29 billion deficit isn’t as a result of $29 billion of additional activity. Much of it simply keeps the lights on as the revenue stream dries.

•The wisest down payment on our prosperity came in the form of the investment in our First Nations reserves for stronger health, clean water and education. But it’s a deposit only. Budget after budget will need to deepen the resolve.

•Really, prime minister, a feminist? Then where was the momentum toward a national child-care program? Good to help more children out of poverty with your family benefits plan, but their welfare ultimately depends on parents able to work hard without the anxiety of daily care concerns.

•If one would hazard a guess at which segment of the business community it would be most unwise to alienate, would you choose: (a) small businesses, (b) businesses that are small or (c) businesses that are neither large nor approaching so? There are about a million such owners. They vote. They are driving growth. They were promised and denied a tax cut. They are steamed.

•There is an understandable frustration with the glacial pace of addressing housing woes through a strategy, but more mistakes could be made in a rush than are likely to be made in a national discussion. Just, please, get on with it.

•It is true you can’t do everything at once, but in suggesting there will be wave upon wave to fulfil the promise pile, the government is a little disingenuous. The next wave of help comes only if the numbers turn around.

•The initiative to deal with global climate change has the feeling of a Hollyhock mindfulness meeting. Good intentions, well underwritten, just not quite focused. It’s a process.

•Journalists rejoice, somewhat. The federal Access to Information law will permit the information commissioner to order government to release records and include the prime minister’s and cabinet ministers’ offices (not just their departments). It will be possible to file requests centrally and online – within five years.

•When in doubt about how to handle years of public calls for measures to deal with foreign ownership of housing, don’t confront the issue or level with people about what you can and can’t do. Earmark money in the coming year to hire people maybe in the following year to determine how to study it in a subsequent year. Good old Ottawa ingenuity. 

Kirk LaPointe is Business in Vancouver’s vice-president of audience and business development.