Budgets are typically analyzed for the policy ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts.’ However, we often take for granted the political aspects of budgeting as it, more than anything else the government does, provides us with the greatest glimpse of the political direction of the government.
This budget is interesting because it makes it clear who the Liberals hope to woo. And on that measure, what the budget makes perfectly clear is that it is women who will make or break whether the Wynne Liberals remain in government after the next election.
Ladies, the ball is entirely in your court.
Let’s take a look at the budget. There is a nice little video that you can watch, which I stumbled upon through Google and YouTube ads by the way, that outlines the great virtues of the budget. They include money for prescription medicine for kids so there isn’t a choice between medicine and other essentials. There is a $7 billion boost to health care to reduce wait times. The government wants to help with everyday costs like free tuition, affordable housing, and energy costs. Next is a new career kick start, where the video points to helping young people and recent grads get good jobs (and move out of mom’s basement). And finally, it’s a balanced budget so there is now more money for investments in education and health care.
Scroll the budget propaganda some more, and you can see, ladies, that you are squarely Wynne’s target. There is an entire budget brief that is titled “Empowering Women and Girls.” What’s in the brief? Well, there will be the first ever stand alone ministry for women, a gender wage gap strategy, help to have more women in corporate leadership, women’s economic empowerment, addressing human trafficking, an end to violence against Indigenous women, stopping sexual violence and harassment, and support for domestic violence survivors. In a nutshell, we have in our midst one of the most pro-women budgets ever. A vote against the budget is a vote against women. You see where this is going?
Taking a read at the other budget briefs, it becomes quite interesting to see how much of the language is geared toward women. The “Making Life More Affordable” brief talks about pharmacare, hydro and affordable housing, which the video also mentioned, but in addition to these it highlights pro women policies of investments in child care, cheaper public transit for grandma and grandpa (so their daughters don’t have to burden with driving them to the senior’s aquafit class), and a new caregiver tax credit (to help women care for their ailing loved ones).
It’s also important to note what is not in the budget briefs. The environment, carbon pricing and infrastructure aren’t highlighted in the budget briefs, and these used to be hallmarks of Ontario Liberal policy. Isn’t that interesting?
This budget is a full court press to maintain the support of women. The electoral calculus is that if the Liberals don’t bleed female votes to either or both of the two main opposition parties, then they have a fighting chance to holding on in 2018.
Of course, this strategy is all the more successful when the Liberals can usher in a set of policies while making the alternatives unattractive to women. Rhetorically, the PCs response to the budget focused on the predictable. By trying to demonstrate the phantom menace of a fake balanced budget, the Tories are missing the set of cohesive policies that purport to woo women who are now, more than any time in the last couple of decades, inclined to vote for them. And so, to sow the seed of discontent, imagine why the Liberals were so inclined to continuously trumpet funding for a new abortion pill for all women. See too how the Liberals are wedging women by suggesting that the NDP pharmacare plan doesn’t cover as many drugs for little boys and girls as the Liberal plan. Wedge and demonize the opponents only works when you have something better to offer. The Liberals know this best, which allows them to say they aren’t negative campaigners when they indeed are.
While we may not have access to the final results of Liberal polling on these issues, given what this budget contains and doesn’t contain – or highlights and doesn’t highlight – we can see where the polling and focus groups are guiding the government. If the opposition is seeing what I’m seeing, then they must put together a comprehensive plan to address issues important to women. Failing to do so could help the Liberals hold on to government one more time.
This article appeared in Queen’s Park Briefing. Visit QPBriefing.com to subscribe to this publication and stay on top of all things related to Ontario government and politics!