The Liberals’ Middle Class Mask Has Slipped With Bill Morneau’s French Villa Controversy

I can’t believe these millionaires don’t have my best interests at heart!

by Drew Brown
Oct 17 2017, 4:39pm

Images sources: CP | Art by Noel Ransome

The "middle class" is a massively vague term that does more work to obscure Canada's economic arrangement than clarify it. And Justin Trudeau's Liberal party has claimed to be its champion since their 2015 election campaign. But did anyone really believe them? Who do these people—many of them millionaires—think they are?

Even before the present tax trainwreck, there were more than a few signs that the rich guys running the government might be patronizing us. But Finance Minister Bill Morneau picking a fight with self-incorporated doctors while apparently forgetting to disclose his own tax-dodging corporate ownership of a fucking French villa to the ethics commissioner is almost too hamfisted to write. That it came on the heels of the government openly wondering about whether or not it was going to start taxing employee discounts is just icing on the cake.

Paul Wells in Maclean's has charitably suggested that if Justin Trudeau isn't careful, people might get the impression that he prioritizes the super-rich above the unwashed masses queueing up at Timmie's. I would like to go further in spelling out that what we see is what we get, and always has been.

The Liberals have talked a big game about economic fairness for the middle class, but talking a big game and then doing something else is the party's modus operandi. The prime minister's fondness for vacationing with the Aga Khan or wining and dining Chinese billionaires aside, many of the economic initiatives the Liberals have floated since taking office have been maple-flavoured Reaganomics.

The government's proposed Infrastructure Bank will use public funds to subsidize private construction projects, which bodes well because no Canadian construction contractor would ever take tax money for a joyride. They are also flirting with the idea of selling off many of the country's ports and airports, handing control of key transportation hubs (and border controls) over to private interests in exchange for a one-time cash infusion. And then there is the Liberal plan to create five "innovation superclusters" around the country modelled after Silicon Valley, again premised on the essentially magical thinking that stuffing cash into the pockets of private capitalists will trickle down in the form of more jobs and money in the region.

The Liberal plan to create a thriving economy by turning so much of the country over to private stewardship sounds reasonably good on paper if you stopped following the news in 2006. The underlying assumption of the Trudeau government seems to be that the fortunes of the mythical middle class are best served by supplicating rich power-players. They're the real innovative and dynamic job creators, and they need as much money as possible so they can sign cheques for us little people.

Thus we have a prime minister and his cohort in Finance who seem to have genuine difficulty in understanding why people were upset that they were trying to stitch up tax loopholes. I'm not sure how long the Liberals believed they could run a political game for high-rollers behind a rhetorical curtain of "soak the rich," but their time might soon be up.

You can't wage a class war from behind enemy lines. There are much bigger breaks afforded to those wealthy enough to avail of Canada's offshore tax treaties, but the government seems content to let that slide in favour of shaking down doctors. It's hard to square the government's half-hearted cut to the small business tax with Trudeau's full-throated defence of Morneau. Our liege's frustration with the peasants is clear.

But more than all this, the current stink around Morneau highlights that what the Liberals view as their strength could just as easily become their weakness.

All those jet-setting glamour shots of our celebrity prime minister can quickly become a liability if people start thinking that the legacy millionaires in cabinet might be out of touch. And there's a hell of a lot of expensive 'organic' photo ops between now and Election 2019.

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Middle Class
Bill Morneau