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Federal Budget 2023 Analysis: Liberals Continue to Lay Political Traps for Conservatives on the Issue of Affordability

The latest federal budget provides Justin Trudeau with more political wedge opportunities to combat Pierre Poilievre’s greatest strength, economic management.

Building on previously announced childcare support, the federal Liberal government sought to tackle another pocketbook issue, the cost of groceries.

In Budget 2023, the Liberals promised a one-time “grocery rebate” of up to $467 for Canadians struggling with the rising cost of food. 

I hear you saying, “What’s that going to do for people? That’s just a few weeks of groceries.’ Well, that is precisely what the Prime Minister wants some Conservative Member of Parliament to say out loud, preferably in front of a camera or on Twitter. I apologize for being so cynical. This policy is a political wedge designed to get the Liberals content for a future attack ad that frames Conservatives as heartless and lacking empathy. 

But here is the thing about political wedges: they often don’t work if the wedge is focused on your opponent’s strengths. That’s because, typically, the strength of a political brand on a particular issue is the result of years and years of consistently defining motivation in a meaningful and persuasive manner. For example, the Conservatives are trusted on the economy because they want to create more jobs (meaningful) and prosperity for all Canadians (persuasive). That message has been drilled into your head for years.

That said, for the Liberals, the grocery rebate may be more about trying to argue the Conservatives to a draw on the issue of affordability, not flipping the script. After all, it’s a one-time rebate, and Canadians can’t miss what they didn’t have.

But there is a danger for Conservatives because Canadians will miss what they already have. If the Liberals successfully persuade voters that the Conservatives will end the existing childcare support given to the provinces and territories, the Tories will lose the next election. Whether the Liberals wedge the Tories or use the old “secret agenda” argument, this is the real danger for Pierre Poilievre on the affordability issue.

So, Justin Trudeau has already set his affordability trap and is now using Budget 2023 to give the Liberal Party more ammo against the Conservatives in the next election. It’s smart but dangerous because if the ballot box question in the next election is framed around the economy, we will undoubtedly have a new federal Conservative government in Ottawa.

Jake Enwright is Syntax Strategic’s Vice President of Government Relations and Public Affairs and former senior adviser to leaders of the Conservative Party of Canada

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