by Chantal Hébert

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is unveiling the long-awaited first Liberal budget today to a more receptive audience than when he was elected last fall.

According to an Abacus poll published over the weekend, a majority in every province except Alberta approves of his performance to date.

More importantly in the circumstances, 70 per cent believe Trudeau is up to the job of prime minister.

It’s clear he and his government have shored up their credibility over their first months in power. That credibility stands to ease the selling of a deficit-spending budget.

The Liberal success is the opposition’s failure. The two main opposition parties have not had a really good week since the election. Party leaders Rona Ambrose and Thomas Mulcair might as well be firing blanks at the rookie Liberal government.

Three in four New Democrats and one in three Conservatives agree that Trudeau is a competent prime minister. Almost half of the Quebecers who voted for the Bloc QuÈbÈcois give Trudeau a better than passing grade.

Attempts by the Conservatives to bring out big guns such as Reform party founder Preston Manning to shoot down the rookie government have essentially backfired. Take Trudeau’s visit to Washington. In a
published piece, Manning had nothing but scorn for the prime minister’s handling of the event.

According to Abacus, 82 per cent of Canadians beg to disagree with his assessment and call the visit a success.

Since the election, the Liberals have systematically reversed previous Conservative policies – including many signature ones.

Think of the return of the long-form census; the plan to hold an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women; the end of court proceedings to overturn Omar Khadr’s release on bail; federal support for safe-injection sites and the decision to restore the eligibility threshold for the Old Age Security pension from 67 to 65.

The list also includes an extended pipeline approval process; the accelerated resettlement of thousands more civilian refugees fleeing war-torn Syria than planned for by the Conservatives; a pro-carbon-pricing federal-provincial push, and the end of Canada’s bombing missions on Daesh – also referred to as ISIS or ISIL- in the Middle East.

Tuesday’s budget will – among other things – confirm the decision to maintain billions of dollars in spending promises in the face of a rising deficit as well as the partial dismantlement of the previous government’s income-splitting income tax scheme.

As they look for post-budget ways to be a more effective opposition, the Conservatives might consider avoiding the trap of becoming further entrenched in past policies that have so often miserably failed the
test of inclusiveness.

In the same spirit, the NDP might score more points by adopting a more constructive tone than it has to date.

In the previous Parliament, Mulcair shone in the role of chief prosecutor of the Harper government.

Back then, most non-conservative voters were cheering him on, regardless of whether they planned to vote for him in the election. But the same aggressive approach to holding Trudeau to account has some otherwise committed New Democrats clapping with one hand these days.

The NDP’s current narrative boils down to demonstrating that the Liberals are impostors posturing as progressives. Like Manning’s caricature of the Trudeau visit to the White House, the New Democrats’ approach is failing to convince even some of the converted.

More than half of NDP supporters believe Trudeau is doing a good job. Most wish the Liberals well.

More than a few – possibly a majority – start from the premise that a Liberal government is ultimately preferable to a Conservative one. That was true when Jack Layton was leader and Paul Martin was prime minister. It is probably even truer in the wake of the Harper decade.

Despite the efforts of the main opposition parties, buyers’ remorse about the Liberals has not set in. A deficit-spending budget is unlikely to change that.

If there are two prescriptions that have been repeated ad nauseam since the October federal election it is that the Conservatives must work on improving their tone and the New Democrats need to go back to their policy roots.

But what if the reverse were equally true? What if job one for the Conservatives should be to head back to the drawing board to come up with more consensual policies while the NDP should think of returning to Layton’s sunnier ways?

Chantal Hébert is a national affairs writer. Her column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

Copyright 2016 – Torstar Syndication Services

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