Money talks and Mexicans were listening

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The themes of the Morena party mirror many of those promoted by the federal Liberal government.

By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on June 10, 2024.

OTTAWA—Claudia Sheinbaum made history last week as the first woman president of Mexico.

Elected in a landslide with almost 60 per cent of the vote, Sheinbaum secured a super majority. Her party has full control in both houses of Parliament.

It was a stunning achievement for a party that did not exist 10 years ago. The Morena party was founded by her predecessor who served as president for six years.

During that time, the Morena party became known for supporting the poor, and investing in education for all.

Sheinbaum campaigned on those themes, and promised to increase access to universal education for all.

The themes of the Morena party mirror many of those promoted by the federal Liberal government.

During their time, Liberals have focused on reducing poverty.

And they have impressive results to show for it.

The Liberal focus on reconciliation has also included massive increases in the average budgets for Indigenous education funding on First Nations’ territories, and infrastructure investment to end boil-water advisories.

Like the Morena party, the Liberals have hiked the minimum wage. In the Mexican case, the wage doubled during Morena’s time in government.

The Liberals also plan to do more.

In the last budget they announced a $1-billion national food program designed to reach an additional 400,000 Canadian children. The program is destined to complement existing provincial and local programs.

That announcement was in addition to the government’s delivery on universally affordable daycare across the country, and dental care for those kids whose families cannot afford dental services.

So why is Sheinbaum basking in victory while Liberals are struggling?

In Mexico, a leader can only serve one term. Sheinbaum is a new face even though she is closely aligned with her predecessor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, also known as Amlo. Amlo will step down when Sheinbaum takes over in October, and he is still running at 60 per cent popularity after six years.

Back in 2018, Amlo promised to drastically reduce the millions of dollars the previous government was spending on media advertising. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to do the same.

However, the Mexican president’s first budget included an advertising allocation that was US$50-million more than his predecessor. Historically, Mexico’s governments have enjoyed long runs in power. Part of their success has been tied to advertising.

The Canadian government’s 2023 advertising budget was $86.1-million. Government total spending during the same period was projected as $456.8-billion. That represents .0188 of total spending.

In Mexico, during the same period, government advertising totalled almost $20-million of a budget slightly greater than $600-million. The Mexican government spent 3.3 per cent of its budget on advertising .

According to Business Development Canada, the average advertising spend for a Canadian small business should be between two to five per cent of their revenue. For business to customer companies, that number jumps to between five and 10 per cent.

BDC is a Crown corporation providing advice to the private sector. Governments certainly won’t match the private sector in advertising, but to spend less than .02 per cent of the budget on advertising is definitely one of the factors contributing to the disconnect Canadians feel from their federal government.

When Quebec came within a hair of leaving the country in the 1990s, the cabinet set up a committee designed to specifically review federal communications in that province. It’s budget was $25-million, and that was almost 30 years ago in one province.

Over the past nine years, Liberals have accomplished many things worth bragging about. From pharmacare to dentalcare, from universal daycare to future national school lunch programs, Liberals are making a tremendous effort to make life easier for Canadians who are struggling financially.

But even when it comes to the carbon rebate, most Canadians have no idea why their bank accounts are being topped up by hundreds of dollars. When an explanatory letter finally came out, it was signed by Bob Hamilton, Revenue Canada’s commissioner. Why didn’t the letter come from the prime minister?

If the federal Liberals want to reverse their lagging popularity, they need to take a page from the Mexican political playbook.

A hike to 3.3 per cent of federal spending would see Canada’s federal advertising budget jump to more than $15-billion.

Obviously, such a hike would be intolerable. But it gives you some idea how successive Mexican governments secured landslides, and Mexico appears to have little appetite to dump governing political parties.

Money talks, and Mexicans were listening.

Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.