After federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty unveiled his latest financial plan Tuesday, much of the media hype centred on the government's larger than expected surplus in 2015-16. Early chatter seemed to accept the government will deliver as promised and some declared its "conservative assumptions" might allow for the deficit to be eliminated even earlier.
Therell be no doubt that were balanced in 2015, federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty told reporters after recently meeting with a group of private sector economists. This is among Mr. Flahertys most categorical statements to date on his plan to achieve a balanced budget in 2015-16. But in light of recent economic forecasts and potential threats to the governments revenue projections, he would be well-advised to focus on further spending restraint something he can fully control in order to deliver on his promise.
Fiscal policy is really about taxes and spending and the federal government recently provided some hints on its plans in these areas.
In the recent Speech from the Throne, the government reaffirmed its commitment to balancing the budget by 2015-16 and providing "greater tax relief for Canadian families" after the budget is balanced. But what form this tax relief may take remains a mystery.
If there was a theme in the recent federal budget, it was how chock full it was with new corporate welfare. The underlying refrain was how big government will help big business with your tax dollars.
For example, early on in Budget 2013, it is clear that crony capitalism is scattered throughout the budget. On page six, Ottawa promises $1-billion to the aerospace sector over five years through the Strategic Aerospace and Defence Initiative; thats the main government program for disbursing taxpayer cash to the aerospace sector.
The key litmus test for the Harper governments 2013 budget was always going to be how realistic it was with respect to achieving a balanced budget by 2015-16. The governing Tories have staked both their economic and political credibility on being able to balance the budget. The current plan, which mirrors previous budgets, relies on controlling the growth in spending and hoping revenues increase sufficiently to balance the budget.
While some economists take great satisfaction when their forecasts come true, I am not in that camp.
As Terence Corcoran noted on this page Wednesday (On track for more deficits), for the past several years my colleagues and I have warned that the federal government's plan to balance the budget has been based on risky projections - optimistic forecasts of revenue growth (averaging 5.6% per year) and unrealistic plans for spending restraint (average increases of just 2.0% per year).
Thus, when David From wrote, in his Saturday National Post column, that under Stephen Harper, Canada can fairly claim to be the best-governed country among advanced democracies in the world, he was not far off the mark.
Ever since the last recession, Canadians have been informed by pundits and the political class that stimulus spendingperhaps better labelled as binge spendingwas critical to Canadas economic recovery.
But extra government spending had little to do with Canadas exit out of the recession. The recession ended in mid-2009; it was only about then that federal and provincial governments started spending extra (borrowed) stimulus cash.
There it was on the front page of The Globe and Mail: $5.2-billion [in] total spending cuts. The Toronto Star screamed: Tories slash spending in fiscal overhaul, while CTV proclaimed: Budget to cut spending nearly $6-billion.
Perhaps they read a different budget than the one we found on the Department of Finance's website. Here's what the Conservatives' budget actually stated: The results of the government's review of departmental spending amount to roughly $5.2-billion in ongoing savings.
That's savings, folks, not cuts.
Here in B.C., Finance Minister Kevin Falcon reassured British Columbians that his governments 2012 budget was built on fiscal discipline and lays a firm foundation for the future. Falcon even warned of the perils of additional government taxes, spending and borrowing, calling such measures potentially catastrophic.