federal budget

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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.


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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; that’s the main government program for disbursing taxpayer cash to the aerospace sector.


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The key litmus test for the Harper government’s 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.


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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).


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Canada's Conservative government deserves praise on a number of fronts. Since coming to power, the Tories have ended the reflexively relativist approach to foreign policy, tackled supposedly politically sensitive immigration issues and understood and promoted the need for private-sector jobs, especially in the energy sector.

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.

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Ever since the last recession, Canadians have been informed by pundits and the political class that stimulus spending—perhaps better labelled as “binge” spending—was critical to Canada’s economic recovery.

But extra government spending had little to do with Canada’s 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.


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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.


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With economic uncertainty lurking around every corner, it’s critical that governments across Canada show fiscal discipline and put forth prudent budgets.

Here in B.C., Finance Minister Kevin Falcon reassured British Columbians that his government’s 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.”

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On Monday, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty held his traditional pre-budget consultation with a number of private-sector economists, who all appear to be predicting improved growth in the Canadian economy for the coming year. This no doubt comes as welcome news to the Finance Minister, as he prepares to unveil his next budget on March 29.

But the Finance Minister should not be swayed by these optimistic growth projections; he needs to bring in a budget that will take serious aim at balancing the nation's book.

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When Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced last week that the Conservative government will miss its target for balancing the budget, he confirmed something that should be obvious to all students of recent Canadian economic history: Crossed-finger revenue forecasts and unrealistic spending growth projections are no basis for sound economic policy.