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.
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.
No surprise here.
But in reality, the Conservatives plan increases the federal tax take, increases government spending, and fails to provide a truly austere plan to balance the budget. It will, therefore, do little to improve economic growth and create jobs.