program spending

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For those who don’t normally read budget documents, here’s what the Alberta government just did in its 2013 budget: they abandoned the sensible budget and financial framework that former Progressive Conservative Finance Minister Jim Dinning introduced in 1993.


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The red-ink budgets that have engulfed Alberta since the last recession—Alberta’s Finance Minister Doug Horner just announced this year’s deficit could hit $4-billion— are not accidental. Such red ink is not just the result of weaker resource revenues, as Alberta Premier Alison Redford regularly claims.


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When governments enter an election year, the political temptation to play fast and loose with budget numbers is strong. The most famous example of this was probably the 1996 budget in British Columbia. That year, then-B.C. Premier Glen Clark’s office injected sunshine into revenue forecasts, this in order to trumpet a balanced budget on the campaign trail. His office did so over the objections of Finance Ministry officials. Post-election, once that became known, the “fudge-it” budget scandal permanently tarred the NDP government.


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If there was any confidence that Alberta’s government would avoid imitating the failed policies of other provinces—think of Quebec and Ontario and their massive debts—that faint hope for continued Alberta exceptionalism was kiboshed at the recent Progressive Conservative convention in Calgary.


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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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On Tuesday, Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan had one of those rare opportunities of which politicians can only dream. With his province heading toward a fiscal crisis caused by mounting debt and out-of-control spending, an opposition sympathetic to dealing with the problem, a public that clearly wants his government to address the debt, and news outlets that understand the need for significant fiscal restraint, everything lined up for Duncan.


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If Ontarians are to believe Finance Minister Dwight Duncan, next week’s provincial budget will be “the most significant budget this government has ever delivered.” Let’s hope so. With a deficit of nearly $16 billion this year and several more expected over the coming years, Ontarians desperately need and deserve a plan to return fiscal sanity to the province.

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Sitting down with my morning cup of coffee and Saturday's National Post, I was delighted to read Andrew Coyne's scathing criticism of the federal Conservatives' record in office, based on comments he was to make at this year's Manning Networking Conference (Is there a conservative in the House?, March 10).

Where has conservatism gone? Coyne asked. Unfortunately, Post readers didn't have to look far for the answer - the adjacent page to be precise.

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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.