The May 2 minority Liberal budget is a politically expedient document that likely avoids an election but unfortunately fails to tackle Ontario's looming fiscal crisis. The longer the province waits, the more difficult and painful the reforms will be when the inevitable day of reckoning arrives.
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.
For those who dont normally read budget documents, heres 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.
The red-ink budgets that have engulfed Alberta since the last recessionAlbertas Finance Minister Doug Horner just announced this years 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.
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 Clarks 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.
If there was any confidence that Albertas government would avoid imitating the failed policies of other provincesthink of Quebec and Ontario and their massive debtsthat faint hope for continued Alberta exceptionalism was kiboshed at the recent Progressive Conservative convention in Calgary.
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.
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.