Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Shades of Liberal

Without the fortitude or the inclination to examine in detail yesterday's Conservative federal budget, two thoughts struck me from a quick scan of the highlights. First, that it resembles a caretaker budget in its timorous approach to addressing the apparent concerns and priorities of what is conventionally described as fiscal conservatism. This is the more generous of the two responses, alluding to the government's minority position and suggested calls for deference to the idea of incremental rather than radical change. If so, one could wish that the budget could have at the very least not increased government spending.

But if a caretaker budget, though, a caretaker for whom? A future majority government or a future Liberal government? My other less generous initial response was that the budget could as easily have been another Liberal budget, minus the astonishing last-minute pandering to the NDP last year to prop up their own minority. It seems that Andrew Coyne came to the same conclusion:

[I]f there is one overwhelming message from this budget, it is that nothing has changed. This is a budget any Liberal finance minister could have brought down. Could and, in parts, did.

Oh sure, there's a lot of talk about "frameworks" and "principles," the better to distinguish the Conservative approach from Martinite ad hockery. And of course there is the usual bumf about "Focusing on Priorities" (that's actually the title). But in fact this budget, like its predecessors, has dozens of priorities -- capital gains for fishers, indeed -- and while it does set out some fine-sounding principles, it instantly breaks them.

Item: the budget proclaims its devotion to curbing runaway Liberal spending, complete with a promised "new approach to expenditure management" (how many times have we heard that before?).

Yet what is the actual Conservative spending plan? To spend more than the Liberals did -- more even than they planned to.

You think I jest. Look it up: Program spending for 2005-06, the fiscal year just ended, was first budgeted at $161.3-billion. By last November's Economic Update, that had risen to $163.7-billion. Six months later, the Tories have wrestled that down to ... $165.4-billion.

The same holds for the current fiscal year. Program spending, as of November: $170.7-billion. As of the Liberal election platform, $172.8-billion. As of this budget: $174.8-billion. And next year as well: Conservative spending will exceed the update's projection by nearly $5-billion. Bear that in mind in the coming days, as you listen to the screams of the wounded.
The wounded being, from this side of the monitor, the taxpayers of Canada.

1 Comment:

Brent Gilliard said...

When the CTF says it's not good enough... that can't be a good sign.