Think you could balance a national budget? Give it a try

The Globe and Mail

The Globe and Mail's budget-balancing game.

Few issues stick to governments more than their ability to balance a budget. Today, Jim Flaherty releases a budget that aims to reassure Canadian taxpayers that his government is committed to returning to the black within a few years. But what does it take to eliminate the deficit? We've created a game that gives readers a taste of the decision making involved.

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Transfers and interest payments take up 56 per cent of total spending. As UBC’s Kevin Milligan writes on The Globe’s Economy Lab, “the best way to think of the Government of Canada is a big national insurance company with a side business as a tax collector for the provinces.”

The government, in reality, doesn’t have that many tools at its disposal to close a large budgetary deficit. It can either raise taxes or cut departmental program spending. This was the main idea we hoped to get across with our ‘balance the budget’ interactive.

This list is admittedly subjective, as many of the options we settled on are hot-button issues. Some could certainly lower the deficit drastically (cut transfers, or restore GST to 7 per cent, for example), but are politically unacceptable to the Harper Tories. After that, you are largely left with the option of raising taxes or cutting ministerial program spending (the other 44 per cent of total spending).

For the interactive, coming up with reliable numbers was the real challenge. We had to choose from either last year’s final spending in the public accounts or from current projections. Thankfully, several academic contributors to Economy Lab, along with our Ottawa bureau, chipped in to crunch some numbers.

Take a look at the options, see what you would cut and share your choices with your friends and family. We customized social media sharing so that anyone who clicks that link that you emailed, tweeted or Facebooked from the interactive sees the options you selected. Then they can clear it and try for themselves.

Another interesting technical element: The cumulative total (the red deficit bar) was created as a “sticky” element on the page which means that it travels down the page with you as you view more selections. That way you can always keep the bottom line in sight. This “stickiness” is built using a javascript library called waypoints.

If you think there is an option missing, have suggestions for the next federal budget game or are interested in how it was built, let us know in the comments or email community@globeandmail.com.

Rob Gilroy is the editor of Economy Lab and Alisa Mamak is an interactives designer.

Follow on Twitter: @rgilroy