The Conservative budget delivered on March 22 was, according to these pages, a "phony budget ... craftily designed with an election in mind." Jim Flaherty, the Finance Minister then and now, delivered largely the same document yesterday - but this time backed up by a newly obtained majority mandate. That means that Monday's budget will be passed, but it is not a better budget, because there is still little detail on program cuts.
The budget was not as austere as it needed to be. Few actual savings were announced; few programs were cut. The phase-out of subsidies for political parties, though politically significant and desirable, is a fairly minor financial item. An accounting of the impact of the Conservatives' crime legislation - expected to run into the billions of dollars - is still missing.
"Wait for the 'Strategic and Operating Review' of government," the Conservatives promise. But surely they had the opportunity to identify cuts during their minority years, which could have been implemented once they got their majority.
The upshot is that the budget projects the same deficit for 2014-2015 ($300-million) as it did in March, although the Conservatives promised in the election, and still promise, to end the deficit in that same year - on the basis of yet-to-be-announced cuts worth $4-billion. They got themselves in this tangle, apparently in order to make certain planks in their platform more attractive by shortening the wait for their implementation.
The commitment of $2.2-billion to Quebec for sales tax harmonization may be of questionable policy merit, and it makes the fiscal hole larger. But the Conservatives deserve credit for proceeding with an electoral commitment to Quebec, despite Quebeckers' rejection of the party at the polls last month.
The June budget is based on somewhat hopeful but not unreasonable economic projections At the same time, the government is placing considerable reliance on the rise of nominal GDP, guided by futures prices on commodities - which means it is counting on price inflation.
Canadians looking for more visionary policies will have to wait for the spending review, other announcements, or perhaps next year's budget, to address Canada's long-term challenges.
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