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Finance Minister Jim Flaherty speaks to reporters at a music store in Ottawa on March 23, 2011. (FRED CHARTRAND/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty speaks to reporters at a music store in Ottawa on March 23, 2011. (FRED CHARTRAND/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Flaherty's budget a safe bet - but no sure thing Add to ...

This week's budget has earned sparing praise from many corners, it seems to me. As a budget to take into an election, it is an interesting, and I think, perhaps a slightly risky choice the Conservatives have made.

It seems they are banking heavily that Canadians feel really happy with Conservative economic stewardship and enthusiastic about the "steady as she goes, baby steps back to full health" approach that is their central message.

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In more than a couple of decades polling on budgets and economic policies, one thing has been more clear than almost any other: voters are quick to blame government policies they think have been harmful, but rarely become passionate defenders of policies that may have helped.

Polls that suggest the Conservatives are far ahead of the Liberals in terms of perceived economic management are often interpreted as though voters have paid a lot of attention to federal economic policy, and have come to love it. And also greatly suspect or strongly resist Liberal economic policy ideas.

More typically, I suspect, the average voter would say this government didn't cause the recession, didn't make it worse and isn't getting in the way of recovery.

Most would claim to have very little knowledge of what kind of budget an Ignatieff government would propose at this point.

Polls that show voters approve of the stimulus spending in the Economic Action Plan can also be somewhat illusory: While some voters credit the government with making good choices to open up the taps, at the end of the day, most also know it is money they have borrowed from themselves and their children, and they will need to work off that debt over time.

Now, a lack of frustration or dismay with Conservative economic policy might well be enough for the Conservatives to win, and perhaps even to win a majority. A passing grade will work terrifically if they are the only party that earns one.

However, by failing to include any "show-stopping" initiatives in their budget, the kinds of things that voters instantly love and want, the Harper government is presuming its opponents will perform weakly on economic issues, or that it's ad campaign can make a Liberal choice seem very risky to the economy.

Maybe they made the safest bet, but a safe bet is not the same as a sure thing.

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