As you read this, hundreds of government officials, journalists, stakeholders and others are gathered in an Ottawa conference centre to read over the 2014 federal budget (or "Economic Action Plan," as they've been billed the last few years). We can't divulge what's in the budget until Finance Minister Jim Flaherty tables the fiscal plan in Parliament around 4 p.m. ET, but, heading into the lockup, here's what we know.
What we know about the budget so far
As usual, there are expected to be a lot of policies packed into this budget. Some have already leaked out. As The Globe's Steven Chase has reported this budget is expected to provide money to the auto sector to keep jobs in the country, as well as to end the decades-old Immigrant Investor program, a path to citizenship that critics say amounted to buying your way into the country. We also know the budget will take a stab at addressing the price of consumer goods, not by adjusting tariffs – which the Conservatives did in last year's budget – but by banning "country pricing," a practice in which multinational corporations charge Canadians more. The budget is also expected to rein in public-sector costs.
Mr. Flaherty himself has hinted that the budget will contain measures to expose ties (where they exist) between organized crime and charities, along with pledges to increase rural Internet access and provide more training for young workers.
Timing weighs heavily on this budget for two reasons: first, Mr. Flaherty has repeatedly pledged that Ottawa's books will be balanced for the 2015-16 fiscal year after years of running deficits. Second – and related to the first reason – is that next year there will be an election. A leaked campaign strategy, obtained by the Toronto Star, laid out a roadmap that will take the Conservatives to the Oct. 19, 2015, vote, and the policies in this budget will be one step along the way. The Tories have consistently lagged in the polls behind the Liberals ever since Justin Trudeau became leader last spring. And, as The Globe's Campbell Clark has written, Prime Minister Stephen Harper stakes a lot of his reputation on his fiscal abilities.
Budgets are one of a government's most important tools to set priorities. So what could have influenced Mr. Flaherty's thinking?
You can read the pre-budget recommendations of the finance committee, chaired by Conservative MP James Rajotte, for what that group of MPs recommended after hearing from individuals, businesses and associations. The report touches on every aspect of budget-making, from the macro-economic level to how the fiscal plan could help disadvantaged Canadians. You can read a long list of what all the interest groups told the committee.
There's also the economists. The Globe tapped some to see what they were thinking – for instance, the University of Calgary's Jack Mintz recommended an increase to the Guaranteed Income Supplement to help seniors, while Stephen Tapp of the Institute for Research on Public Policy wants more details of the balanced-budget legislation hinted at in the fall Throne Speech.
Think tanks have released shadow budgets in anticipation of the real thing. C.D. Howe recommends greater transparency in the federal government's fiscal reporting and projections, and better constraint in labour costs. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives wants Ottawa to delay getting back to a surplus in exchange for tackling income inequality and raising the employment rate.
The centrepiece of the 2013 budget was the Canada Jobs Grant, a jobs-training program paid for by federal and provincial governments, along with businesses. The program still hasn't gotten off the ground. Ottawa has had to make concessions to try to get provinces on board by April 1, finance reporter Bill Curry has reported. Other items in the budget – such as those around infrastructure, or rumoured programs to train aboriginal Canadians – could also require provincial buy-in. One point of contention will be transfer payments, which Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has asked Mr. Flaherty not to reduce.
And one last bit of fun – if, as Mr. Flaherty unveils the budget, you think he's looking particularly dapper, it might be due to this woman. Stefania Capovilla is the hairdresser for the Finance Minister, the Liberal Leader and the Prime Minister, among others.
Chris Hannay is The Globe's digital politics editor. Bill Curry, who covers finance, also contributed.