Moody's just downgraded the Manitoba government's credit rating, a predictable decision given that Manitoba under the New Democrats has fallen into the practice of running large deficits.
When a government racks up deficits and debt as the Manitoba NDP has done since 2009-10, it's only a matter of time before the ratings agencies arrive with bad news. Moody's changed Ontario's outlook to "negative" in July, 2014; now it has tapped Manitoba on the shoulder.
How quickly has the Manitoba NDP been racking up debt? Debt as a share of government revenues rose from 116.7 per cent in 2010-11 to 143 per cent this year, or from $12.5-billion to $20.4-billion in five years, a result of yearly deficits.
Premier Greg Selinger's NDP government promised a balanced budget for 2015, then 2017, and now forecasts one for 2019. Chances are the party will be long gone by then, since the government is past its due date and will likely be defeated in the next election.
Manitoba's fiscal problems, now bordering on chronic, are for Manitobans to figure out. What's the link, however, between Manitoba's fiscal problems and the federal election?
For some time now, the federal NDP has been boasting of studies showing that provincial NDP governments have been more fiscally prudent than those of any other party. Federal Leader Thomas Mulcair, speaking to the Economic Club of Toronto, referred to former Saskatchewan premiers T.C. Douglas and Roy Romanow, and former Manitoba premier Gary Doer, as examples of New Democrats (and CCFers) practising fiscal prudence.
"I do believe that it is fundamentally important that the federal government live within its means," Mr. Mulcair declared.
Mr. Mulcair's and his party's claim about the past is correct to a point, but highly misleading. There were NDP governments, notably in Saskatchewan and until recently in Manitoba, that governed with balanced budgets, surpluses or small deficits year after year. So, too, did former premier Mike Harcourt's NDP government in British Columbia.
Those fiscal performances came long ago. More recently, as the Manitoba record shows, the NDP's reputation in provincial politics for fiscal prudence has crumbled. Whether the federal party Mr. Mulcair leads would do as he promises and make Ottawa "live within its means," or govern as recent NDP provincial governments have done, remains mere conjecture, given that the federal NDP has never been in office.
In British Columbia, after Mr. Harcourt departed, his successor Glen Clark, and Mr. Clark's two successors, drove up government spending sharply as a share of gross domestic product and the debt-to-GDP ratio. Perhaps predictably, public-sector employment soared in those years; private-sector job creation was lower than the national average. In fairness, commodity prices, notably for lumber, slumped in those years.
The Ontario NDP under Bob Rae arrived in office and was greeted with an economic recession. Naturally, government revenues declined, spending rose, and the results were deficits. The Ontario party took a long time shaking off a reputation, deserved or not, for mismanagement. The reputation still lingers in some quarters. It certainly hindered Mr. Rae's attempts to capture the federal Liberal leadership.
The Nova Scotia NDP under Darrell Dexter governed from 2009 to 2013, until it dropped to third-party status in the legislature, after dealing with a string of deficits. The fiscal situation was poor when the NDP arrived in office and poor when it departed.
So the recent New Democrat spells in power provincially – in B.C., Manitoba, Ontario and Nova Scotia – have not been encouraging for those who preach fiscal prudence, à la Mr. Mulcair. It's a long stretch for a leader to refer back more than a half-century to T.C. Douglas, or back to Saskatchewan premiers Allan Blakeney in the 1970s and Mr. Romanow, in the 1990s. As for Mr. Doer, Mr. Mulcair should have been in Winnipeg when the national party met there: Mr. Doer's remarks were greeted with polite but tepid applause.
Perhaps the federal party, the country's Official Opposition and led by the very determined Mr. Mulcair, is a different cat. Maybe if given a chance it would govern like the premiers to which he referred.
Let's hope so, because NDP rhetoric to the contrary, the more recent NDP provincial records have been something less than stellar.