Budget 2009 Reaction: Do You Think It Is Easy To Make Priorities?
We'll need to wait until Ignatieff speaks tomorrow to answer most of the questions I posed this morning, but the initial reaction seems to be one of reluctant acceptance. The economists on Don Newman's show both gave it a "B-", and all the provincial governments I've seen reaction from like it (more so than they liked Flaherty's 2007 budget, which ended the era of provincial bickering, anyways) . Hell, even Dwight Duncan was saying nice things about Jim Flaherty.
Personally, I'd give it a C. It's satisfactory. There's nothing in here that Liberals should have huge ideological problems with and I have a hard time seeing how a Michael Ignatieff budget would have been significantly different. But, despite that, it feels like a lot of recent Alberta budgets - a missed opportunity.
The electorate gave the political green light for wild deficit spending. This budget could therefore have launched a bold national project, modernized our economy, made our post-secondary institutions and research centres world class, or forged ahead with green initiatives. Instead, Jim Flaherty drove around town throwing twenties out his window to every group or industry that wanted them. As a stimulus budget, that's not an awful strategy, as bold projects often take time, but this budget could have been so much more.
I'm sympathetic to the political realities of the situation. But I can't help but think that the lack of focus stems from this government's refusal to recognize the problems we were facing until a month ago, and their refusal to accept that government can actually be a force of good in shaping the future of a country.
A few other random thoughts:
1. Ottawa will be moving ahead and creating a national securities regulator, which is long overdue.
2. On the flip side, Flaherty standing by his FU plan to scrap pay equity rules was completely unnecessary, and gives anyone who wants to oppose this budget an obvious target. [note: I'm trying to find online confirmation of this somewhere, although I'm seen it mentioned on a few pundit shows]
3. Also stupid, but more far more politically sell-able are 20 billion dollars in permanent tax cuts over 6 years. Tax cuts are great...when you can afford them. And you can't afford them, when you're staring down a 34 billion dollar deficit.
It will take time for the tax cuts to impact consumer behaviour and, when they do, most of it will just go into savings. So it won't do a thing to stimulate the economy. It's even a tough one to figure out politically, since it will receive scant attention amidst billions in spending promises.
4. I do like that the budget is short term in scope. 18B in stimulus spending this year, 15.5B next, then under 5B by 2011-2012. The key is obviously making sure the money gets spent quickly - given many of the projects involve three levels of government, and municipal governments are short on cash, that's going to be a challenge.
The plan is to balance the books by 2012, but knowing this government's track record on predicting surpluses, I wouldn't bet the house on it.
5. I can, however, renovate the house on it. Not a bad stimulus plan, but I would have liked to see it tied to environmentally-friendly renovations.
6. Andrew Coyne has his annual "this budget means the death of conservatism" post up and it's a doozy!
And when they decide to put an end to conservatism in Canada — as a philosophy, as a movement—they go out with a bang.
7. Man, all the hard right fiscal Conservatives are going to need some state-paid heart medication after reading this budget. Joining Andrew in the depths of despair is Gerry Nicholls:
The Conservative Party is conservative in name only. Makes me yearn for the days when we had relatively fiscally conservative leaders, like Jean Chretien.
UPDATE: The Liberals will reportedly move forward amendments to the budget. I really like this approach. It's a bit ballsier than just letting the budget through, and it lets Ignatieff claim victory for an issue like extending EI benefits in that same annoying way Jack Layton always took credit for every penny he shook Paul Martin down for in the 2005 budget.
And it's not like Harper can say no ("sorry we don't have the money for it. ha ha ha!"), without looking completely ridiculous in the process.
UPDATE2: Here are Iggy's demands, as per CTV. Fairly tame stuff.
1. The Tories make amendments that include improvements in employment insurance and infrastructure but without adding more to the deficit.
2. The Tories issue an update three times a year on the types of progress being made in terms of the deficit, infrastructure, creating jobs, and regional fairness.
UPDATE3: The Liberals who have allowed every Conservative confidence vote during the past two years to pass are now putting the Tories on "probation". This time we mean it!
Truth be told, the tactic isn't that bad, if only because it sets up convenient election triggers when these accountability reports come in. Of course, that's assuming this ammendment gets passed, and that's not guaranteed given that the jilted coalition brides will likely vote against it.