Tale of two budgets

Stephen Harper divines a rosy future. Who knew his fairy tale plan would make Dalton McGuinty look so good?

Wow. A federal budget and an Ontario Speech from the Throne in the same week. A veritable feast of political divination is being offered up in these parts. And both governments are no doubt hoping their yummy fortune-telling will stack the cards for an election win.[breifbreak][rssbreak]

Somehow, though, I’m pretty sure most of us share a gut feeling that we’re being fed a load of bull, though if it’s a contest for who wins the Stupid Award, the answer is obvious.

Let’s remember how well all our political leaders did in foreseeing the crash that dominated 2009. But Stephen Harper, of course, was the thickest when it came to barely noticing the global crisis even after it had occurred. He finally pinched himself awake to stimulus spending. And, oh right, it took a prorogue.

This time, the PM’s second prorogue has once again “recalibrated” the Harper machine squarely into the middle of the road. If this federal budget had been released by another party, it would have been labelled a spending rather than a restraint plan.

Government outlays this year are projected to exceed even last year’s budgeted spending by $22 billion, and new reduced corporate taxes, personal taxes and tariffs will also come into effect, widening the spending gap even further.

The proposed austerity that is supposed to end the deficit painlessly within five years, without touching any government programs, will be accomplished by the miracle of “controlling spending” within government departments.

Earlier this week, we got a taste of what that means when Stockwell Day announced that 245 positions would be eliminated from government boards and agencies. Only thing – 90 per cent of those positions had never been filled anyway. This is the magic stuff with which the Tories will slay the deficit? I don’t think so.

But it is a nice palliative care program that conceals the far more deadly process of government shrinkage that will be on the table should the austerity-?lite package presented last week do its magic and win the Cons a majority in the next election.

Back in the really old days, political leaders consulted the markings on turtle shells or the content of their dreams to steer their prognostications on the future. That approach would have more credibility than the divination the Conservatives have just handed down from on high.

It is very tidy that Flaherty was able to pinpoint the exact date a full year from now when global troubles will be over. By then, our highly export-dependent economy will be ready for the gov to pull back the economic supports that have kept jobless numbers from reaching even higher levels than their current record numbers.

Might not feel so good after a few more sure-?to-?come surprises like the current unfolding financial speculation disaster in Greece and its yet-?to-? be-?seen impact on the EU and potentially the U.S. – our economic game-?maker.

Life is a lot messier than the Tories seem to grasp. Projections are easy to “control,” but they have little or no bearing on how reality unfolds. But we all know that – we’ve just had a crash course on the subject.

Learning from the past is a task neither the Conservatives nor their core base seem to want to undertake. The Harper reality show’s real script will remain hidden until (god forbid) their majority is achieved.

The clearest preview of Harper’s future doublespeak agenda is on view in the utterly appalling anti-?environmental measures wrapped up in the budget’s “green jobs and growth” measures.

These include a huge boost for the nuclear industry ($300 million) and the transfer of responsibility for environmental assessments of energy projects from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency to the National Energy Board and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.

Ouch. Don’t even ask about the Fisheries Act.

By comparison, the Ontario Liberals are offering up a political reality-?fest. They’ve forsworn the role of deficit-slayer, because their crystal ball offers up the truthful reflection that our job-?challenged economy won’t be ready for a shave and a haircut any time soon.

Yes, McGuinty’s Speech from the Throne offers a pretty rosy spin on the future, but on the other hand, this is a gov that’s been willing to take on selling unpopular tax reforms – like the HST this time around – to an electorate whipped up by both opposition parties’ virulent anti-?tax crusades. That shows a kind of courage and may be good practice for a green future that will likely require challenging tax reforms.

Of course, the Liberals’ sketch of a plan raises worrisome questions that only the budget will answer. Like the feds, the Libs throw some big bones to the resource industries at the expense of our boreal forest.

But while they do keep a foot in our past hewers-of-wood-?style economy, the Libs have added some future thinking into that drawers-of-water scenario. It’s hard to know yet whether their proposal to make Ontario a leader in water technology will be great or retrograde. But at least so far their green job direction isn’t wrapped in toxic slime.

And their investment in post-?secondary education as an area of job ?creation is certainly a far stronger move toward an innovation economy than the lip service dished out by the Tories.

In this tale of two governments, who knew Stephen Harper could make a Liberal leader look so good? Now, why can’t Michael Ignatieff look at the cards on the table and follow suit?


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