Amidst all of the complaints about the F-35 and Harper’s inane new election proposal to allow income splitting after the budget is balanced, there’s another important element of the Harper Government™ budget which is skating by unnoticed. It’s the projections. Each budget, the government discloses what it spent the year before, what it plans to spend in the current year, but also what it expects to spend in future years. These are key because they let us know when Harper can be expected to introduce his promised tax reforms. The Conservatives, incredibly, have blown every projection since 2007.
Everyone who’s ever had trouble with credit card debt — or with losing weight, for that matter — knows the psychological trap it’s so easy to fall into: one last big purchase, one last chocolate bar, and then I’ll start cutting down much more seriously tomorrow. The Conservative budgeting over the past five years shows the same problem. Every year, the government has started out in a worse fiscal situation than it promised it would be the year before. But, each year, they promise that in subsequent years, they’ll be making ever-bigger cuts to make up the difference:
As you can see, the 2011 budget comes the closest ever to actually meeting where the government said it would be. This would be encouraging except that the budget was not intended to pass, and was planned more as the first installment of an election platform than as a serious and responsible accounting exercise. Put another way, it’s hard to believe. Presumably Harper will promise further tax cuts and new spending during the election campaign, which means you can take the beginning of that purple line and yank it down hard again, leaving us (again) not just in the red, but (again) farther in the red than the government said we’d be last year.
Now, obviously part of this huge dip in the chart is simply the result of economic troubles — which makes the government bad economic analysts and bad planners, but not necessarily bad spenders. However, if that were the case, you would expect them to be taking responsible measures to restore fiscal sanity. For instance, one smart thing to do when (as they claim) the economy is recovering and when we are in serious budget difficulty is to not give $6 billion in tax cuts to corporations.
As with those of us addicted to our credit cards, moreover, the government is resorting to the same impossible promise that they’ll just fix the problems next year. Back in 2009, when the government first fell far into deficit in order to “stimulate” the economy, it promised it would make a minor $4 billion spending cut the next year, a gargantuan $17 billion the year after that, then $6 billion, and then another $6.5 billion.
But, in 2010, the deficit didn’t fall to $30 billion as promised. Instead, it soared to $50 billion. Not to worry, said the Conservatives: they’d just cut $22 billion the next year (mostly the end of the stimulus), then $10 billion, then $9 billion, then $7 billion.
And it almost paid off. Due more, if you read the footnotes, to the draw-down of the stimulus and several billion dollars in unplanned revenue due to economic growth than to any magic on the part of the Conservatives, who could have been far above where they said we’d be except for their billions of dollars in unnecessary tax cuts. Make no mistake: we’ll still pay for that $6 billion. But we’ll pay it for the next 50 years, instead of in one go.
And they’re not out of the woods yet. The Conservatives promise they’ll cut $10 billion next year, but that $10 billion won’t bring us down as far as they said it would the last time. So in 2013, instead of cutting $9 billion in spending, they’ll have to cut another $10 billion. And in 2014, instead of cutting $6.8 billion, they’ll have to cut $9.2 billion.
Continually pushing off the consequences of your actions is irresponsible, especially when the consequences we’re talking about is a debt load that we’re just transferring from our own shoulders onto those of future Canadians.Tweet