Budget doesn’t balance itself

Trudeau budget continues new government’s broken promises

The first Justin Trudeau budget continues the new Liberal government’s epic string of broken promises.

Expanding the Canada Pension Plan went by the wayside to start the year, as jacking up payroll taxes wasn’t seen as a good way to respond to rising unemployment. Then there was the national carbon price, which dissolved into a vague commitment to keep working at it with the disagreeing provinces.

Now there is the torrent of red ink that washes away the solemn promise that deficits would be no more than $10 billion a year, for no more than three years.

According to rookie Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s new guesses, deficits will be $29.4 billion this year, $29 billion next year, $22 billion in 2018 and a mere $17.7 billion in 2019 as the governing party campaigns for re-election. The budget even projects another deficit for the year after, apparently assuming that all this borrowing and spending will deliver another majority government.

The campaign promise was built around the claim that infrastructure spending was needed because the country had slid into deficit and recession. Turns out there was no recession, except in oil-dependent Alberta and Newfoundland, and no deficit until the Liberals opened the spending taps.

And what about the promise to cut the federal small business tax from 11 to nine per cent? Priming the engine of job creation and all that? Gone.

Not even the infrastructure promise is kept. Most of the spending is for ongoing programs, including “equalization,” even though B.C. appears to be the only “have” province left at the moment.

On budget day, the B.C. government sent out Communities Minister Peter Fassbender with strict instructions to bite his tongue about this busted fire hydrant of borrowed money. Fassbender announced that he and Premier Christy Clark are “delighted” at the infrastructure spending, of which the only identifiable new project for B.C. is a sewer system in North Vancouver.

Massey Tunnel replacement? Nope. Transit lines in Vancouver and Surrey? We’re continuing preliminary engineering work. Widening the Trans-Canada Highway and Highway 16 to Alberta? Maybe these will be promises for the next federal election.

Fassbender tap-danced when asked why the only province with a balanced budget should be pleased about a federal pledge to increase the national debt by about a quarter.

He kept circling back to his key talking point, that Ottawa didn’t sabotage B.C.’s liquefied natural gas plans by taking away capital cost allowances for this industrial investment. Instead Ottawa is jeopardizing the biggest LNG project by dithering over environmental impacts that have already been studied for three years.

The biggest Trudeau promise of all is to rescue the middle class from the awful stagnation inflicted by the Harper years. The title of Morneau’s debut budget is “Growing the Middle Class.”

A quick fact check takes me to Statistics Canada’s most recent table of median family income by province. After the 2009 economic crisis (triggered by reckless debt among other things), B.C.’s median income for all family types was $66,970 in 2010, $69,150 in 2011, $71,660 in 2012 and $74,150 in 2013.

That’s about the same increase as the national rate – not spectacular, but pretty good considering low inflation. Better than most of the world, in fact.

Again, this government is borrowing gobs of money to throw at a problem that may not even exist.

At this point I’ve all but given up on the Trudeau government displaying actual competence, for anything other than going to parties and flinging rose petals at climate change.

I’d settle for hearing them tell the truth about something.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email tfletcher@blackpress.ca

 

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