Thursday, March 04, 2010

Budget 2010: Bland, unimaginative, and largely inoffensive

As I perused the budget speech tonight, read the highlights and skimmed the 400+ pages, it occurred to me this certainly wasn’t the budget the Conservatives hoped to be bringing in. The plan was prorogue Parliament, starve the opposition of oxygen, position Stephen Harper as Canada fan #1 in Vancouver, come back high in the polls to a rousing throne speech and populist budget with a few carefully chosen poison pills, defeat themselves and to the polls and majority nirvana.


Of course, it didn’t work out that way. Prorogation backfired. The parties are neck-in-neck (sorry, Ipsos). The Olympic bounce is non-existent. So no one wants an election. Not the Conservatives. Not the Liberals. Not even the NDP, who are now safely back to their reflex opposition now that the Liberals have shifted tactics. This isn’t a budget to run an election on, or against. This baseball season is saved, even if not for the Blue Jays.

With an election off the table, its somewhat unfortunate how bland and inoffensive the Conservatives choose to be. They had some room to play with here. With no one wanting an election, themselves included, they had some political cover to get creative, with opposition silence, if not support. Perhaps a real idea of where they’ll trim to get the deficit balanced. Or some real action to begin addressing some of the major issues facing the country: the ballooning costs in health care, the need for a lifelong learning strategy, beginning a conversation of how to deal with the coming demographic glut.

I talked the other day about how we need as a country to think big. This budget utterly failed to do that. There’s no vision. No purpose. Its housekeeping and stay the course, but it also seems to be wandering blindly as so many swords hang above our necks by a thin, thin thread. Conservatives have never been big on the vision thing, so perhaps I’m wrong to expect much there, but I’m still disappointed.

Largely, this budget was a re-hashing of previously announced spending and initiatives. One more year of stimulus, but only one more year. There were some limited new programs. A few million here, a few million there. A few promises to study things. Hard to get excited about committees. Forming one to look at cutting red tape seems a contradiction in terms.

They promise deficit reduction, and they give a pretty chart on how to get there in 4 to 5 years. But just how still seems to be determined, as even their promises of program restraint only make a bare dent. Once they end the stimulus, they still have a ways to go, pointing to an underlying structural deficit that needs to be addressed. I’m fine with running a deficit for a time, slash and burn isn’t the way to go. But we do need a plan, and all I see are unanswered questions.

There were a few positives I’ll point to. I was happy to see the government acknowledge, even if belatedly, that the untold crisis of this downturn is youth unemployment. They’ve been disproportionately hit by the downturn. There’s $60 million in funding this year to help youth, and for a few other programs. I’m not clear on how that will work, but at least it’s getting some attention. There’s also funding for improving elementary and post-secondary education for aboriginal youth, something very much needed.

There was a fair bit around university research, infrastructure, and support for the granting councils. It sounded almost reminiscent of some of the late Chretien/Martin budgets I read back when I was a tech reporter in Ottawa, locked-up at the Congress Centre. And like I did then, I’d prefer to see more attention to working the provinces to restructure core post-secondary funding and improving student assistance.

It’s definitely not the budget I’d have written. Nothing on a lifelong learning strategy. Health care. Social housing. Poverty. It’s a budget that fails to seize the opportunities of today, or set the stage for the future prosperity this government claims to covet.

It’s certainly not an offensive ultra-conservative document though either. Harper’s base will be annoyed at the continued stimulus spending, the refusal to get serious about deficit reduction.

It’s an unimaginative document from a government that seems to lack vision and purpose. It’s a going through the motions document. They don’t want an election, but they don’t seem to have much they want to do in government either. That’s what strikes me the most. What is motivating Harper these days, what are they seeking to accomplish? Is he bored?

Whatever it is, it won’t be done through this budget. We’ll see what they get up to on the legislative front as Parliament gets back to work.

P.S. I reserve the right to revise my view once people much smarter than me pore through the ways and means fine print for possible trickery, tomfoolery and what have you.

Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers

4 comments:

Eugene Forsey Liberal said...

Check out page 10 of Ekos poll:
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/blogs/bureau-blog/conservatives-cling-to-post-olympic-halo-effect/article1489209/

MississaugaPeter said...

It just means that us amateur hacks can get back to our lives. And in the long run for us, it just may be a good thing.

Unfortunately, the status quo means that those less fortunate will continue to endure hardships and the future of our nation is not progressive.

CanadianSense said...

Jeff,

In 2009 the only significant GAP that took place was a result from the infamous Time is UP statement and it lasted 3-5 weeks.

Your premise a 17 day event would transform into a swing into the Published Polls tagged lift Olympics for SH is a great theory.

I accept the need to use the drop 15 points as a result of "x" to shift the blame to the CPC instead of being factual.

2009 the LPOC were ahead/tied until May-June.

A small gap with MOE remains after the retreat by the Liberals in threatening an election.

The theory some of us have is Canadians are NOT paying attention to the games in Ottawa.

The Gap took place around the Thanksgiving table -Recap Nik Nanos October 15 2009.

That means family, friends talked and convinced each other the best party to lead us through the global recession was already in charge and they punished the Liberals by staying home.

Since 2008 the LPOC have failed in every democratic contest to engage the voters and grow their base.

Why are the Liberals refusing to stand up to the government?

Budget is do nothing and Liberals will do nothing about it.

Liberals allege War Crimes, Torture but vote confidence in this budget.

Are Liberals going to follow Dion's strategy and wait for better polls to act on their principles, allegations?

Wilson said...

The parties are neck-in-neck.

Whose neck is in whose? :)