In Sunday’s Sun: the fiscal blessing and curse

Never screw up on a slow news day. Conversely, don’t make a big announcement on a busy news day.

So Jim Flaherty didn’t — release a budget of significance, that is.
Surveying the headlines, who can blame him? Canada topping the Olympic medal standings over in Sochi. Shirley Temple going to heaven, and heaven raining down bad weather. Oh, and Flaherty’s close friend Rob Ford? The homicide police investigating him are now seeking cellphone records, likely Mayor Crackhead’s.

Like we say, busy.

Seeing all that news happening, who can blame the federal finance minister from relieving himself from doing anything of consequence?

So he didn’t.

It was, as BMO Economics accurately foretold, “among the least eventful (budgets) in recent memory.”

Given that Flaherty faithfully briefs Bay St. bankers on the budget well before its release, we all therefore knew Flaherty wasn’t after any big, banner headlines.

The selection of Feb. 11 — during the Olympics! — was a dead giveaway, too. No news here, folks, move along.
Now, if you were to ask Flaherty — and some Hill journalists actually did, in the quaint age-old media rituals of budget week (shoes, lockups, spin) — he’d say it was a big deal, with a straight face.

Being a Conservative, Flaherty suggested to all and sundry that we should be deliriously happy about his medal-winning deficit-elimination performance. We are on track to have a balanced budget, the Reformatory talking points reminded us.

Never mind that everyone from big labour to big business is suggesting that Flaherty is fibbing. If you take away his $3 billion “reserve,” the feds are in a surplus situation right now.

What matters is the narrative, however, and the Con narrative will be asserting rosy-cheeked fiscal health right around the time Canuckistan is heading back to the polls in 2015.
But with the greatest of respect to Flaherty — who, even you conservatives must admit, looked like he was phoning it in during his budget speech Tuesday afternoon — is his fiscal achievement an achievement at all?

Or, as I told Sun News Network’s David Akin on his budget show, be careful what you wish for, Jim: “You just might get it.”

Flaherty, all 10 pinkish budgets to the contrary, is a conservative and a Conservative. He prefers cutting, not spending. It’s in his genetic coding.
So what, then, is he to do in 2015, when it becomes apparent to everyone that his surplus is structural — that is, permanent — and “the cupboards are bare” homilies won’t work anymore?

The premiers know you are flush, little guy, and they are coming after you. Ontario and Quebec have already started.

So, too, the NGOs and associations and lobbyists who swarm Parliament Hill during times of largesse, like ants at the prospect of a little kids’ picnic. They will be all over you, Jimbo, and they won’t be dissuaded by your claims that we all need to be prudent, that we need to be careful, it’s mortgaging future generations, blah blah blah.

It won’t work.

Tax cuts won’t cut it. Nor will more bribes to snowmobiling clubs, or parents seeking a shiny new hockey helmet for Junior.

No, in the coming months, everyone is going to figure out that Stephen Harper is the only guy in the game with a bank balance. It’s going to be ugly. The separatists, in particular, are going to be heard from.

Wee Jimmy Flaherty, meanwhile, will be likely long gone by then.

The Ontario Liberals are facing exceedingly dim electoral prospects, and Flaherty’s wife — an Ontario MPP — wants to lead the Ontario PCs. (The Ontario NDP, however, are the team to watch — but that’s a story for another day.)

By then, Jim Flaherty will be enjoying an MP’s pension of some $100,000 or more. By then, he won’t care.

Jim Flaherty didn’t screw up on a slow news day. And he sure as hell didn’t issue anything of importance on what turned out to be a busy one, either.


Trudeau is right on the economy

This week, a few of us liberals and Liberals at Daisy were confronted on-air with a clip of Justin Trudeau on CPAC saying (apparently) “the deficit will take care of itself.” Stephen Harper and the Conservatives seized on that, in Question Period and elsewhere. They mocked him for what he (allegedly) said.

When we were permitted to see Trudeau’s full statement, it was apparent he didn’t say that. In fact, he said that – with significant economic growth (and, impliedly, with program review and healthy revenue streams) – the deficit will, in fact, be taken care of. Worked for Chrétien.

In this Globe quote, below, he further fleshes out his deficit observation. Personally – and not just because I’ve been hammering away at this fact in Sun columns – I think he has identified the fiscal dilemma of the coming decade: a federal government with a structural surplus, and everyone else – provincial governments, municipal governments – being in a structural deficit.

Here’s Trudeau:

“Canadians are tapped out, provinces are tapped out,” Mr. Trudeau said. “The federal government, because of smart decisions taken in the 1990s, has a little more leeway. Our debt-to-GDP ratio is great. So what we need to be looking at is how we can leverage the fact that we do have a little more wiggle room on the federal side to actually get our economy growing the right way.”

We are heading into a period with a tremendous number of money demands being made of the federal government which Trudeau hopes to lead. The provinces and the cities will be (and are) desperate. For the separatists, in particular, it’s a very helpful circumstance.

I write more about this tremendous challenge in the Sun this weekend. But I’m glad Trudeau is talking about it.


Happy birthday

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Many guys will understand what I mean when I say this: your father is both a bit of light, and a bit of shadow, over your path through life.

Mine, T. Douglas Kinsella, MD, OC, would have been 82 years old today. Almost ten years after we lost him, he remains a constant in our lives. He still illuminates some of the path. Without even being here, he still quietly persuades me to examine the choices I have made.

Me? I have made bad choices. I have been reckless and cruel with the hearts of too many. I have not lived by the single rule he left us.

“Love people, and be honest,” he said to us, and I often feel I have done neither.

He saved many lives as a physician, and he won accolades, and he was a member of the Order of Canada. But for us – my brothers, my nephew he raised, my closest friends – he was the man we aspired to be. Not for the distinctions he received, but for how he was, in his soul.

He was unfailingly honest; he was kind to everyone he met. He married his high school sweetheart, and was with her every single day for 50 years, and my God how they loved each other. We would sit there at the kitchen table in Calgary or Kingston or Montreal, and we would listen to him. He’d listen to us, too, and persuade us to try and figure things out. There were some great times, around that table.

The best thing is having a father like that. The harder thing is knowing that you will never be like him.

I had a dream that he died in 9/11; I don’t know why, but I did. I woke up weeping, and remembered that I wasn’t a boy anymore, and that he has been gone for almost ten years. I don’t think he would like what his son has become. I know I don’t.

So I put on my pants and shoes, and went out into the day, looking for what’s left of the path.

Happy birthday. I miss you.


Baseless by-election blathering

So, the good people of Thornhill and Niagara vote today.  Here are my predictions, and I expect all of you to mock me if (when) I am shown to be wrong.

  1. Thornhill: Seriously? Harper was in Israel when this by-election was called.  Canadian Jews are conservative.  Hudak will keep it, Wynne will be second (but not close) and the NDP will only be kept alive by endangered species protection laws.
  2. Niagara Falls: This one’s the big one.  It was an Ontario Liberal seat for a long, long time.  The Wynne Liberals are going to finish in a distant third place, however, and the NDP are going to win it – and it’s right next door to Tim Hudak’s home riding, too.  For both Wynne and Hudak, an NDP victory will represent humiliation on a historic scale.  For Horwath, it means she’s a lot closer to being Premier of Ontario.

If I’m right – and of course, I am – it means a Spring election.  Niagara Falls will give Horwath what she needs to stare down  Sid Ryan and his ilk, who cravenly want to prop up Wynne as long as possible.

Who will win the election? The Ontario NDP, methinks.  That’s been my view for months, and all that has happened in the past year has reinforced that view.