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.