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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Reactions on the $85 billion dollar deficit budget

Andrew Coyne has a brilliant reaction to the budget:

Say what you like about the Tories: they don’t do things by halves. When they spend, they spend. When they go into debt, they do it $100-billion at a time. And when they decide to put an end to conservatism in Canada — as a philosophy, as a movement — they go out with a bang.

EVEN MORE GOODNESS: This time from the National Post's John Ivison (admittedly, this isn't a post-announcement reaction, but a good one anyways):

In the life of every ministry, there comes a moment when convictions have been worn down by the constant pressures of power, leaving the government on all sides of every issue, standing for everything and nothing.

Stephen Harper's government may well have reached that point with this budget.

MORE: Shotgun blogger Gerry Nicholls laments over on his personal blog:

Well now it's official.

The Conservative Party is conservative in name only.

Makes me yearn for the days when we had relatively fiscally conservative leaders, like Jean Chretien.

I think I'm beginning to pick up on a theme here. Stay tuned for more. (Feel free to point me to some more as well. Good, bad, whatever, just reactions.)

THAT WAS QUICK: I get a link to Kinsella's reaction in an email:

They believe in nothing, stand for nothing, except power.

They're done. Short-term, long-term, they're done.


The Conservatives have easily escaped to fight another day, but what are they fighting for?

This budget isn't a conservative document so much as it's a political document; a document that will give the Conservative government the room necessary to craft a compelling conservative vision for the future.

GREG WESTON says "so much for fiscal restraint":

The federal budget unveiled yesterday abandons all pretext of fiscal restraint, launching Stephen Harper's government of prudence and balanced budgets on a spending spree not seen in decades.

L IAN MACDONALD thinks the Tories got dressed in Liberal clothing and delivered a Liberal budget.

WERNER PATELS pontificates here:

Welcome to Canada 2009 A.D. We're back to colossal deficits and mounting national debts. Make no mistake about it: this is not a socialist or left-wing government that is doing this, but a supposedly far-right conservative one – at least, that's how the media and opposition parties have characterized Stephen Harper's party for years.

(Yeah, they have, Werner. But we were busy arguing with Harper well before this budget. We took a lot of flack for insisting that Harper isn't conservative enough, that the Conservatives have derailed.)

Posted by P.M. Jaworski on January 27, 2009 in Canadian Politics | Permalink


I didn't vote Conservative. They keep lying and lying about the economy. At first a promised balanced budget, then a possible deficit to a huge one. They now are predicting 5 years of deficits. Is that the truth? I don't think so.

Posted by: Bob Peloquin | 2009-01-27 3:52:54 PM

I'm no economist, but this budget brings a song to mind..."What do you do with a drunken sailor?" Seems like Harper is spending like one.

Posted by: Markalta | 2009-01-27 3:59:50 PM

I'll play devil's advocate. It seems like the Tories think that the only way that the tax cuts (that they want) will pass is to add the extra spending (which the other parties want.) Perhaps they know that the tax cuts are what will work and want to pass them at all costs. That is, they are doing "whatever it takes", even wrapping the budget in spending hikes, to pass the tax cuts.

Then again, that would probably give the Tories far too much credit for trying to be logical, or ideologically pure.

I wonder if the Tories have a Plan B to lose a "tax cuts budget" vote and then go to the country with the spending plans that they would prefer to have in this budget? "We even wanted to bring in infrastructure spending as the other parties wanted, but the other parties aren't willing to work together with us for the best interests of all Canadians..." But then, are these Tories that brave? And would this give them too much credit for not flopping around?

Posted by: Rick Hiebert | 2009-01-27 5:00:00 PM

Stephen Harper's betrayal of his base of support is complete. And I fear the libertarians and fiscal conservatives are too demoralized to put up a fight.

Posted by: Mike Brock | 2009-01-27 5:17:01 PM

Here are two more versions of the devil's advocate story-line: 1) While it is tempting to tell the current government, "fall on your sword, submit a balanced budget with all the pain it would entail, allow the opposition to vote against it, and let the 'coalition' deal with the mess. You'll be able to step in and pick up the pieces when they crash and burn." But, let's really think of the possible outcomes of that scenario. It's unlikely that the 'coalition government' would be content to simply create a short-term 'stimulus package'. I think it's more likely that they would use the cover of "economic crisis" to legislate permanent massive structural changes and institute all sorts of new, permanent entitlements. If there's one thing this government has illustrated, it that the sort of measures the other guys tend to institute are VERY difficult to reverse later on. If there's one thing to say in favour of this budget, it's that the only permament structural changes are the tax cuts. The rest is one-time spending and/or temporary regulatory changes. In other words, if they are mistakes they are mistakes that can be more easily reversed later on. 2) The opinions expressed in the Shotgun Blog notwithstanding, Stephen Harper and the Conservatives are seen in the national consciousness and promoted by the media as a "right-wing party". If they fall to the 'coalition', you'd better believe the dominant narrative will be that the "Canadian right-wing experiment" was a massive failure, and the "return of the natural governing party" was a massive relief for the national psyche, yadda yadda yadda. This will make it that much harder for "true" conservatives to gain another foothold later on. Just look at how hard it's been for small-c conservatives at the provincial level in Ontario since the end of the Harris era. It doesn't count as a "tactical withdrawl" if you hand the government over to the other side. Once they're in, they tend to be in for a long time.

Posted by: anonymous | 2009-01-27 6:14:36 PM

Had anyone considered that just because Mr. Harper doesn't live up to your high expectations then he is somehow not good. He's the best thing going right now.

Posted by: Zebulon Pike | 2009-01-27 6:22:08 PM


Where's the evidence that he's the best? And if you think he's the best, do you think he's a LOT better than, say, Ignatieff On what grounds?

Or, let me put it this way: if Ignatieff and the Liberals were in charge, how big do you think the deficit would have been?

Posted by: Terrence Watson | 2009-01-27 6:45:29 PM

"I can't see the difference, can you? Most people can't, except when it comes to price...."

Harper is the best on offer right now, unfortunately he is blurring the line between his party and the natural governing criminal party. The only difference I can see is that Harper's boys haven'e had time to think up a way to steal Canadians money yet. But the way they are going, it shouldn't take long.

Posted by: Markalta | 2009-01-27 6:50:28 PM

This is disheartning as both a conservative and a libertarian. I still yearn for the Spring of 2006 when the CPC seemed to be taking this country on a decidedly conservative direction with cuts in wasteful social programs, paying down the debt, and implementing tax cuts. Now we're left with nothing but a party which has abandoned all of its original principles in the hopes of maintaining power.

I'll likely still vote for the CPC, however I'm cutting off all the funding I used to give them. If their is another Reform Party of the horizon however, I would likely vote for it.

Posted by: Brandon D Jespersen | 2009-01-27 6:52:33 PM

It would be as big as it is now, but with Harper there may be a way of dealing with it. Iggy will hand over the money to his rich friends in Toronto like ALL Liberals do. Layton would do the same.

Posted by: Zebulon Pike | 2009-01-27 6:54:02 PM

Terrence: The answer to that question depends on way too many variables. In this hypothetical scenario are the Liberals in charge with a majority or a minority? Which opposition parties hold the balance of power? For which of the recent elections are we hypothetically changing the outcome, and who would be the hypothetical Liberal prime minister - Michael Ignatieff, Stéphane Dion, or Paul Martin? How many expensive entitlements would they have legislated in the meantime that could have contributed to the deficit, like "universal childcare", etc. How many ostensibly "non-economic" policies would they have legislated in the meantime that could also have contributed to the deficit by increasing the power of the bureaucracy and increasing expensive "rights" for favoured social groups? I don't have that sort of crystal ball, so I can't answer your question with any level of certainty.

Posted by: anonymous | 2009-01-27 7:05:37 PM

I'd prefer it if Harper instead brought forward a fiscally conservative budget. By all means let the Liberals and NDP defeat it. Then when election time comes around the CPC can still lay claim to being the party of fiscal discipline while that virtue will undoubtedly be tarnished by the coalition.

All this does is give the Liberals ammo to call themselves the party of fiscal discipline in the next election. Despite the fact they are the main reason why we have this budget.

Posted by: Brandon D Jespersen | 2009-01-27 7:21:21 PM

Zeb, we seem to be on a similar wavelength. I'm trying to look past these immediate spending extravaganzas for a moment, take a step back and compare the current government with previous ones based on their defining pattern of behaviour and their long-term structural decisions. And I don't just mean the immediate predecessors. I mean going back over decades even. When I look at previous governments I see things like Adscam, Strippergate, Gun Registry, Kyoto, Airbus, military decline, human rights commissions, charter of rights and freedom, meech lake, charlottetown accord, Telefilm, ACOA, GST, destructive supreme court decisions, brazen entitlements and blatant corruption, unabashed cronyism, etc, etc, etc. The current crew have the Federal Accountability Act, no criminal scandals, permanent structural changes to the tax system, real reforms to the justice system, renewal of the military, etc. When members of the government have screwed up, the PM has taken disciplinary action instead of shrugging and making a joke about it. Here's where I see the big difference between the current government and past ones: We're disappointed by this government when it fails to accomplish the goals it sets out for itself. We've been disappointed by previous governments when they SUCCEEDED to accomplish the goals they set out for themselves. It's a key, key difference. I'll take an unsuccessful conservative over a successful liberal any day of the week. When a conservative fails, good things don't get done. When a liberal succeeds, bad things get done in large quantities.

Posted by: anonymous | 2009-01-27 7:31:09 PM


You've got a point. I left too many variables undefined. So let's define them, at least a little: Liberal minority government, Conservative opposition. Similar economic circumstances.

In raising this scenario, I'm only trying to press two points:

First: Some are claiming that Harper is at least better than the Liberals would be. Making that claim does invite the kind of counterfactual comparison I was attempting.

So how much better are the Conservatives than the next best alternative (Liberals, I'm presuming)? How big do they think the Liberals would make the deficit? $100 billion? $200 billion?

And how much would they grow the government? 15% versus the 11% we're getting now?

Second: Suppose the Liberals, in the minority situation just described, had proposed a budget with an $85 billion deficit and 11% growth in government spending.

How would (small-c) conservatives have reacted, in that case?

The second counterfactual is, I think, easier to evaluate than the first. We know how conservatives/libertarians would have reacted if the Liberals had proposed a budget like this one.



Posted by: Terrence Watson | 2009-01-27 7:39:11 PM

Brandon: Judging from statements by opposition members on this budget, I don't hear anybody successfully laying claim to the badge of "fiscal responsibility". Instead, I hear questions about the government's ability, and even willingness, to actually "get the money out the door". The opposition seems to be accusing the government of lying in this budget, suggesting that these spending promises won't actually materialize. They want structural changes legislated in stone, not spending promises that can be withdrawn if the recipients don't live up to their end of any agreements that eventually get signed. I don't like precipitous spending any more than the next conservative, but I haven't yet been given reason to question this government's stated goal of ensuring that the business of government be conducted with more (if not total) accountability and clearer (if not crystally-clear) transparency. When organizations and government departments receive their taxpayer-funded goodie bags, which MPs ask the tougher questions of them in committee to justify how the money is spent? Which political parties can I count on to put common sense conditions on funding agreements and expect recipients to meet these conditions? Maybe I'm too disgusted on a daily basis by the behaviour of my provincial government in Ontario so that it makes the federal government look better by comparison in my eyes. But that's how I see things. I'm discouraged, but I ain't ready to throw in the towel on these guys just yet.

Posted by: anonymous | 2009-01-27 7:48:51 PM

They want structural changes legislated in stone, not spending promises that can be withdrawn if the recipients don't live up to their end of any agreements that eventually get signed.
Posted by: anonymous | 2009-01-27 7:48:51 PM

They want "permanent" larger government.
A year ago I might have hoped Harper would see it for what it is and stop it, but now I see him participating in what it is...

Posted by: JC | 2009-01-27 7:58:47 PM

I fully agree, however despite what opposition members say, they have a way of stretching the truth once in power. Just look at how the Liberal Party became known as the party of fiscal discipline, despite the fact that they largely gained such large surpluses later on due to initiatives which came from the Tories.

I won't throw in the towel yet, however my mood is largely in the gutter because of the budget.

Posted by: Brandon D Jespersen | 2009-01-27 8:01:37 PM

The worst part of this is that their isn't a single party to the right of the Conservatives to criticize the dogma that governments must get into deficit spending.

Posted by: Brandon D Jespersen | 2009-01-27 8:02:14 PM

Terrence: I totally agree on your second point. It's pretty much a cliché that it's much easier to be a conservative while in opposition. But I still don't think we're yet at the point where we have to judge the Conservatives' shortcomings by the same standard just because we know we would have damned the Liberals for the same behaviour, and here's why: If the Liberals were the minority government with the Conservatives as the opposition, they could still fall back on satisfying NDP and Bloc demands to stay in power. For Liberal politicians, pandering to the left and meeting the calls for spending on warm and comforting programs is easy, even comforting. I think they'd WELCOME the opportunities to expand government that the "economic crisis" presents for them. I don't sense from the Conservative government that they enjoy or welcome their recent decisions, and they certainly don't have any natural allies in the House of Commons they know they can tap when things get rocky. Conservative MPs know full well how much they're losing the confidence of their base. Until I feel that the Conservatives have truly stopped respecting their constituents and lost the spirit of why they are there, AND until I feel the opposition has gained sincere respect for the citizenry and aren't just trying to capitalize on the Conservatives' misfortunes, I'm simply not ready to jump ship yet.

Posted by: anonymous | 2009-01-27 8:07:17 PM

Power is a drug.

Stephen Harper has decided to by his daily doses with the money of the taxpayer.

In Quebec, when Mario Dumont betrays the "fiscal conservative" to appeal to the left, he please neither of them.

The Conservative Party lost membership and my vote today.

Posted by: David Gagnon | 2009-01-27 8:12:51 PM

Brandon: There's no party to the right of the Conservatives, very true. I think that just makes it even more important for small-c conservative commentators to offer honest and principled criticism in response to the government's mistakes. What's really gotten my goat up on this topic is the original posting's asserting that Andrew Coyne's little barb was somehow "brilliant". Coyne's little jab was an easy knee-jerk insult. I'll reserve the label of "brilliance" to the writers that offer clear, well-formulated alternative plans of action for the government and/or the opposition parties to consider. It's way too easy to simply denounce the Conservative government as a failure without suggesting any alternative ideas. Now is the time for organizations like the Taxpayers Federation and the National Citizens Coalition to really step up and become the kind of opposition that the real opposition parties are supposed to be, without simply denouncing the government for the sake of denouncement. I hope the right-of-centre NGOs meet the challenge, because I simply do not yet feel the same level of callous, arrogant disregard for the people who put them there that I had with other Liberal or Conservative governments, and I would hate to see the right-of-centre NGOs help put a bunch of unrepentant Liberals in power federally like one could argue they did in Ontario provincially.

Posted by: anonymous | 2009-01-27 8:20:49 PM

I pray that Mr. Harper succeeds with this, because if the Liebral/Dipper Alliance gets in, there'll be no getting rid of them. Then you people will lament him.

Moreover if they did take over, Alberta may have no choice but to secede. They'll run Kyoto through and extract Alberta's wealth for their own profit, just like they did in the NEP. Alberta may be better off on its own. Whether the Easterners will allow that remains to be seen.

Posted by: Zebulon Pike | 2009-01-27 8:21:00 PM

No, Zeb, we won't lament him or the Tories.

This budget is a disaster. Let's call it what it is, and discuss what to do about it.

But I can't imagine what it would take for you to change your mind. I'm beginning to suspect that you would support the Conservatives no matter what.

They have ruled disastrously. This budget is a complete disaster.

Posted by: P.M. Jaworski | 2009-01-27 8:29:02 PM

Zeb, the opposition wouldn't be nearly that blatant, at least not at first. The first thing they would do as government would be to bring in a budget that, for all intents and purposes, would look very similar to the one we were just presented with. I'm suffer from no delusions. A Liberal budget would look very similar to this one, cosmetically. They wouldn't have had the guts to bring in the massive entitlement programs I've been talking about in this thread for THIS budget year. They would have brought them in in 2007 or 2008 when times were good, and then there would have been even less fiscal room for them in the 2009 budget. Of course, they would have been able to fudge their numbers more successfully because they wouldn't have had a Parliamentary Budget Officer double-checking their math. But I digress. So, their budget would have looked very similar to this one, except it wouldn't have included the tax cuts. And we wouldn't already be enjoying any of the tax cuts from the last few budgets. And the bureaucracy would still be running roughshod over the taxpayers with nobody even TRYING to stop them. But I admit that if the coalition had brought down the government in November then this particular budget would probably look very similar on the surface, with lots of stimulus and probably the short-term deficit wouldn't actually be that much greater. The big red machine is far too cunning to tip its hand by going too much further than the electorate authorizes during a time of crisis. But between budgets, that's when the creep of their love of stateism would be felt, with new institutions and new powers for the bureaucrats and the union bosses, all passed into law quietly and largely by regulation. Certainly, I really cannot fault those who see this budget as a conservative disaster. But I also cannot forget that, if it had been presented by the other guys, this budget would have been hailed by their supporters as a Liberal triumph.

Posted by: anonymous | 2009-01-27 8:55:30 PM

Jean-Pierre Blackburn said today to a french media:

"The duty of the government is to be a substitute to the private sector".


Holy sh*it...

Posted by: David Gagnon | 2009-01-27 9:01:56 PM

I personally think we're better off putting our efforts into private organizations to make change. Next time their's a leadership race in the CPC we should then rally behind a candidate who is closer to our values. My hope would be for Scott Reid to run, but I doubt it'll happen.

Posted by: Brandon D Jespersen | 2009-01-27 9:18:25 PM


Posted by: anonymous | 2009-01-27 9:19:00 PM

The "ouch" was supposed to be in reply to the Blackburn quote, not Brandon's comment about leadership. Sorry, there was lag in my "ouch" being published. As for the leadership, if I recall Prime Minister Harper WAS the candidate that could be most readily identified with the values expressed in these postings. Of course it's impossible to really say one way or the other, but would we be enjoying right now any of the things the government has done right (tax cuts, accountability act, justice reforms, attempts to chip away at deeply-rooted Liberal institutions, etc) if one of the other candidates had won that leadership?

Posted by: anonymous | 2009-01-27 9:36:57 PM

Seems Harper's MPs are either cowards who will not oppose him are actually have been Ottawashed like Harper. What a joke. The entire budget is a joke with social housing, culture money, money for CBC programming, and other bullshit.

Posted by: Faramir | 2009-01-27 11:03:57 PM

This madness is pure monkey see - monkey do, right up to the proportionate (10%) of the US money toss. Harper had the chance to show the Yanks that they had their heads too far up Obama's ass to see which side was up. It appears he's crawled up there too, perhaps so he can keep an eye on Iggy and the video professor.

Posted by: John Chittick | 2009-01-27 11:33:36 PM

It's almost too funny to repeatedly see the blinders being forced off of you guys only to see them being slapped on hard a moment later.

Ideology is a bitch, eh?

The sad part about this is that none of this matters, yeah, the budget is a disgrace, the much bigger disgrace is the 75 billion your boys Harper and Flaherty have thrown at the big banks.

But fear not, they are not alone. All Governments are doing this. They are trying desperately to keep things going.

We're ALL fucked, regardless of ideology, believes etc. The current system is done for, and it is not the fault of any specific ideology, it's human nature.

Enjoy the ride, and don't forget to blame "The others" for all the shit that is going to come falling down on us.

After all, religion is what people seek out in a time of desperation.

Good luck.

Posted by: Snowrunner | 2009-01-27 11:43:55 PM

Uh, yeah it is the OTHERS, like the criminals that created credit swaps, the deadbeat borrowers, and the compromised lenders that got us in this mess.

Posted by: Faramir | 2009-01-27 11:57:32 PM

Harper is either a power drunk buffoon or a socialist. Now I have absolutely no reason to bother voting ever again.

Our Canadian Government has become nothing but a couple of similar parties in a never-ending power struggle.

Ideologies don't even mean anything either. They are just markers to define the teams. There is little to distinguish them from one another no conviction, no integrity, just a continual lurching in whatever direction the political, economic and social winds blow in order to control the trough as long as possible.

The is the first time I have ever agreed with snowrunner. This system is over. It has failed.

But remember our governments are a reflection of the society that elects them. We're their bastards and they are ours.

They will change when we do.

Posted by: John V | 2009-01-28 12:04:03 AM

What do you all expect? Harper's been a closet Liberal all along (on his watch, government spending increased by at least 14% -- BEFORE this budget! -- outpacing any of the previous Liberal governments).

Let's not forget that he started out in politics as a Young Liberal.


Posted by: Werner Patels | 2009-01-28 12:28:22 AM

If the Liberals held a minority government under Ignatieff, they would have produced a budget very like the current one, with irrelevant differences in who was targeted for benefits and how they would qualify. Why?

1. The Liberals would have consulted all the same people the Conservatives did, and would have accepted the divided view that a combination of stimulus spending and tax cuts were called for.

2. Public opinion polls suggest that, details aside, this is roughly the mix of spending and tax cuts the public wants.

3. The Liberals could count on NDP support, because the alternative would be to have the GG recommend the Conservatives try to govern, which would be worse from the NDP point of view.

This budget is the symptom of democracy. You can blame the Conservatives for playing the game of democracy instead of sticking to ideology, but you can't make an argument that it is in the Conservative Party's best interest as a political organization to play ideology.

I blame Harper for doing nothing until the crisis forced his hand. He should have been spending the past 6 months demonstrating real leadership by pulling the electorate in a conservative direction with persusive arguments, so that a more conservative budget would now be palatable. Instead, he spent his capital playing democratic games and ignoring policy.

I also blame Harper for not doing more conservative things in his earlier, relatively untroubled time as PM. And for not slipping in at least some conservative things into this budget - such as instituting a close review of all government programs with the view to reallocating spending to new priorities. A large cabinet is justified if the cabinet ministers use their more-focused responsibilities to take a tooth-comb to their departments.

Posted by: Grant Brown | 2009-01-28 12:47:59 AM

The budget is a disgrace, and only looks this way because Harper wants to stay in office.

I have tried to be supportive of the CPC, and even held my nose and voted CPC in the latest election. But now I have had enough. From now on I will "throw away" my vote on a libertarian candidate (when possible) or vote blank.

Posted by: Johan i Kanada | 2009-01-28 6:46:37 AM

Canada is in a recession for a reason. The recession was not caused by some unforseen, tragic accident. It's a result of the decline of our industrial infrastructure, which has been throttled by high taxes, regulations and powerful unions. Like the United States, we are bleeding jobs to countries like China, Mexico, Brazil and India.

It used to be the case that these jobs were in so-called "sweatshop" industries, but that is not so much the case any longer. A lot of the industries moving offshore are highly capitalized, high-tech concerns.

The budget failed miserably to address any of these problems. I have an important question for PM Harper: just how is Canada's lack of industrial competitiveness going to be enhanced by building hockey rinks and "social" housing?

Posted by: Dennis | 2009-01-28 7:32:33 AM

That was an awful budget designed to please the "Lefties". The scenario will go as such:

-Libertarians/conservatives will not be pleased with Harper and will most likely not vote for him in the next election. He will thus lose his traditional support base.

-Since no country has ever managed to "spend it's way out of a recession", the measures taken in the budget will not work. The "Lefties" won't be happy with Harper because they'll say he hasn't spent enough. They will never vote for him in a next election.

-The tax cuts Harper promised to please his usual voters are not real and will be more harmfull if anything else. Why? Tax cuts without spending cuts are harmfull. People might save and pay some debts they owe at the bank with these cuts. Commercial banks will then be lending that money back to the government so that it can go in deficit spending. It's not the private sector (the real creator of wealth) who is going to benefit from this. The tax cut money will be back in the hands of government. On top of that, it will be owed to commercial banks with interest. We're all going to be a little poorer now aren't we?

Posted by: Steven | 2009-01-28 8:21:52 AM

I agree with anonymous | 2009-01-27 6:14:36 PM
Although disappointed that Harper caved on spending we too noticed that this budget is careful to make only temporary changes not structural ones, except for tax relief. It is a small thing but gives us hope that there is still a conservative bone in the CPC body. The shame is that Harper didn't get his majority and you can only blame that on the idiocy of the Canadian collective largely aided and abetted by the media. We don't need to educate Harper we need to educate our neighbours.

Posted by: ww | 2009-01-28 9:40:06 AM

Really glad I didn't vote for them now. I thought the NDP / Liberal $30 billion one was expensive enough.

Posted by: von | 2009-01-30 2:52:28 PM

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