Finance minister makes naughty list

Finance Minister Mike de Jong and his boss are insisting the 2013/14 pre-election budget will be in the black despite the fact that...

Finance Minister Mike de Jong and his boss are insisting the 2013/14 pre-election budget will be in the black despite the fact that the current budget is headed for a depressingly recalibrated deficit of $1.47 billion, about $500 million worse than originally projected.

De Jong has said that to achieve his 2013/14 surplus target “we’ve still got $200 million to $300 million of work to do.”

Folks, this is a great big fat stinking whopper.

A decade ago, in another life, when I was working with a number of private sector clients as a government relations consultant, a standard wisdom prevailed regarding budget making. If a client had a public policy agenda that impacted program spending in a particular ministry, the client had to make a best case for a slice of the program pie well before December in any given year.

It was understood that even though the new fiscal year did not start until April 1, the February budget details were being locked down by the Treasury Board in November and December. Essentially, the budget spending and revenue decisions that would determine the bottom line for the coming fiscal year had already been made by this time.

So, when de Jong tells us he’s got lots of work to do to find that $200 to $300 million more in revenue to transform this year’s massive shortfall into a significant 2013/14 surplus, he’s being a naughty politician. The finance minister already knows how he’s going to manage this accounting miracle. He just doesn’t want to talk about it.

And, when he drops it in our laps in February, he’ll know the Legislature will be quickly adjourned for the launch of the election campaign. There will be no estimates debate to examine budget assumptions. Instead, what passes for budget scrutiny will be lost in the noise of campaign claims and counter-claims. As taxpayers and voters, we will be subjected to three months of unrelenting spin — an onslaught of he-said, she-said — that will require partisan leaps of faith that defy basic accounting principles.

The fiscal masquerade that is being played out is made more egregious by the current $15 million blitzkrieg of Jobs Plan advertising. If you make the mistake of turning on the evening news these days, your reward is a take-no-prisoners campaign of intense, non-stop carpet bombing.

One of the advertisements blithely claims: “In this uncertain global economy … we’re balancing the budget by controlling spending.” In reality, the Liberals are almost certainly going to achieve an operational surplus with the help of tax increases embedded in a variety of measures from income threshold fiddles to hiked user fees.

What is most galling is the reality that while they keep us focused on the operating budget our accumulated total debt is rocketing through the $60 billion threshold and shows no signs of abatement. These spendthrift free enterprisers are mortgaging our future at the rate of at least $2 billion in long term debt every year. That is the antithesis to “controlling spending.”

Just as sneaky is the Jobs Plan claim that we have the lowest personal taxes in the country. I’ve examined the Canada Revenue Agency reports. We are in the middle of the pack.

If these scoundrels had the faintest interest in controlling spending they wouldn’t be burying us in a multi-million dollar TV/print/social media campaign that is as nauseating as it is misleading. M

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