Balanced budget law sounds too good to be true

The government will be introducing balanced budget legislation this spring in an attempt to help Canadians forget that the Conservatives have actually broken records on their way to the highest deficit in Canadian history.  There are a number of problems with laws of this type that are made for show and not for real use and, if past history is any indicator, all we would be getting is a law that will be applied when it is convenient and ignored when it isn’t.

It is true that the Conservatives have added more to Canada’s debt than any other previous government. The proposed law is being tabled on the heels of 7 budget deficits in a row, all of which were overshadowed by non-budgetary items stuffed into them because they were too contentious to be debated on their own merits. For the Conservatives, budgets have been more about getting the dirty work done than attempting to shepherd Canada through tough economic times. They gutted environmental laws, attacked non-profit groups that they disagree with, and even eliminated the office of the Inspector General who oversaw CSIS. That is just a sample of the items that have been stashed inside multiple omnibus budgets.

Now, they need a balanced budget to shore up their self-appointed role as sound economic managers. The irony of the situation is that Conservatives have not been fiscally accountable for a good long time and data from the Department of Finance shows they are not the best at delivering balanced budgets. When looking at governments – both federally and provincially - the fact that New Democrats have the best record of all parties when it comes to balancing budgets will surprise some people, but it shouldn’t. It is important to keep in mind that criticism of New Democrat fiscal policy that gets reported, often originates from the talking points of political rivals.

Past performance aside, it is important to consider why a balanced budget law will not work. If we compare a federal budget to a household budget then it is reasonable to suggest there will be good and bad years. Despite our best attempts to plan, unexpected events will always strain budgets. Accidents happen and basics need to be tended to. Would you leave your roof unrepaired if it were to suddenly require it just to maintain an arbitrary budget line?  That would only run down your investment and has the potential to cost more than the unexpected price of repairs. A balanced budget law leaves no wiggle room for events that will surely crop up, which is why it will eventually be broken. When considering the Conservative record for their accountability law and fixed election dates, it will be broken quickly.

Ultimately, Canadian families are feeling squeezed and falling further behind. They are looking to government for real action, not cheap gimmicks. But that is what balanced budget legislation and the tax loopholes being promoted in the upcoming budget mostly are. Income splitting for a very narrow band of Canadian society is the flag-ship for an unbalanced system that rewards wealth at the expense of everyone else. The truth is the government is wasting billions on corporate tax giveaways and handouts to the wealthiest few when they should be looking for ways to grow the middle class so families aren’t hard pressed to just keep up. Canadians want a budget that puts them first, but they aren’t getting that, they’re getting a flimsy law and a budget designed for an October election.