Finance Minister Joe Oliver will deliver his first budget, and the headline fact is already known. “Our government is committed to balanced budgets and the good news is that … Canadians will see the minister of finance stand and deliver a balanced budget that will create jobs,” Kevin Sorenson, Oliver’s understudy at finance, told the House of Commons.
The parliamentary budget office last week predicted the books were actually balanced in 2014 to 2015 — a number that should become clearer in today’s budget, but won’t be finalized until all the accounting is done sometime next fall.
The financial battle plan was kicked off last October, when Prime Minister Stephen Harper rolled out a five-year, $27-billion package of improvements to family benefits and targeted tax cuts. So, every Canadian voter with a child under age 18 can expect a nice government cheque (retroactive to January 1).
Help for seniors is also expected through changes to RRIFs, and a long-promised doubling of the $5,500 annual limit on TFSAs. There will also be cash for the national security apparatus, a big government selling point in this season of domestic terror attacks and overseas military missions.
The Conservatives are also making permanent a program that provides loans to immigrants so they can cover the cost of upgrading their education and training to match Canadian standards, sources familiar with the budget’s contents say.
There will likely be targeted infrastructure funding for major public transit projects, spending the government will promote as “green” to help cover a weak environmental policy flank, while wooing those suburban commuters.
And there may be measures to bolster manufacturing, small businesses and skills training as the Conservatives attempt to buff their job creation credentials. Headlining it all will be the return to surplus, backstopped by proposed balanced budget legislation.
Joe Oliver condemning Canada?
One thing the Finance Minister has made clear is that his budget will be delivered today in black ink. But by doing so, will he be condemning Canada to economic mediocrity?
Maclean’s Kevin Carmichael thinks so. He notes Oliver argues that “fiscal prudence will inspire confidence and boost spending by households and investors.” But that’s only true when public spending is out of control.
“Canada’s problem is a lack of demand,” he writes. “The federal government alone is in a position to generate some of it immediately.”