Canada was never supposed to run a budget deficit. Those words weren’t even in our vocabulary. But before we knew it, we were borrowing money to advertise our economic prowess. It’s funny how much can change in a few years. Remember when we were supposed to run a surplus in 2015? Remember when the surplus suddenly became smaller? Those were halcyon days. This isn’t to say that we can’t still run a surplus in 2015; our Finance Minister simply doesn’t want to talk about it.
“I will not bring forward a budget any earlier than April,” Finance Minister Joe Oliver told a few Calgarians last week. “We need all the information we can obtain before finalizing our decisions.” Using information to direct funding and policy initiatives? That’s a laugh. What information could Oliver be waiting for? Crude oil is currently as worthless as a politician’s word, tax revenues are diving more dramatically than Arjen Robben, and TD predicts another year in the red. The relevant information says we’re screwed, so maybe Oliver is holding out for a contrarian opinion.
Exercising his own, Oliver posited that the low price of oil is a double-edged sword. On one hand, the decrease in the price of gas acts like a tax cut for drivers and transport companies. On the other hand, cheap oil means massive losses for government revenues, layoffs in northern Alberta (our beating heart!), and lower profits for oil companies. À la Joe Oliver, if not for the lost surplus and the potential for a broken pre-election promise, things pretty much balance out.
So what about this April (or later) budget? There are a few reasons why Oliver might delay the announcement until the spring. The most enticing possibility is that he will refuse to introduce the budget in order to keep the Conservatives’ promise of not posting a deficit in 2015. If the Conservatives call an election before April 2015, they can avoid the budget issue altogether and buy time until the price of oil rebounds. If it doesn’t, they can throw the election and leave with the knowledge that they kept their promise. Seems likely, right? Early election speculation used to be for opposition politicians, loser journalists, and people who have no idea how Stephen Harper thinks—perhaps my endorsing it isn’t much of a change.
In any case, we have to feel for Oliver. This budget was supposed to balance itself. Trudeau Jr. said it would, and we were so baffled by his looks that we believed every word. True, he added that economic growth was the precondition for a self-balancing budget, but who was listening at that point? When Trudeau speaks I hear through my eyes. On that particular occasion, I felt like the only boy in the room. I expect Oliver felt the same way. Unfortunately, that was a year ago, and times have changed. With red ink on our hands and nothing but surplus oil to wash it off, Canadians can expect plenty of funny business in Ottawa.