Only time will tell what kind of opposition Jack Layton's New Democrats will become. But four days after the Conservatives abandoned their pledge to balance the nation's books by 2015, Haroon Siddiqui examined Stephen Harper's claim that his party is the party of adult financial supervision while the New Democrats are wreckless, spendthrift adolescents.
It's true that New Democrats have never formed a government in Ottawa; but they have formed various provincial governments; and they have a long history of dealing with government finances. That history, Siddiqui writes, is revealing:
Allan Blakeney in Saskatchewan (1971-82) produced 12 balanced budgets. When his successor, Tory Grant Devine, left a huge deficit and a $14 billion debt, the NDP’s Roy Romanov (1991-2001) balanced the books. In Manitoba, Ed Schreyer (1969-77) produced surpluses in eight of his nine budgets. When his successor, the Conservative Sterling Lyon, racked up a deficit of $200 million within four years, his NDP successor Howard Pawley cleared it and created a surplus. (Pawley’s memoir, Keep True: A Life in Politics, published by the University of Manitoba Press, has just been released).
Only Bob Rae in Ontario (1990-95) left a big deficit, a legacy of a debilitating recession as well as poor management.
By contrast, look at the conservatives’ record — the deficits and debts created by Ronald Reagan, Brian Mulroney, Stephen Harper and Mike Harris.
It is also interesting to note that the last finance minister in the Harris-Eves regime was a man named Jim Flaherty. Of course, during the election campaign, Harper and Flaherty referred to the Rae government as a fiscal catastrophe. But, to be fair, Rae came to government at the beginning of a recession. And -- like Mr. Harper-- he left a deficit in his wake. It is one of Canadian history's political ironies that Rae -- who used to show his exasperation by referring to the Federal Liberals as "the red army chorus" -- has joined that party.
The history of Conservative governments -- on both sides of the border -- is a history not just of deficits, but of record deficits. Their claim to prudent stewardship is -- in financial terms, at least -- a fraud.