Jim Flaherty dances to Stephen Harper's tune. Flaherty, after all, is merely a lawyer. Harper likes to remind everyone that he possesses a master's degree from the University of Calgary. And, during the last election, he promised Canadians that his government would balance the budget by 2015.
A real economist knows that, in a world dominated by economic uncertainty, making that kind of a promise is economic folly. That is why Harper and Flaherty have taken such pains to make sure that Parliament and the public do not and cannot know the state of the nation's finances. The National Post reports that, in this month's Inside Policy, former finance department officials Scott Clark and Peter Devries write:
During the 2006 election, the Conservative Party promised greater transparency and accountability in budget planning,Unfortunately, this has not turned out to be the case. Budget documents now contain less economic and fiscal data than in any budget over the previous twenty-five years. For some reason the [finance] minister seems more intent on not providing the public with information, rather than engaging Canadians in discussion on critical policy issues.
We live in a culture where either the baldfaced lie -- think Lance Armstrong -- or the cover up -- think Richard Nixon -- have paved the way to success. Harper learned more from Richard Nixon than he did from Lance Armstrong -- although Harper's recent defence of Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin suggest that he has been taking advice from Armstrong.
The budget process, like the government itself, is completely devoid of integrity:
Detailed annual spending estimates are now introduced in Parliament before a budget, making them less accurate and leading to a situation where MPs don’t really know what they are doing when they vote to approve expenditures worth billions of dollars.
In the 2006 election, the Tories promised to create a parliamentary budget office. But once in office, they refused to provide the PBO with the data it needs, and have attacked its leader, Kevin Page.
For his 2012 budget, Flaherty introduced two controversial “omnibus bills” that were each several hundred pages long and contained policy changes which critics said had nothing to do with the budget. Flaherty was accused of trying to jam contentious changes throughout without sufficient review by MPs.
With Page set to retire at the end of the month, the Harperites will be sure to make the PBO their mouthpiece. The numbers will be what they say they are.
A real economist deals with real numbers. Apparently, possessing an economics degree from the University of Calgary doesn't make you a real economist