The tabling of the budget last week signalled the beginning of the election campaign. A careful reading of the document makes clear that Stephen Harper's election strategy will be rooted in deceit. Michael Harris wrote:
Still, no one should be surprised. This misbegotten government’s modus operandi is about much more than information control. It’s about soaring, jet-propelled skullduggery in a never-ending political campaign. It’s a power fantasy. It’s Steve’s way.
Armed with his narrative of convenience, Harper programs the electorate with fictions of prosperity, compassion and prudence. In the real world, he acts quite differently. There, he underfunds Coast Guard stations, veterans’ offices, First Nations tribal councils, railway inspections, scientific research and Employment Insurance processing.
Mr. Oliver's budget is full of the new math -- the kind that doesn't add up:
Numbers have a wonderfully elastic quality to them; like Harper cabinet ministers, they say what they’re told to say. Numbers are the favourite tool of fraudsters and politicians alike. One swindles money, the other swindles votes.
Under the old system, the minister assumed an unchanged price for oil over five years in making his projections. But Joe Oliver, viewing the resource landscape through rose-coloured bifocals, is predicting that the price of oil will increase in each of the next five years.
No matter what he says, the minister can’t see into the future. For us to believe his revenue forecast, we have to blind ourselves to some obvious facts. There’s a price war going on in the oil industry. Key producers are turning on the taps to put weaker players with a costlier product out of business. Major producers like Saudi Arabia are also hedging against any softening of long-term demand for their product — because of a working climate change treaty, for example. The last thing they want is to create a situation where demand diminishes or disappears well ahead of supply. The fastest way to diminish demand is to make oil so expensive that it encourages the rapid development not only of costlier product — like tar sands bitumen or fracked oil — but of renewables, like solar.
But besides the convenient oil calculations, there are all kinds of other examples of sleight of hand:
He didn’t, for example, explain that the government is effectively abandoning infrastructure investment until 2017, at which point it proposes to come across with chump change. He didn’t mention the national yard sale the Harper government has been running to funnel public asset value towards balancing the books. (Selling an asset to balance a budget isn’t good management. It’s desperation.)
The final item of fiscal trickery in the budget was almost too brazen to imagine. Oliver slyly waited for the new fiscal year before bringing down his budget — and promptly dumped the government’s last remaining shares it held in General Motors as a result of the 2009 auto bailout.
This allowed Oliver to use $2.1 billion to help balance the budget. It was the most expensive $2.1 billion any Canadian government ever made, given that it imposed a $3.5 billion loss on taxpayers in Canada and Ontario. Market analysts thought it was a bad time to sell. Even the CBC’s Peter Mansbridge pointed out to Oliver that had he waited just two more weeks to sell, Canada would have received an extra $100,000,000 for the shares. Prudent fiscal management — or just another costly bonbon for Goldman Sachs, the buyer?
Sound fiscal management? You bet. If there ever was a budget that deserved a horse laugh, this it it.
Just one personal note: My mother died on Friday. She died as she had lived: determined to cling to life as she became increasingly fragile. She was, as Dan Ackroyd said of Jessica Tandy in Driving Miss Daisy, a doodle. And now she's free.
We'll be away for a couple of days this week to attend her funeral.