Joe Oliver emerges from hiding today. The assumption is that he'll announce a date for the budget. When things get tough, Harperites head for the closet. When the economy gets tough, Ministers of Finance should be seen dealing with the problems. Certainly other people have been doing that. Scott Clark and Peter DeVries write:
Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz and a number of private sector economists have made public their updated forecasts for the economy; they’ve all agreed with Poloz’s description of oil’s effect on the economy as “unambiguously negative”.
The Parliamentary Budget Office is hard at work on economic and fiscal updates for the Commons standing committee on finance, which we should see at the end of the month. The province of Alberta — which has been hit harder by oil’s decline than any other jurisdiction — didn’t delay its budget. Neither did British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Quebec. They’re all dealing with volatility. They didn’t use it as an excuse to avoid making decisions.
And, in the past, other finance ministers have met the challenge of changing economic circumstances:
During the 1980s, the Mulroney government released economic and fiscal updates, with policy actions, in reaction to dramatic falls in grain and oil prices. In 1990, the budget was moved up to deal with rising interest rates and inflation. In 2001, a budget was quickly introduced in response to the aftermath of the September 11 terror attacks.
Oliver has said that he is waiting for solid predictions on the price of oil. However:
In a recent Bloomberg article, the authors noted that the median view of 39 analysts predicts the price of oil (Brent crude) will average $69 a barrel in the fourth quarter of this year. The highest prediction was $90 a barrel, the lowest was $50 — the widest forecast range since first quarter 2007. In other words, no one has a clue.
The truth is that the folks who claimed to be economic stewards par excellence don't know what to do unless the price of oil is stable. And, lacking stable oil prices, they're playing a game of economic hocus pocus -- now you see me, now you don't.