Budget notes

From conversation with some friends in the PPG,
– while detained in budget lockup, someone yelled out regarding CBC Newsworld being shown on the tv: “what’s this s**t? Turn it to TSN!”. The budget document/executive summary was easily consumed in 20 minutes and there was an NHL trade deadline looming.

– budget lockup means no communication with the outside world, so reporters complained of not having Google to check facts, do background, and put together the finer details on a story. One wonders how reporting was done before 1993. But seriously, something could be done about this. Wikipedia, for example, can be downloaded to an iPod (or laptop). Not perfect, but it could help fill in some blanks in background understanding.

– One reporter said to me “I’ve never seen the Liberal government so willing to publicly commit suicide so frequently and willingly”

from conversation with conservatives,
– conservatives are generally happy that the Conservatives have passed their first “conservative budget”. Debt reduction and the new tax-exempt savings account are the headlining items for the movement.

– conservatives are unhappy about the spending increase projected for 3.4% this year. That totals 14.8% government growth under Flaherty (source: CTF). Why can’t we rein-in government growth?

– Guaranteed Income Supplement raised to $3500 should help patch things up with seniors whom have been upset about income trusts, according to Bob Fife and Craig Oliver of CTV. This budget item sounds like creeping socialism. (UPDATE: Oops, that was poorly interpreted. The GIS tax exemption has been raised, encouraging seniors to stay in the workforce.)

– taming the EI beast is a welcome change. Capping EI surpluses and moving towards better fiscal management (and proper allocation) of the fund is long overdue.

– effective communications line of the day was from Stephane Dion’s team which described the budget as “a mile wide and an inch deep”. The line was often repeated on newscasts and in print. It’s a perfect descriptor for Dion to achieve his objective: diminish the significance of the budget and and his subsequent approval of it. It’s also important to note that the Liberals have claimed this to be a “watered down Liberal budget”. Is Harper as Tom Flanagan would put it “triangulating” the Liberals out of relevance? This was first done with the Afghanistan mission, now the budget. Liberals essentially support the Conservatives in coalition without any leverage.

– the NDP is using the Liberal support of the budget to make the argument of Liberal bankruptcy from the left; they argue voters who don’t agree with Harper’s government can oppose it with the NDP. But this isn’t exactly news. What changes will the NDP have to make in order to more effectively challenge the Liberals from the left?

– the only thing sustaining the Liberals is their brand.

Predicting the future
– In the absence of Liberal opposition, will segmented conservative interests in the party and in the movement start leveraging for their own agenda? With slim majorities we see maverick government MPs potentially holding the balance of power subject to their agendas (PM Chretien government with MP Paul Martin). With large majorities we can see whole factions form and break off (as with Reform and the Bloc from the Mulroney government). Harper has the power of majority with the psychology of a minority; the PM can govern on the agenda he chooses because the the prize of a majority is still in sight and this will generally keep maverick MPs and the movement tightly following Harper’s lead so that their agendas can be realized in the future.

Harper’s now in the sweet spot of governance; he sits opposite a neutered opposition but holds the incentive of untapped potential for his government and its MPs. I’m certain that the Prime Minister would be very satisfied continuing his government under this balance until the fixed election date in fall 2009.

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