Liveblogging Flaherty’s economic statement

4:09pm: Persuant to a standing order I do not recall, the Minister of Finance tables his economic statement.

4:10pm: Time of unprecedented economic deterioration. Uh oh, this sounds bad.

4:11pm: IMF projects global growth weakest since ’93. Good thing the IMF puts Canada in the best fiscal position of the G7.

4:13pm: CTV reports that the Liberals will not support the economic statement. This statement is a matter of confidence and if defeated would precipitate an election.

4:14pm: Reformation of global finance will be done with global partners.

4:15pm: Trade will be expanded.

4:15pm: Opposition mocks Flaherty for saying the government planned for the downturn last year.

4:15pm: Taxes have been reduced by $200B. Investments have been made in infrastructure, S&T and training.

4:16pm: Funding for infrastructure projects. Taxes down by equivalent of 2% GDP. Sustainable and permanent tax relief.

4:19pm: Canada will come out of the crisis in a strong position because it went in a strong position.

4:21pm: Will not engineer a surplus just to say we have one.

4:21pm: Budget is balanced for now, but future injection of government stimulus may move Canada into deficit.

4:22pm: Days of chronic structural deficits are behind us.

4:23pm: Tax dollars for political parties and tax credits for donations brought up. Flaherty talking about the $1.75 per vote subsidy. Political parties should pay their own bills without excessive tax dollars.

4:25pm: $1.75 subsidy gone as of April 2009.

4:26pm: Spending growth will follow sustainable track.

4:27pm: Spending review will also look into crown corporations. Government will save $15B over the next five years because of expenditure management system.

4:28pm: re: public sector… New legislation will put in place “annual wage increases for the federal public administration, including senior members of the public service, as well as Members of Parliament, Cabinet Ministers, and Senators, of 2.3 per cent in 2007–08 and 1.5 per cent for the following three years, for groups in the process of bargaining for new agreements.”For groups with collective agreements already covering 2008–09, the 1.5 per cent would apply for the remainder of the three-year period starting at the anniversary date of the collective agreement. In addition, the legislation would suspend the right to strike on wages through 2010–11.” Some honourable socialist members: “oh, oh”.

4:32pm: Largest increase in infrastructure spending. $6B in spending. Aim is to provide new jobs.

4:33pm: Flaherty wants more power to help sustain the banking industry. These powers would include:
– Funding in the unlikely event that there is a draw on the Canadian Lenders Assurance Facility.
– The Canada Deposit Insurance Corporation (CDIC) to establish a bridge bank as a further resolution tool to help preserve banking functions.
– An increase in the borrowing limit of CDIC to $15 billion to reflect the growth of insured deposits since the last increase in 1992.
– The Minister of Finance to provide the CDIC Board of Directors broader scope of action when systemic risk concerns may result from the potential failure of a member institution.
– The power to direct CDIC to undertake resolution measures when necessary to prevent adverse effects on financial stability.
– The provision to CDIC of greater flexibility in the timing of preparatory examinations.
– The Government to inject capital into federal financial institutions to support financial stability, with appropriate provisions to protect taxpayers.

4:37pm: taking action to allow RRIF holders to keep more money in their RRIFs.

4:40pm: increase available credit to the exporting sector. $350 million injection of credit for these businesses.

4:41pm: Inject an additional $350 million of capital to the BDC to help SMEs.

4:44pm: “The greatest histories are written in the toughest times”

4:45pm: Scott Brison to respond for the opposition. Demands a “real action plan”. Brison accuses Conservatives of symbolism over substance. Conservatives have provided gimmicks instead of a game plan. “Nothing for manufacturing, autos”.

4:46pm: Brison: PM wants to change the channel from economy to politics. Canadians are hurting. They want talk on economics rather than politics.

4:48pm: Brison bringing out the personal anecdotes describing real Canadians and real concerns. Liberal are making this statement out to be about that $1.75 vote subsidy cut.

4:50pm: Brison accusing the Conservatives of huge spending and huge cuts at the same time.

4:51pm: Brison: government is selling the house to pay for the groceries.

4:51pm: Brison calls Flaherty “Deficit Daddy”.

4:52pm: NDP will not support economic statement.

4:53pm: CTV reports that the government is digging in their heels on the $1.75 subsidy.

4:55pm: Brison brings up Obama and speaks about his economic team and accuses the Conservatives of schemes.

5:00pm: Brison calls for “a new deal”. Brison’s seat mate earlier called out “FDR”

5:01pm: Gilles Duceppe responds for the Bloc. Duceppe: hat was presented was not an economic statement but an ideological statement.

5:02pm: Duceppe: government blind to urgent need to stimulate the economy. Government is attacking democracy, women’s rights and worker’s rights. Government has attacked Quebec.

5:03pm: Duceppe: government has sparked a democratic crisis.

5:03pm: Duceppe: economic statement runs against Quebec’s interests.

5:04pm: Duceppe: Bloc will not cave in on its principles.

5:06pm: Duceppe: Bloc ready to support the reduction of the size of the state.

5:12pm: Bloc Quebecois will oppose the economic statement.

5:13pm: Layton responds for the NDP. He’s got his wounded face on.

5:14pm: Layton: government has failed to act on the economic crisis. Layton is speaking quietly and slowly to show concern and disappointment.

5:15pm: Here comes the anger. Now Layton is doing some finger pointing.

5:19pm: Layton applauds Duceppe and Brison for “standing up to ideology”.

5:21pm: Layton reiterates NDP’s position that they will vote against the economic statement.

Jim Flaherty at the Fraser Institute

Last night, supporters of the Fraser Institute gathered in the Adam hall of the Chateau Laurier to listen to federal finance minister Jim Flaherty deliver an assessment of the Canadian and global economies. On Thursday, the minister will be delivering a sobering fall economic update in the House of Commons and last night, we got a hint of what might be to come.

Flaherty was introduced by former Ontario PC Premier Mike Harris, the finance minister’s former boss and mentor. Harris disappointed the crowd saying that he was not about to return to politics but that a deep-rooted fixation on Canada’s future prosperity is one that both he and Preston Manning hold. Manning and Harris are the authors of Canada: Strong & Free, a six-volume set of books describing Canada’s ideal path along internationalism, economic freedom, federalism, and education among other topics. Last night’s dinner was held to mark the release of their sixth summary volume called Vision.

In minister Flaherty’s speech, he described Canada’s position in a rapid yet sustained decline of the global economy and while trumpeting Canada’s economic leadership among G7 nations, we are simply the country that is sinking the slowest. Indeed, at a recent meeting of the G20 finance ministers, Mr. Flaherty revealed that not one minister was optimistic about their economies domestic or international. Flaherty will project a surplus through the end of this fiscal year ending April 2009, however, as he conceded the next fiscal year will present “a challenge”. The minister sketched a fiscal portrait in broad strokes declaring that the crisis will not end tomorrow, next week or in the next few months and warned that we have not yet seen the worst of the situation.

Yet despite its faltering position, Canada is an economic leader among its economic peers. Flaherty described the economic measures implemented by the federal government to prepare for such an eventuality saying that they’d never apologize or regret cutting the taxes of Canadians or bringing in more stringent regulatory frameworks to maintain Canada’s economic structure. Indeed, the IMF, as Flaherty noted declared Canada to be the best economic shape going into the global economic downturn.

In the United States, President-elect Barack Obama has conceded that he will delay the rollback of the Bush tax-cuts and in Canada, Flaherty suggests that this Conservative government will maintain Canadian tax-cuts to retain this increased spending power among Canadian consumers.

Perhaps the worst-kept secret in Ottawa is that this government will project a deficit in the near future. Flaherty has declared that he will sing from the same songsheet as other national government and use the federal treasury to stimulate growth, or rather stem the “negative growth”. For this, infrastructure minister John Baird will become a hero of sorts in Ontario as federal dollars are channeled through on road, rail and other contruction projects sustaining jobs. Prime Minister Harper days earlier declared that some deficits provide opportunity and are necessary. Flaherty promised that the stimulus would be underway by March 2009. The pairing of the temporary and artificial sustenance of Canadian jobs via government spending with the consumer spending power of a less-tax-burdened population may help the good ship Canada weather the global economic storm until it subsides. Or at least the theory goes.

Deficit spending will be accomplished in order to sustain the “real” economy. Flaherty promised no ‘structural’ deficit.

For my part I asked the minister during the dinner about conservative opportunity describing this as a time when Conservatives in power could be allowed to make cuts to government spending and suggested that a reduction in the size of government rather than its growth would help balance the books in a real rather than artificial way. The finance minister unfortunately balked at the question suggesting that some areas of growth are necessary such as the rescue of the state of the armed forces. If given a follow-up, I would have suggested that some cuts are necessary too. Even in a recession, the government is a growth industry. The minister described a treasury board review of all programs to measure value for money and promised to extend this review through both core and non-core assets.

As for the public sector, wages will not increase faster than the private sector. This has caused some concern among public sector employees and the minister reached a deal with PSAC, it’s largest union late yesterday. The two parties have settled on a wage increase of 6.8% over the next four years.

On interprovincial trade barriers, the minister promised to break these down and suggested that the current economic climate behooves governments to allow uninhibited trade within Canada. The minister welcomed a cooperative spirit among provincial and territorial ministers on addresses the economic downturn domestically.

The minister declared that the government would not artificially engineer a surplus. Perhaps this is a reflection by the minister on Paul Martin’s method of balancing budgets by slashing transfers to the provinces and “fixing” healthcare for a generation. Ontario has warned Ottawa not to balance its books on the back of the province and what is needed is economic stimulus in the province through reduction of its corporate tax rate. For the part of the Conservative federal government, Flaherty described a $37B debt reduction, a reduction of the tax burden by $200B and a 2012 projected corporate tax rate of 15%.

On securities regulations, the minister promised the creation of a single national securities regulator. The federal government will seek to regulate leverage and large pools of capital. A more transparent market infrastructure is needed according to Mr. Flaherty.

The sum of Flaherty’s speech was to say that this government is acting to sustain economic activity for the foreseeable future as economies around the world reconfigure to recover. Taxes will remain low, spending is temporary and a deficit would be a temporary and an short aberration from Canada’s economic plan.

John Tory stopping by

Ontario opposition leader John Tory will stop by at 3pm EST today to take your questions on Premier McGuinty’s economic update. This space will host a live video chat where your economic questions to Mr. Tory.

UPDATE: Thanks to everyone that joined the discussion. Here is the recorded video of our townhall.

Economic update

Here are the main points of Flaherty’s economic update:

  • Eliminate the net debt by 2021

  • Reduce debt to 25% of GDP by 2012-13
  • inflation target at 2% until at least 2011
  • GST at 5% by 2011
  • Working Income Tax Benefit for low-middle income Canadians
  • Income tax reductions based on interest that would have been paid on the debt. Debt reduction will result directly in income tax cuts.
  • Establish lowest tax on business investment in G7.
  • Large investments in the knowledge and training economy

Here’s the executive summary of Advantage Canada.

Income splitting, but just for seniors. No GST cut yet.

VERDICT: Nothing too exciting. A good direction forward.

UPDATE: David Akin sends me a correction live from the finance committee! It’s NET debt that’ll be gone by 2021, not the debt.

UPDATE: NDP finance critic Judy Wasylycia-Leis is decrying the Conservative plan to put so many surplus dollars against the debt. A sound endorsement!

UPDATE: Liberal finance critic John MacCallum isn’t impressed and believes that this doesn’t change anything. Underlines the distinction of “net-debt” and calls it a gimmick. Net-debt is a valid OECD measure though.

UPDATE: reaction from stakeholders (the ones that do press releases!)…

The Canadian Real Estate Association
(CREA) and its more than 88,000 REALTOR(R) members across Canada welcomed the
federal government’s identification of tax, fiscal, and infrastructure issues
as key elements to improve the quality of life for all Canadians. The three
were among the five Canadian Advantages outlined in the Fall Economic
Statement delivered by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty today.

One of the proposals outlined by Minister Flaherty in the Advantage
Canada document was the reduction of taxes on savings, including capital
gains, to make Canada’s tax system more competitive. REALTORS(R) have been
calling on the federal government to implement a capital gains rollover
provision for small investors when the proceeds of the sale of real property
are reinvested in another real property investment within a set timeframe.

Certified Management Accountants:

CMA Canada is encouraged by the direction of
Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s economic and fiscal update and looks
forward to the government accepting its recommendations to achieve economic
objectives.

“We are pleased that the economic groundwork laid out by the Finance Minister today is aligned with our recommendations to the government,” said Michael Tinkler, CMA Canada’s public finance analyst. “However, the proof will be seen in the specific measures delivered in the next federal budget.”

Canada’s life and health insurers:

Canada’s life and health insurers strongly commended the government’s Advantage Canada economic plan. CLHIA President Greg Traversy said, “The combination of tax reduction, debt reduction and paper burden reduction will position Canadians to compete effectively and prosper over the years ahead. Life and health insurers particularly welcome the commitment to foster a dynamic and globally competitive financial services industry and look forward to continuing their own efforts towards that goal in the context of the improved business environment set out in Minister Flaherty’s plan.”

Greg Sobara, Minister of Finance of Ontario:

The federal government’s economic update
contains a few positive signals that Ottawa may be listening to Ontario’s call
for fairness in federal transfers, Finance Minister Greg Sorbara says. “What I don’t see – and this disappoints me – is any detail on anything except tax cuts and debt reduction,” Sorbara said. “There are no specifics on how they’re going to invest in infrastructure. There are no specifics on how they’re going to address the fiscal imbalance. There are no specifics on how they’re going to invest in post-secondary education.”

CUPE:

“Today’s Fiscal and Economic Update shows
that Stephen Harper’s government is trying to buy the votes of Canadians with
the promise of more tax cuts that could lead to deep spending cuts in the
future,” said Paul Moist, national president of Canada’s largest union – CUPE.

Certified General Accountants:

The Certified General Accountants
Association of Canada (CGA-Canada) is pleased with the federal government’s
plan to boost Canada’s productivity and global competitiveness. Of special interest to CGAs are the government’s policy commitments relating to: Program spending, the Canadian economic union [and] the business environment “We welcome the government’s policy commitments. The plan to reduce taxes, streamline the regulatory environment, reduce the paper burden and remove internal trade barriers will address Canada’s competitiveness”

Federation of Canadian Municipalities:

“We welcome the reaffirmation of the Government’s commitment to work
toward a comprehensive infrastructure plan that includes long-term and
predictable funding. The extension for two additional years of the federal gas tax transfer is an important first step as we transition toward a longer term effort to erase Canada’s municipal infrastructure deficit. This also signals the Government’s long-term commitment to vibrant and competitive cities and communities.

Canadian Taxpayers Federation:

“Since 1997, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation has called for Ottawa to implement a legislated debt relief schedule and eliminate the debt in a generation,” said CTF federal director John Williamson. “Today, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced the Government of Canada will do just that.”

Williamson continued, “We applaud Mr. Flaherty for embracing and adopting policy advanced by the taxpayers’ federation, but for this policy to be meaningful the Conservative government must table legislation to make it the law of the land. Otherwise it is an empty promise. With the national debt standing at $481.5-billion, lawmakers cannot afford to not take debt repayment seriously.”



“In the May budget, Minister Flaherty reported program spending would grow by 5.3 per cent this year yet today he reported the annual spending increase will instead be 7.1 per cent,” observed Williamson. “The government has already betrayed its commitment to keep program spending below the growth rate of the economy. Economic growth is estimated to be 2.8 per cent this year. It is disappointing the Conservative government’s spending is already way off target. And if spending targets are missed, meaningful tax relief in the next budget can’t happen and debt repayment just isn’t possible either.”