Tag Archives: provincial budgets

Follow the bouncing budgetary balls

DSC_0180

As the Government of Canada coordinates the release of its signature piece of election-year propaganda, the federal budget, provincial finance ministers are scrambling to contain the public relations disasters that are their own annual spending plans.

Rarely in the nation’s history have the fiscal conditions of the regional partners in Confederation contrasted so sharply with that of the national one – a circumstance that does little to inform Canadians about the true state of the union they occupy.

Yesterday, New Brunswick’s fine, young Liberal government brought down its first budget since assuming office last fall, becoming the latest in a string of provinces (Quebec, Saskatchewan, Alberta) to swallow its bitter medicine in one, quick gulp.

Oh to be in British Columbia in the springtime. That province is doing so well these days, it managed to double its forecast budget surplus of more than $400 million in fiscal 2014-15 to nearly a billion bucks ($879 million).

The same cannot be said for Alberta, which has just posted a deficit of $5 billion, despite having raised $1.5 billion in new taxes. According to a CBC report, “The reaction . . .is mixed: relieved that there was no increase in the corporate tax rate, and concern that Albertans will have less disposable income in a time when the economy is weak.”

In Quebec, the preoccupation is with runaway debt. That province’s 2015-16, $100-billion budget is freckled with nips and tucks in almost every department, but especially in the big-ticket portfolios of health care, education and social services. “We are making reforms, we are doing things differently,” the province’s Treasury Board chairman Martin Coiteux told the CBC. “It’s not that we are reducing services. We are looking at ways to live within a budget envelope which is relatively smaller than what we would like, but this is this the required step to rebuild our room to manoeuvre.”

  And, according to a report by The Canadian Press last month, “The Saskatchewan government has brought forward a budget that attempts to put the brakes on spending increases and peels back tax incentives for middle-class families, graduates and the potash industry. . .A global oil downturn is putting the squeeze on the province’s bottom line, but Finance Minister Ken Krawetz noted that there are no new personal income taxes or fee increases.”

Now, stroll down the banks of the Rideau Canal, Blackberry on full news-alert mode from the nation’s capital, and you’ll observe that the fiscal backstory appears altogether different. Canadians aren’t mired in debt. Nay, it’s quite the contrary. Our supremely responsible, circumspect and economically gifted federal government is preparing to bring down a (nearly) balanced budget with about $4.5 billion in goodies for individual voters.

Indeed, from places like New Brunswick, Alberta and Saskatchewan, where the stern warnings of penurious governments bear almost no resemblance to the rosy messaging wafting through Ottawa’s halls of privilege and power, following the bouncing ball from provincial script to federal talking point can give a guy whiplash.

Still, there’s some reason to think that many of the differences between national and provincial bean-counters are illusory. After all, only one pot of sovereign money is  spilled or filled in this country, as circumstances require. What one branch of government giveth, another taketh away just as keenly. The Bank of Montreal has already noted as much in a recent report. As BMO economist Robert Kavcic told the CBC “most of what Ottawa will be returning to one taxpayer’s pocket, the provinces will take out of the other.”

So much, then, for a vote-friendly federal budget.

Tagged , , , , ,

New Brunswick’s future: an axe, a prayer and good wireless

DSC_0028

Asking the hoi polloi what the political elites must do to keep the status quo from dissolving before the eyes of the common man and woman is standard strategy for first-term governments in the early stages of what they dread will be a crushing disappointment to everyone, including themselves.

Still, New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant (four months old in electoral years) does it with such earnest panache, you can almost believe the words that issue from his  near-perfect mouth.

Almost.

“We need all New Brunswickers to participate with their ideas, suggestions and concerns so we can have a dialogue about how we are going to get our finances in order in this province,” he told a press conference in Fredericton last week.

“In the next few months, we will have a very open dialogue that will be fruitful. . .I am asking all New Brunswickers to give us their two cents, to give us their ideas, suggestions and concerns so we can come up with the best policies to help us get our finances in shape. . .Everything is on the table.”

Oh really, Mr. Gallant?

How do you feel about the HST?

A two-percentage-point hike in the consumption tax of this province would reap roughly $65 million a year for New Brunswick’s public coffers. Over your four-year mandate, that would amount to $260 million – plenty of good scratch to justify a moratorium (a word with which I am sure you are familiar) on hikes to personal, business, corporate and property taxes.

And yet, messing with the HST has proven to be political suicide across this great, self-aware, enlightened country of ours, ever since Paul Martin proved it could be done at great expense to his own and his party’s career. Sure, he managed to balance the national accounts in the mid-1990s – a feat for which Canadians never forgave him – but not before “reform-minded” barracudas from the west successfully labelled him a card-carrying “tax-and-spender”. The mud stuck and, of course, the rest is history.

So, then, if not the HST, how about highway tolls?

As you, yourself, have said, New Brunswick is fairly brimming with roads and thoroughfares – from the southeast to the southwest, from the north to the netherlands of moose country, where anyone who owns an ATV or snowmobile happily careens to his or her little parcel of pastoral heaven at whim.

Meanwhile, Mainers, Quebecers, Prince Edward Islanders, and Nova Scotians merrily trundle along our corridors, paid with local tax dollars, to points beyond our borders with nary a concern for such esoterica as infrastructure, stopping only to take in a view, gobble a piece of homemade blueberry pie, belch, and be on their way.

But just try to raise the possibility of tolling these folks.

It looks good on paper, sure. Still, remember what happened the last time this option carried serious weight in government.

“Finance Minister Blaine Higgs is acknowledging that putting tolls on provincial highways is an idea he is examining as the New Brunswick government tries to dig itself out of an $820-million deficit,” the CBC reported back in 2011.

“Higgs was urged to consider the imposition of highway tolls at a pre-budget meeting in Fredericton. . .The finance minister said many people have indicated during the pre-budget consultations and surveys that they are willing to pay highway tolls as a way to whittle down the province’s substantial deficit. And he conceded the policy is ‘something that is of interest.’”

What happened to Higgs? What happened to his boss, David Alward?

Enough said.

Perhaps, then, the solution to New Brunswick’s fiscal problem lies squarely on the cutting edge of the agenda.

Eliminate hospital services; curtail educational programs; fire the province’s civil servants; give everyone who remains an axe, a cord of wood, a holy bible, and a prayer, and send them off into the fine woodlands they so evidently cherish, there to build new, pioneer lives for themselves, all over again.

And when the hoi polloi, crushingly disappointed by Mr. Gallant’s earnestly failed efforts to keep their status quo plumply intact, come mewling, perhaps the besieged premier might finally say:

“Yeah. . .log cabins don’t come equipped with Netflix. Read your damn social contract, for a change.”

Tagged , , ,
%d bloggers like this: