Budgets unbalance themselves if your leaders are glib economic ignoramuses

Energizer Morneau (300 dpi)


There’s an old Goon Show gag where a solemn announcer proclaims the broadcast of the latest fiscal update then you hear insane cackling.  Today instead, a financial update that ought to be delivered, and received, with hysterical laughter is followed by solemnity.

I refer of course to the latest federal Liberal one.  And I do so with a certain degree of bafflement because, as I’ve said before, Finance Minister Bill Morneau once had brains.  He had a successful career in the financial and policy world, generally it seems on the sensible side.  What on earth happened?

The question demands an answer.  And it now demands a derisive one, because he just told us the deficit would be $7 billion higher than we were promised in the budget scant months ago when he also solemnly assured us it would soon decline dramatically after a brief inexplicable surge.  No, wait.  That’s not why.  That’s such old news it could be from the Mulroney years.  The reason Morneau’s latest egg should be all over his face is he delivered not bad news but fake news.

I realize that term is overused.  I try to avoid it.  But sometimes someone peddles such a lie or delusion that you have to blow that particular whistle.  And the reason this update was fake rather than just old bad news is that, as the National Post’s John Ivison immediately pointed out, Morneau’s already dismal fiscal update left out $56.7 billion in new spending the Liberals promised in the election and included in the Throne Speech.

Well, I call it dismal.  But of course it was put forward smugly.  And don’t get me started on the Throne Speech.  Oops.  Too late.  Because it’s actually a constitutional rule in Canada that Parliament may not approve any spending or taxation not requested in an address from the Throne in that session.  It’s an old and very important rule designed to prevent the Executive from steamrolling the Legislature by requiring a precise, costed outline of its plans.  But the legislature has since steamrolled itself, with the result that Throne Speeches now sound, and look, like campaign literature.  As does almost everything else.

So back to the campaign-style fiscal update and its idiotic-style losing $56.7 billion.  It’s not a subtle error.  Even to Bill Morneau $56.7 billion isn’t chump change.  Even spread over four years of reckless spending, surging deficits and fatuous statements.  How do you promise a bunch of new spending then go before a microphone clutching a spending update crafted by fine, and very well paid, minds in the Finance Department, and that colossal sum you couldn’t shut up about on the campaign trail two months ago is missing and you either didn’t notice or thought we wouldn’t?

Somebody’s stupid for sure. And it gets worse.  Which can’t have been easy.  But confronted with the fact that in 2015 the Liberals promised small deficits that would soon vanish, gave us new less attractive figures in the 2019 spring budget while assuring us the plan was doing fine except it wasn’t, then in December 2019 gave us numbers that were immediately revealed to be wrong even before you botched your Grade 4 math, Morneau smirked “Nobody said it was going to be easy”.

Now this remark is not just fatuous and insulting.  It’s actually insane because, of course, someone did say it would be easy.  And he knows it because that person was his boss Justin Trudeau.  “The budget will balance itself”, then-third party leader Trudeau breezily declared in 2014.

His defenders insist that he’s been mocked out of context because the full sentence was “the commitment needs to be a commitment to grow the economy and the budget will balance itself.”  But he made a commitment that was a commitment to grow the economy.  What’s more the economy grew.  But the budget didn’t balance itself and nobody balanced it because they thought it was easy.  Just like when his dad was prime minister and laughed off deficits that grew to such menacing proportions that within a generation we nearly “hit the wall” fiscally.

At that point we weren’t laughing because it turned out budgets unbalanced themselves with surprising ease if your leaders were glib economic ignoramuses.  And Morneau doesn’t even have that excuse because whatever he is, he can’t be an economic ignoramus.  He just can’t.  So imagine knowing your boss said those words then making a glib joke about it over a document that lost $56.7 billion and still showed looming deficits.

You get the idea?  Far from trying to make sense, or being embarrassed that he wasn’t making sense or apparently even trying to on a key issue, he finds it funny.  He laughs in our faces at the idiotic way he and his colleagues are driving the federal government back in the direction of insolvency.  And expects us to nod and go clever, dude.  And… we do?

I don’t want to get into a long digression about the irrelevance of truth in the Age of Trump that will offend friend and foe alike.  Trump spouts nonsense all the time, from record crowds at his inaugural to Ted Cruz’s father being linked to the Kennedy assassination, that would appal his supporters if Hillary Clinton said it.  But it’s not just him, of course.  Bill Clinton told endless lies and harassed women in ways that would appal his supporters if Donald Trump did it whereas because it’s our guy it’s You Go Big Dawg.

In short, far too many politicians and partisans go around acting like there’s nothing to see in a process that amounts to gaslighting voters.  And Justin Trudeau does it too.  When he’s not being cosmic about the space-time continuum he alternates gaffes with nonsense in a remarkably blithe way, on everything from deficits to China’s sparkling environmental record and admirable dictatorship to how Albertans make terrible Prime Ministers and Quebeckers need to run Canada.  Then he acts like it never happened.

Most people, for instance, would be embarrassed to swagger into the national unity file dragging that last clunker.  Not him.

Oh well.  It’s all fun and games, right?  Because you have your truth and I have mine and… hang on.  Bill Morneau has our money and needs way more of it and forgot.

Here’s where the rubber hits the cheque.  Deficits are real.  Debts are real.  Interest payments are real.  And we have a Finance Minister who just forgets billions in spending, still can’t make the numbers look attractive, and thinks it’s funny.

He’s not the one who should be laughing.  We should.  At him.

Photo Credit: Jeff Burney, Loonie Politics

More from John Robson.    Follow John on Twitter at @thejohnrobson

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