On Tuesday, two of the three horses the Harper government will ride into the next election were out on display: Canada’s fiscal health and Senate reform. The third horse is the Canada / European Free Trade Agreement.
In Edmonton, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced that the government will have a budgetary surplus of $3.7 billion in 2015/2016. The larger than originally expected surplus will occur just in time for the next federal election.
The forecasts have been built with conservative assumptions meaning the surplus could come in even higher than currently projected. Even at the current projection, the budgetary surplus will allow the Harper government the opportunity to deliver on their 2011 election tax cut promises of income splitting for parents and expanded fitness tax credits. The promised tax cuts were contingent on the federal government balancing the budget.
Flaherty stated that, “I’m not a believer in spending money we don’t have, and we need to get to a balanced budget first and our plan was always to get to a balanced budget in 2015-16 to create room so that other initiatives can be undertaken.”
The second horse that Prime Minister Harper will be riding started with the Supreme Court hearing arguments from the government on how to proceed with the reformation or abolition of the Senate. The Supreme Court will decide if Ottawa can make changes to the Senate without consulting and approval from the provinces, in addition to whether all of the provinces would need to agree for abolition of the Senate versus seven provinces representing fifty percent of the population.
The Supreme Court decision will provide Harper with a lifeline to the Senate expense scandal by diverting attention from the scandal to fixing the problem. Harper will have the ability to throw his hands up in frustration if the Court rules no action can be taken on he Senate without getting into Meech Lake / Charlottetown constitutional type negotiations with the provinces. Something few Canadians have an appetite for.
Harper was laying the groundwork for this possibility at the Conservative Convention in Calgary earlier this month when he said to the party members, “this is the only party that has tried to reform the Senate. We were blocked by the other parties in the minority parliaments… and now we are being blocked in the courts.”
The opposition will have difficulty outflanking the Conservatives on these two issues and despite the damage done to the Prime Minister’s credibility over the past few months, the Opposition will need to ensure that the deficit / debt / Senate reform do not become the primary ballot question in the next election. It is a question that the Opposition will have difficulty gaining traction.
Trudeau has been stating that his priorities are geared towards the middle class however he has not yet provided Canadians with any specifics. The time is rapidly approaching in which both the NDP and Liberals will need to be much more specific on their plans towards the country’s finances.
As the next federal election approaches, Prime Minister Harper has already indicated in his Calgary speech how his government would like to define the choices for Canadians.
“Under our government Canada now has one of the best-run, advanced economies with some of the best prospects in the entire world. That is our record! … Could Justin Trudeau run the economy? In 2015, we’re not choosing the winner of Canadian Idol… we’re choosing someone to lead our economy. The only trade policy Justin Trudeau’s been working on is the marijuana trade! In the next election, the only choice to keep our country and our economy on the right track is the Conservative Party of Canada!”
Unless there is another scandal or crisis waiting in the wings, the Opposition will be challenged to race against Harper’s horses.