Last Monday (February 22), Finance Minister Bill Morneau took the unusual step of revealing to the public updated economic numbers a few weeks in advance of the federal budget. While touted by officials as a move that demonstrated the government’s commitment to transparency regarding the country’s finances, a veteran analyst said that this betrayed unwillingness on the Liberal administration’s part to deal with the problem decisively.
Writing for CBC News
, long-time Parliament Hill reporter and commentator Aaron Wherry noted that Morneau’s notion of transparency is at odds with a much larger figure than the under-$10 billion deficit initially promised by the Liberals during last year’s elections.
“What he did not tell his audience was the number that was reverberating elsewhere as he spoke: $18.4 billion. That number, disclosed an hour earlier in a briefing for reporters, is the projected deficit for the next fiscal year. It is, unquestionably, a large number,” Wherry wrote, adding that this figure does not yet take into account the spending required to implement the Liberal administration’s plans of investing in local markets.
According to Wherry, Morneau is in the unenviable position of justifying a larger deficit while attempting to revitalize an economy that has been battered by regional tensions and devalued oil.
“Precisely one month ahead of the budget, the Liberals might have at least undercut the shock that something like a $25-billion deficit might have been on March 22. But that is a limited victory. The economy, so dependent on factors beyond any government's control, is crawling along,” Wherry said.
And while Morneau stated the administration’s goal to be nothing short of “reimagining the Canadian economy”, Wherry argued that the prioritization and realistic outlook required by Canada’s grim fiscal situation would override the possibility of such a revolutionary change occurring in the near future. “That — an innovative, productive and low-carbon economy, the likes of which the government teases and aspires to — sounds like the sort of thing that might not come easy.”
“A government with a growing economy can probably be forgiven for much. A government without a growing economy will probably struggle to get permission to do much of anything,” Wherry concluded.