Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty are in the unenviable position of trying to craft a budget that will make everyone happy, or at least not upset too many of the wrong people. At the end of November, fiscal conservatives had good reason to be optimistic. In his economic update, Flaherty promised that the government would continue to run a surplus. Was this to mean the government would reduce spending? I do not know. Of course, times have changed and the Liberals are using the threat of a coalition to put massive spending increases into the budget.
Ever since the government announced they would be unlocking the federal treasury, it seems as though everyone is coming out of the woodwork with their hands out. The following is a list of just some of the people that would like your hard earned tax dollars in something I like to call: 'Who wants your money now?'
The Liberals hold all the cards in this scenario. The NDP has already stated that it will vote against the budget, so it's up to the Liberals to either make or break the Harper government. So what do the Liberals want? The problem is that no one really knows. Ignatieff has stated that the budget must meet three goals: "Will it protect the most vulnerable, will it save jobs, and most important of all, will it create the jobs of tomorrow?"
These conditions are vague enough that Ignatieff will easily be able to claim victory no matter what actually makes it into the budget. And while media reports make it sound as though the Liberals have been instrumental in crafting the budget, Harper says they have not given him much. "We do not have detailed proposals... [but] we have reason to believe we're on the same track," said Harper. Now there's a statement that inspires confidence in the stability of our federal government.
If anyone is good at talking about spending money, it's the NDP. The party is looking for a $32 billion stimulus package. However, the NDP no longer have any leverage over the situation, so their demands are unlikely to make it into the budget.
Late last week, Harper met with the premiers, as well as territorial and aboriginal leaders in an effort to secure a broad range of support for the budget. Of course, in order to do that, billions of dollars will have to be transferred to provincial governments. The premiers are asking for spending on infrastructure, job training, education, employment insurance, and stimulus for key industries including the auto sector, forestry, mining, agriculture, and the oil industry. Wait a second! The oil industry? The same companies that have been posting record profits for years now? The same companies that continue to gouge us at the pump? Heck, why not? After all, we are talking about borrowed money. We'll just let our children pay for all this.
Speaking of children, let's not forget our cities. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities has a list of more than 1,000 infrastructure projects, valued at $1.37 billion, that they would like to get funding for. Likewise, the Assembly of First Nations is also looking for $3 billion worth of stimulus money for infrastructure, housing, education, and businesses.
This list is by no means exhaustive. Other groups trying to get their greedy hands into federal coffers include the military, aerospace industry, affordable housing groups, charities, arts groups, tech companies, banks, and money lenders just to name a few. At least we're not the only country dealing with this issue, as Lewis Black points out.
With the new found appreciation for government spending taking place in Canada, and around the world, it would be nice to know that this money is actually going to benefit the economy. Unfortunately, there is a growing amount of evidence that it does not. Now I just feel used.