The Disappointment of Election Budgets: Long on Pork Short on Priorities

Travis Fast

From a policy point of view election budgets are always a bit of a disappointment. And this year’s budget is no exception. The problem with an election budget is that it is designed to spread the gravy over the finest pork going.

Why pork? The central issue is this. There are any number of serious structural problems within any given country at any given time. The problem with election budgets is that they do not set a list of priorities and decide which structural issues will be given the necessary attention and resources, but, rather, are driven by the need to placate all the major vested interests: voters, corporations and provinces. The problem is that placation does not equal a comprehensive solution but rather a series of eclectic half-measures that do not add up to a coherent national policy or plan. So while everyone gets a little bit nobody gets enough to solve their fundamental problem: a little for the environment but not enough to even come close to a serious plan; a little for child care but not enough to actually make cheap affordable high quality child care a reality; a little for provinces but not nearly enough to make up for previous years of off-loading and the economic inequalities that it help to create.

The list of course goes on and on. Election budgets are bad because they attempt to mask the priorities of the ruling party and this is exacerbated when speaking of ruling parties in a minority position. I do not have the details at this time but I suspect as the fine print is sifted through and the numbers are crunched this budget is going to be long on smoke and mirrors (and provincial federal relations) and very short on decisive action. And while that might be a good thing so far as Tory budgets go, Canadians would to well to dwell on the fact that this tickle trunk approach to politics and economic development is the kind of monkey business that lead to 15 years of irresponsible liberal and conservative budgets and another painful 15 years to unwind.

And it seems this what we are back to: budgets devoid of vision and a plan but filled to the brim with crass political calculation. Gravy on top of the pork is good but vegetables are better.

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6 thoughts on “The Disappointment of Election Budgets: Long on Pork Short on Priorities

  1. A “series of eclectic measures” OK, but when has it ever been different, back to 1867? One thing the past half dozen years has shown is that minority government is better in practical results than either of the dinosaurs being in the majority. As for environment, well we can be sure that nature will be up to scaring the heck out of us all in a regular way, and the “measures” will be racheted up on a monthly basis, who ever is in office. It is not governance, it is vote buying? OK , but if Harper does not call an election very soon, it will wear off with the same care it was put together:very little and very fast. And however they settle the hash of those planet killers in Alberta will do for the moment, will it not?

  2. If a government is anticipating an election they tend to produce a budget as described. If a government has just come out of an election they often fail to “set a list of priorities and decide which structural issues will be given the necessary attention and resources” in an attempt to keep hasty election promises, or hide the fact that they have to break them. Even in the middle of a majority govenment mandate, budgets “are driven by the need to placate all the major vested interests: voters, corporations and provinces.” Look how long it took to build the welfare state in the first place. Our former national policy was the product of placation.

  3. The 90s does not support your argument. Whatever one might say about the liberals during the 90s, they set clear deficit reducing goals and achieved them.

  4. Hmmm, agreed. Distaste for these budgets, and my perception that the Liberals campaigned from the left and governed from the right no doubt clouds my mind.

    I wish I hadn’t said ‘Even in the middle of a majority government mandate, budgets “are driven by the need to placate all the major vested interests: voters, corporations and provinces,”’ because it still may be telling that the big guns of deficit reduction weren’t brought out until after the relatively tame 94 post-election budget .

    In your opinion is placation the cause of the lengthy period of time between the popularity of neoliberal rhetoric under Mulroney and neoliberal ‘success’ in the 90’s?

  5. That is good question. In part the 1980s was neoliberalism by stealth. The Bank of Canada really played a huge role behind the scenes via interest rates. The free trade agreement really boosted financial interests over all others, which in turn helped to lock in and intensify continental restructuring so that by the mid-1990s more radical options were viewed as unrealistic. Add to that that the fact that debt-servicing costs had gotten way out of control and the financial community was really pushing the doom and gloom line. Hence by 1995 the groundwork was laid for a really aggressive neoliberal legislative agenda. Which in turn was foisted on the remaining recalcitrant Provinces, which in turn set to slashing their own spending.

    In hindsight the fix was in once the normative commitment to full employment was abandoned and the Bank of Canada was allowed to pursue a non-accommodative monetary policy, which also raised the servicing costs of the debt.

    So yes partly placation as politicians learned how to sell budget cuts and privatization to the people. And there was also the learning curve that the putative “left” really was not that strong. After 20 years of hardship expectations had been worn down and militancy wrung-out

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