Just as Paul Martin had the Auditor General Sheila Fraser to continually be the bearer of bad news that ultimately destroyed his leadership, it seems that Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page is going to do the same for Stephen Harper. After months of Harper misleading the country about its finances, promising no deficits, ever, while spending gleefully into the red, Page is becoming an increasingly visible figure for calling out the government for its rose-coloured portraits of the economy.
Today, Page warns that the Conservative pledge to get us back into the black by 2013-14 may not be all that likely, and that a structural deficit may arise unless the Tories take significant steps to curb spending. The $85B hole that this government is planning to dig may be too deep for us to climb out of within the next five years (cue the Simpsons line: "No, no, dig up, stupid!") and that the debt servicing and program spending will leave us in a position where we automatically find ourselves in deficit.
There is an emerging contrast between the Liberal governments of the 1990s and Stephen Harper's government: whereas the Liberals always ran on worst-case scenarios when presenting the budget, the Conservatives seemingly always run on the best forecasts available. When Chretien & Martin pledged to hit a certain target in cutting the deficit, they would invariably end up exceeding that target and getting back into the black sooner than expected and bringing in huge surpluses. They had a built-in contingency fund in the budget to ensure manoeuverability (sp?), a feature that the current government has eliminated as it continues to try selling Canadians the best picture possible without any regard for potential negative impacts on the economy.
I'm currently reading Paul Martin's memoirs. In a number of places he made some rather dire forecasts regarding Canada's economy and the Conservative government. It should not be all-too-surprising that those forecasts are indeed being realized.
Not only is Mr. Page sounding off on the government's rosy projections, now we get other MPs finding holes in Mr. Flaherty's accounting. It goes back to what I was saying about rosy projections--the continual over-selling will come back to bite these guys sooner rather than later.