Stephen Gordon reviews yesterday’s economic update.
The structural deficit introduced by the GST cut had to be addressed at some point. The 2011 budget would have been too early: the recovery was still fragile. In February, I was of the opinion that a small amount of fiscal contraction was appropriate for the 2012 budget: private-sector employment had recovered its pre-recession peak, and it was time to get federal government’s house in order in time for the next recession. And that’s what we got, although in the form of modest spending cuts (the 2012 budget had nothing on Paul Martin’s 1995 austerity program) and not a reversal of the GST reduction.
The main effect of slower-than-previously-expected growth is less income and expenditure, which means lower tax revenue. This would be bad news if Canada’s deficit and debt were at the levels they were 20 years ago, but—thanks to Paul Martin and Jean Chrétien—Jim Flaherty has a much thicker cushion to work with. Bond markets will not be upset by a slight delay in the path to a balanced budget, so there isn’t any pressing need for further fiscal tightening.