“The Government is planning on balanced budgets for the current and next five years, although given the downside risks, balanced budgets cannot be guaranteed.”
—Chapter 3, Economic and Fiscal Statement 2008, tabled Nov. 27
“The federal government is expected to post at least four years of budget deficits even before Ottawa spends a dime on stimulating the economy, suggests papers released by the Finance Department.”
—Canadian Press, Dec. 18
Each new story posted on the Globe’s website is now accompanied by a new shot of Jim Flaherty looking sick. The paper’s editorial this week—”Flaherty has the title-give him the job”—was altogether cruel in its sympathy for the man. The consensus belief that he has little say over the words that are coming out of his mouth, let alone the management of his department, is both an excuse and an insult. It’s not his fault, he’s just a pawn. And he is now being forced, in painful increments, to withdraw each and every sentence in that economic update he championed just three weeks ago. Death by a thousand retractions, as Gerry Ritz might joke.
He holds the second most hallowed position in government and all he’s getting for it is a slow motion public flogging. All the while, that snappy-dresser Mark Carney gets to go around looking calm and reasonable and, at least comparatively, in control.
Which seems a tad unfair, not least because Jim Flaherty seems like at least a halfway decent fellow.
He and John McCallum have had some nasty scraps, but the Finance Minister generally maintains his sense of humour. He can be self-effacing, publicly mocking his own height on at least a couple of occasions that I’m aware of. After every big day on the Hill, he goes over to the local watering hole and has a glass of red wine. Whatever the actual merits of his legislative actions and fiscal theories, he seems to possess a certain decency, or at least perhaps a greater sense of such than some of his seatmates.
Even if he is relatively powerless, he is not, of course, entirely blameless. His height notwithstanding, he’s a big boy. He’s responsible for what he says and does, all the more so because what he says and does has real, consequential influence on the nation’s economy and the relative livelihood of Canadians.
But if there truly exists a gap between what he says and does and what he believes, or if what he believes is not compatible with what he’s asked to do, or if he’s only the Finance Minister on the departmental letterhead, at what point does Gentleman Jim owe it to himself to walk into the Prime Minister’s office and tender his resignation?