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The Canadian economy 101: A primer from Kevin Page

Seven charts with audio briefings on the federal budget


 
Darren Calabrese/CP

Darren Calabrese/CP

Finance Minister Joe Oliver’s budget speech, his parliamentary salesmanship of his party’s latest economic plan, will no doubt paint the rosiest possible picture of federal finances. Whatever he tells his colleagues in the House of Commons, and whatever the broader public gleans from the speech, one thing is certain: There’s much more to Oliver’s words than meets the eye. Oliver’s Department of Finance prints reams of Economic Action Plans, voluminous tomes that identify many of the government’s spending priorities, tax plans and economic forecasts.

Maclean’s Ottawa Bureau Chief John Geddes enlisted Kevin Page, the former Parliamentary Budget Officer and now a public finance professor at the University of Ottawa, to make sense of all those numbers. Page broke down the Harper era in federal budgets into seven charts.

1. Harper spending in a word: volatile

Page describes federal spending as volatile under Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. Big increases in total program spending from when they took power in 2006, then huge stimulus spending in 2009-10, then followed by restraint up to now.

page-program spending

2. Liberals are conservative, Conservatives are liberal

Page points out that federal spending as a slice of the whole Canadian economy, or a percentage of gross domestic product, fell under the previous Liberal regime, from 17.1 per cent GDP in 1992-93 to 12.6 per cent GDP in 2005-06, and then rose under the Conservatives.

page-spending-as-gdp-percentage

3. Less green for green programs

Restraint in the years since the recession-fighting stimulus spending of 2009-10 ended has not been even across all government operations. Spending on environment programs, for example, has dipped sharply.

page-environment programs

4. Transfers to the provinces: Harper’s calling card

A signature aspect of Conservatives spending, Page notes, is allowing transfer payments to individuals and provinces to increase while the rest of spending—what Ottawa spends on its own programs—has been held restrained in the post-stimulus years.

transfers

5. Public safety is a spending priority. . .

One area where spending has gone up is public safety, including on the RCMP and the federal prison system, and the border service.

page-spending safety

6. . . . but the military has felt the pinch

The Harper government has always made supporting the military a pillar of its messaging, but, in very recent years, at least, the spending track suggests a waning enthusiasm.

page-national defence

7. The back office, flush with cash

Back-office operations—functions such as information technology, human resources and contracting out—are supposed to be a target for Conservative restraint, as the government vows to make sure cuts don’t hit front-line services to Canadians. But Page’s data show those administrative functions getting more money, even as overall direct program spending is being squeezed.

page-back_office

8. The bedrock beneath the volatility

Despite all these fascinating fluctuations in narrowly defined areas of spending, the biggest big-picture look at categories of federal spending shows what looks like rather static strata of spending—like the bedrock under the operations of government.

page-spending categories

—with files from Amanda Shendruk


 
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The Canadian economy 101: A primer from Kevin Page

  1. Kevin Page is a Liberal, appointed by Paul Martin to spy on and spread falsehoods about the fiscally responsible Harper government.

    • I assume you’re kidding. You do know he was appointed by Harper, right?

      • Yes, I’m kidding.
        It’s just so damned dead here on the MacLeans boards that I thought I’d throw something ludicrous out there just to see if anyone still comes here.
        This used to be a lively, vibrant place to read comments – I don’t see how MacLeans could be proud of the ghost town it’s become.

    • Harper created the PBO. It didn’t exist before they came to power. Its supposed purpose was to hold the government to account by increasing transparency. Harper appointed Page. Problem was, no one told Page the position was a front; a mask; that he was supposed to be a good little lapdog.

      So he told the truth – and quickly found out how little Harper likes that.

      Sorry Daman – you need to check your facts.

      • My apologies KEITHBRAM. I was just checking to see if all I heard back was my own damned echo.
        My time here dates back to the days of Jack Mitchell and Guanilon. There were some lively debates back then and while there are still some good, insightful comments, most of the passion has drained away. I used to come here to cross swords in battle, and sometimes I even learned a thing or two from persuasive debaters.
        Cheers

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