The Commons: Back to black along a road paved in copper

“Pennies take up too much space on our dressers at home,” Mr. Flaherty complained.


In keeping with tradition, the Finance Minister was applauded simply for showing up. Jim Flaherty arrived two minutes after four and, upon realizing his existence, the Conservatives stood and cheered. Poor Peter Stoffer, attempting to contribute to a debate on the Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada Act, was drowned out entirely.

With Mr. Flaherty in the room, the Speaker announced that the House would be moving on to government orders. The minister stood and his Conservative colleagues treated him to a second standing ovation. He proceeded with the procedural niceties required to table the budget documents and when he was finished there was more applause.

“Looking ahead,” he said when he’d finally begun, “Canadians have every reason to be confident.”

Twasn’t it ever thus? Has a Finance Minister ever stood in this place and tabled anything other than a prudent, forward-thinking masterstroke that cast us ahead to a more brilliant future? Is it possible that Archibald McLelan and Edgar Nelson Rhodes or another of Mr. Flaherty’s predecessors once rose and pleaded for the House’s mercy or confessed that he was only vaguely sure of the numbers?

Likely not. Indeed, within a few paragraphs, Mr. Flaherty was referencing the hopeful words of Sir George Eulas Foster, our eighth finance minister.

“His words are more compelling now than he could have imagined,” Mr. Flaherty mused. ” ‘There is especial need just now for long vision and the fine courage of statesmanship, and the warm fires of national imagination. Let us summon them all to our aid. We should not be thinking overmuch of what we are now, but more of what we may be fifty or a hundred years hence. Let us climb the heights and take the long forward look.’ ”

Mr. Flaherty confessed here that this government has been taking its inspiration from Sir George all along. “Since 2006 our government has taken that long forward look,” the Finance Minister explained.

So how then did we get here? How did the federal balance end up in deficit?

“Let us review the record,” Mr. Flaherty proposed. He proceeded then to list eight different tax breaks.

It was around this time that a woman in the west gallery stood and said she was a student. Another woman then stood and announced, “I am a senior.” Then there was someone shouting in the north gallery. And then there were a couple dozen on their feet, chanting, “This is not our budget” and “Where are we in your budget?” Some of them disrobed enough to display a t-shirt bearing that slogan. Within a few minutes the House security staff had coaxed the protesters to the exits.

Mr. Flaherty sat and waited. With the disruption quelled, he stood and his colleagues treated him to another standing ovation.

Returning to his text, Mr. Flaherty congratulated himself on the stimulus package his government eventually offered in January 2009. He saluted the country’s relative success. He warned of unnamed forces who would seek to “kill jobs, impose crushing deficits, and cripple our economy.” Those who would “squander Canada’s advantage.” Those who would turn us into Greece.

“Our government will not allow that to happen,” he assured.


So about that deficit. “We are on track,” Mr. Flaherty said. “In less than two years, we have already cut the deficit in half.” But he would not rest on such laurels. “In this budget we will take the next steps,”  he continued. “We will implement moderate restraint in government spending.”

The same party that promised never to run a deficit now celebrates the fact that the deficit it is currently running is only half as large as the deficit it was running a couple years ago. The same party that condoned the G8 Legacy Fund now preaches restraint. (Awhile later, Mr. Flaherty would actually announce “new funding to improve border infrastructure.” Somewhere in Muskoka, a smalltown mayor surely made a note of this.)

The road back to black is apparently paved in the copper of our obsolete coinage.

“The vast majority of the savings will come from eliminating waste in the internal operations of government, making it leaner and more efficient,” Mr. Flaherty explained. “For example, our government will do what everyone agrees should have been done long ago. We will eliminate the penny.”

This was apparently a big deal. The top item on Mr. Flaherty’s list of fiscal prudence. The great realization of Sir George’s dream.

“Pennies take up too much space on our dressers at home,” Mr. Flaherty complained. “They take up far too much time for small businesses trying to grow and create jobs.”

The burden of sorting and rolling would now be lifted. Mr. Flaherty’s legacy was now assured. And yet, there was still more. Public servants would now be asked to participate in more video conferences. And large government documents would no longer be printed on paper.

Various smart alecks on the opposition held aloft the brick sized budget books that the House pages had handed out to every MP.

The rest was all denouement. A series of oh-by-the-way footnotes about reforms to Old Age Security, public service pensions, immigration, innovation policy and the regulation of natural resources development.  Left unmentioned was the 19,200 public service positions that will apparently be eliminated.

“Mr. Speaker, I’ve gone on almost as long as it seems,” Mr. Flaherty quipped around 4:30pm.

He proceeded finally to loftiness, his speechwriters starting six consecutive sentences with the phrase “we see” as Mr. Flaherty waxed poetic about all the serenity ahead. “We see Canada for what it is and what it can be—a great, good nation, on top of the world, the True North strong and free,” he said, somewhat confusingly. “Our government has been inspired by this vision from the beginning. Today we step forward boldly, to realize it fully—hope for our children and grandchildren; opportunity for all Canadians; a prosperous future for our beloved country.”

Here, then, a fourth standing ovation.

The NDP’s Peter Julian stood waiting for the cheering to subside. When it had he immediately offered the line he’d no doubt been waiting hours to deliver.

“All we can say,” he said, “is this budget is a penny wise and a pound foolish.”

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The Commons: Back to black along a road paved in copper

  1. A lot of blather and no budget.

  2. There appears to be no interest in the regular commenters here to contribute to the Budget discussion. Many posts from several bloggers but few comments.

    I would think that the politically astute here would be interested in commenting on the future path of the country. Apparently not. They would appear to be more interested in the National Enquirer type of shallow discussions. I would suggest that if MacLeans wants more traffic from their regulars they should try to include words like robocall, or jets or jails, in their Budget headlines in order to grab the attention of those in the shallow end.

    •  It’s a non-budget….nothing to comment on.

    • Well, as Flaherty described it,  it’s Economic Action Plan 2012.  He’s just put the breaks on, slightly.  So. if we can believe his projections we will reach Liberal style surplus – after the next election. 

    • Have you considered that for all the hoopla, there’s not really anything in this budget to discuss?

      It’s pretty middle of the road really, and was mostly telegraphed ahead of time, so we’ve dicussed the relevant topics already. Even the fews areas that concern me, like environmental reviews, don’t provide enough details to really know what they’re actually going to do, so how can one discuss it?

      I mean how does one limit a review to two years in any practical sense? Most of what causes these things to drag out are the difficulties in planning coupled with the slow response rates of firms in providing documents for review. So what does a time limit mean? Is a project automatically ruled out or in after two years? What is being cut in order to keep them within the time frame? Nothing so far as I can tell.

      So again, even if one wanted to discuss the few interesting bits of this mostly bland budget, there’s not enough detail to bother.

      Frankly I’m surprised they aren’t taking advantage of their majority at this stage. If they were going to do something “transformative” you’d think now would be it eh?

  3. I find it quite interesting that even though the budget is much milder than the media had led us to believe, the NDP and Liberals are still all up in arms as if the end of the world was coming. I guess they live in a fantasy world. They got rob of their fodder for outrage, so they manufacture it. Sad.

    •  The outrage is because there’s nothing there.

  4. The budget must have been great. Not too left leaning and not too right leaning. Everybody seems to be complaining about something but the sense I get is the document is a pragmatic non offensive document. The opposition will refuse to support it but guess what….it doesn’t matter.

    •  Yup, we’re competing with the world during a dangerous time….. and Harp comes up with a  ‘pragmatic non offensive document’

      Not. a.clue.

      • Trouble is your p.ssed because the document was so inoffensive and you are finding trouble finding something to b.tch about. Its a good day on the McLeans blog. Emily and Jan are frustrated

        •  How very oddly people interpret things.

          The purpose of a budget is to look after the economy,  not to be offensive or inoffensive….this isn’t a class in manners.

          The budget was a dead loss….it’s a do-nothing document….once again an opportunity has been lost to move the country ahead.

          A majority govt….at the beginning….when he had a chance to really change things without fear of an election….and instead of any bold moves….or moves at all….he dawdled and he drifted.

          Eliminating pennies, or laying off civil servants could have been done at anytime….that didn’t require a budget.  Changing the retirement age years down the road didn’t either.

          No ‘transformational’, no sweeping changes…..he ‘laboured mightily, and brought forth a mouse’.

          And Canada suffers for it.

          Your leader is a wimp with no vision.

          • The budget measure that best illustrates the vision of The Harper Government is the decision to tax the GG’s salary while increasing it sufficiently to cover any net effect.  Typical harperian two step.

          •  Yes, that was absurd…he could simply have said all future GGs will pay taxes and be done with it.

            Or really it didn’t need to be mentioned at all

          • As I say you are just p.ssed. He could discover the cure for cancer and you would still find something to criticize.
            The fact is there is incremental change going on and yet in your partisan eyes you cannot recognize it. All things come to those who wait as the saying goes.

          •  He didn’t find the cure for ANYthing….not even a HELP to the economy.

            You are defending a blank document.

            PS….we all know about the sneaky political moves….which don’t have anything to do with a budget….and in fact just ensures violence down the road, which will cost us again.

      • LOL So what would you have liked to have seen in it? Nothing to criticize in the budget, so you’re complaint is that there’s nothing to criticize? That’s too funny!

        •  There is nothing to praise either….it’s a non-budget.

          Amongst many other things, this was the time to get rid of marketing boards.

          • They didn’t need a budget to get rid of the CWB. Speaking of which, you were against them ending the CWB, but now you’re *for* them ending other marketing boards? If this is the best suggestion you Liberals can come up with, I think everybody will be very satisfied with this budget.

          •  No, they didn’t need a budget for that….we didn’t for the penny either.

            But eliminating marketing boards would allow us to enter important trade agreements….and something like that should definitely be in a budget.

            As to the CWB, what I actually said was…why pick on just the CWB….all marketing boards should go.

            I mentioned one thing….there are lots of other things that should be done….but you’re too busy repeating nonsense about me to think about it.

          • LOL *I*’m too busy for *you* to think? LMAO

    • Nothing in it, on the surface at least, that wasn’t already telegraphed. What will be interesting is how they go about implementing. The devil is in the details that aren’t in the document itself…

      • That’s the whole point. Make it sound like it is going to be worse than it actually is and that taps down all the hyperbole and partisan rhetoric when the budget is actually presented.

        You are right the devil will be in the details but the opposition is sure having trouble trying to find something to complain about other than the usual boilerplate stuff that the Dippers love.

    • I think it’s a decent budget. Unremarkable really. The most striking thing about it is it’s lack of ambition. The biggest single item (the OAS measure) is post-dated by more than a decade. It is vindictive but fairly mildly so, by the standards of the CPC. I’d have liked to see deeper spending cuts myself, but it’s not bad for a Liberal budget. 

      On a scale of 1-10 I give it 7.25

  5. Scrapping the penny is a long time coming, and it’s impact on the economy will be much smaller than the endless media coverage it’s sure to get.

    I’m fine with austerity measures, Lord knows we need them. But I think there’s a serious mixup in priorities that might be the beginning of Harper becoming out of touch with normal Canadians.

    The priorities of the Conservatives are skewed. Canadians understand that cutting our spending must be a priority, but if we’re going to cut spending on positive social and cultural programs then why on earth are we still going ahead with stupid, idealogued crime policies that historically have proven not to work. If we’re going to use economic need as an excuse to cut Katimavik (a wonderful youth program), then how can we excuse the exorbitant cost of sending more young people to jail as a result of this crime bill. I also think I speak for most of the Canadian public when I say that I have no idea at this point whether or not we’re buying those fighter-jets, but if that continues that it further proves my point.

    It is absolutely vital to work towards running surpluses. But a government cant say it’s working for austerity while simultaneously preparing to spend billions on a crime policy that is destined to fail.

    • On your last point, the government is not preparing to spend more on crime policy. They are planning to impose more costs on the provinces but they are cutting federal spending on judicial administration.  

      I think the whole tough-on-crime rhetoric is just window dressing for the CPC. They like to rattle their plastic sabres but when push comes to shove it’s the provinces that have to implement these measures and – quite frankly – I don’t think they intend to do it. Then the CPC can bleed their rubes for donations to vilify provincial premiers. 

  6. Pennies are made of zinc. They haven’t been copper in five or six decades. They kept the tax credit for natural resource investing. Wonderful.