Deficit-B-Gone: Liveblogging Jim Flaherty's maybe-mini-budget in Victoria

3:51 PM

Hey everybody, it’s the very nearly late-to-the-fiscal-festivities ITQ, who hit a wave of technical snarliness right about the same time that Finance Minister Jim Flaherty was about to hit the stage to deliver the fall fiscal update to the Victoria Chamber of Commerce.

It seems to be resolved now — well, fingers crossed — and the minister is in the middle of a deliberately upbeat intro to the main event; he cracks a few jokes about being lobbied for infrastructure funding by the university president — sorry, didn’t catch the name — and then moves on to list the “encouraging signs” that is, in his view, the earliest of stages of a fragile-like-butterfly-wings Canadian economy. Hurray! “We’re far from out of the woods yet,” he cautions, without adding the usual bit about how an election would throw us into economic chaos.

3:55 PM

Also, our banks rock.

3:56 PM

These days, when it comes to fiscal policy, boring is where it’s at, Flaherty notes — Canada’s dull old carefully regulated banking system being an excellent example. He goes over some of the other reasons why Canada wasn’t hit as hard as other countries — all that debt repayment, that kind of thing — and notes that this is what allowed the government to bring in a short-term stimulus package to contend with the recession. The Economic Action Plan, he reminds us, is “designed to help us when and where it’s most needed” – and it’s clearly showing results. (Some might dispute that adjective, but this is the minister’s show.

3:58 PM

Hey, he’s not wearing a green tie! That’s just — downright disorienting, frankly. Unless it’s just a trick of the camera — I guess it could be a very dark, sombre green. Is there a new-tie rule for fiscal updates, a la new shoes for a budget?

Also, complacency is our enemy. Grrr.

3:59 PM

And here we go — this is not the time to play political games, or act in narrow, partisan interest. So I guess he’s not introducing changes to the public financing system after all.

4:01 PM

You guys, I think we may have been snookered into thinking this speech was going to be more sensational than it seems to be turning out to be, although I guess he could be saving the juicy stuff for the end. (That’s why you should always read embargoed speeches from back to front.) He’s going on and on about the many fine fiscal deeds under his ministerial belt, but he’s not giving much in the way of specifics.

4:03 PM

A Tim Horton’s reference — no, not like that; he’s pointing to the decision by the company to move its corporate headquarters back to Canada as a testament to our delightfully forward-thinking business tax regime.

Oh, and as per Canadian Press, he’s going to tell us that the country will, alas, remain in deficit until 2015.

4:06 PM

And now, the fall fiscal update! Wait, no, first — the Making Of The Fall Fiscal Update, in which the minister assures us that he has consulted a wide circle of private sector economists and forecasters, as is his wont, and — then spends longer than you’d expect pointing out all of those forecasts have subsequently been found wanting. Which makes ITQ — cynic that she is — think that he’s well aware that whatever numbers he’s about to unleash are going to be ripped to shreds by roving gangs of feral economists.

4:09 PM

This government will not raise taxes. No way, no how, no dice. As for “slashing away at government spending” like those scissor-happy Liberal governments of yore, that’s not on his agenda either — well, not as far as reducing transfer payments to those poor little provinces.

4:10 PM

The home renovation tax credit is a temporary measure, y’all — temporary! Just like many of the other measures that will expire after next year, including freezing employment insurance rates and — other stuff, like all that spending. See, fiscal conservatives? It was just temporary insanity. They’re going to be all saned up by 2010 at the latest. Promise.

4:12 PM

Is there a duller slogan than “Staying The Course”? I think most emphatically not. A “sustained economic recovery,” however, must come first — before paying down the deficit — and uncertainty has made the timing of a return to surplus even more uncertain. It does that, uncertainty. The upshot? A teeny tiny deficit — just $5 billion or so dollars — in 2014-15 — a wee, modest tab that will be easy-peasey to pay off the next year. Wait, huh? If it’s that manageable, couldn’t they just — manage it away completely?

4:15 PM

“This may sound easy,” Flaherty tells us — restraining the growth in government spending, that is. No, actually; the word ITQ would use is “vague,” since he’s not actually telling us what they’re going to do in 2015, but apparently, that’s leadership. “It will require a lot of saying no to pet projects and special interests,” he says. Like — which ones, exactly? Or is this his version of “wait and see”? Anyway, don’t believe any politician who tells you that it can be done without pain. What pain? Did he accidentally skip the page of his speech where he gave even a broad idea of what kind of cuts that future leader is going to have to make when 2015 rolls around?

This is the weirdest fiscal update ever.

4:18 PM

More about uncertainty, and how uncertain it is. But look! Over there, on yonder horizon: The Olympics! Go for gold, Canada — metaphorically, literally, you name it. Unless that’s his plan — get Canada out of deficit by melting down gold medals. C’mon, athletes — hand ’em over for Canada.

4:19 PM

Wait, is that it? Seriously? Wow.

I’ll throw up a link to the full speech as soon as it goes online, but in the meantime, I — don’t know quite what to think. Is it crazy to have expected something with a little more — detail? How was that speech different from every other speech on how the deficit is just a temporary thing that he’s given since, well, going into deficit in the first.

4:25 PM

Phew, it’s not just ITQ who was weirded out by the lack of specifics:

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says Canada’s economic recovery will bring Ottawa very close to balanced budgets in five years but is refusing to promise exactly when the Tories will eliminate the federal deficit.

The Conservatives blamed their reluctance to lay out a detailed plan to return to surplus as reticence in the face of economic uncertainty.

The announcement, which comes just weeks before an expected election, is an attempt by the Conservatives to reassure voters of their ability to slay the federal deficit.

But while Mr. Flaherty had promised last week to explain to Canadians “how we will move back to surplus,” the effort presented today fell well short of this.

The Finance Minister vowed, however, in a Victoria speech Thursday that the Conservatives would enact measures to balance the budget as soon as the economic outlook grows clearer.

4:30 PM
As promised, here’s the speech — and the numbers. Go nuts, mathletes!