Federal Budget Breakdown

As soon federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty releases his annual budget at 4 p.m. today, we’ll have a better idea if the Conservatives can live up to their lofty promise of eliminating Canada’s $26 billion deficit by 2015.

Sure it’s a worthy goal. But how does Flaherty make it happen under current conditions with: a weak economy, falling commodity prices, worrisome unemployment levels, debt-ridden households and a prevailing lack of enthusiasm for corporate spending?

Though media speculation varies, the consensus seems to be that it won’t be as austere as last year’s budget – we’ll see some spending cuts but these will be offset by new spending initiatives. Most are predicting a “no frills” document or, as one writer has already dubbed it, an “oh so Canadian” budget:  i.e. one that offers a break on hockey equipment, a boost to  manufacturing, little in the way of surprises and a finance minister wearing new shoes made by Roots.

Here’s a look at the commentary coming from Canada’s opinion makers.

  • The CBC’s Amanda Lang and Evan Solomon are predicting the Conservative’s will boost infrastructure spending, introduce new initiatives on skills training and make cuts to our military.
  • The Globe and Mail’s Andre Picard worries that this government’s continued unwillingness to invest in health care will mean “another lost opportunity to improve our health care system.”
  • The Toronto Star’s Carol Goar speculates that if the Tories don’t make deep spending cuts, Harper will go to the polls in 2015 as “the prime minister who failed to slay the deficit.”
  • And the National Post wonders if Flaherty’s “Questionable fiscal credibility and health” could mean this will be his last budget.

As well as the media, national advocacy and special interest groups have staked their claim to budget goodies:

  • Representing Canadians over 45, CARP is calling for a Universal Pension Plan, raising income support levels for poor seniors, improving home care and caregiver support, and increasing access to affordable drugs.
  • The left-leaning Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has released its 2013 Alternative Federal Budget, which calls for increased infrastructure spending and new tax bracket for higher earners.
  • The right-leaning Fraser Institute is begging the Conservatives to end “their fondness for new and/or expanded tax credits.”
  • The centrist C.D. Howe Institute envisions a budget that effects “further control of government spending” through reducing the ranks of federal employees and raising their contribution to pension and benefits.