Last Monday, the Finance Minister announced that the 2014 Budget would be tabled in the House at 4 pm on February 11th. The reaction in the media and among the Opposition Parties was very quick.  Why was the government planning to release its most important annual policy document during the Winter Olympics, when Canadians would be glued to their TV sets watching a tape of the  “luge” event?  Was the Government trying to deliver a “do nothing” budget, which would go unnoticed by all Canadians. Probably, but who cares?

Nevertheless, presenting the budget on February 11th does pose a considerable risk to Mr. Flaherty. In December the economy lost 60,000 full time jobs and the unemployment rate rose to 7.2 per cent. Last year was the worst year for job creation since 2009 with only 102,000 net jobs created.

Employment numbers for January 2014 will be published on February 7th. Mr. Flaherty must be praying for some good job numbers. But what if they show little improvement, or worse, a further loss of jobs and an increase in the unemployment rate?  He will not have time to change his  “bare-bones” budget.

This could undermine the credibility of the budget and the government’s reputation as “good economic managers”, a reputation that has been sinking fast recently. This is a political risk the government is obviously willing to take. Job creation, after all, has never been something this government has been really interested in. They will simply respond with the old worn out rhetoric of creating a million jobs .The one and only goal for this government is the elimination of the deficit in 2015-16. The government is clearly hoping that Canada will win the gold medal in hockey

Mr. Flaherty doesn’t really care if his budget is delivered in March or February. Five of Mr. Flaherty’s last eight budgets have been tabled in March, with the remaining in January, February and May. More importantly, Mr. Flaherty’s last four budgets have all been tabled in March.

Does the timing of the budget really matter?  It used to but not so much now.

With the budget tabled in February, the Government’s plans for departmental spending (the Main Estimates) will be based on that budget’s economic and spending assumptions. This would mean that Parliament would have a consistent estimate of government spending plans. With a detailed and credible reconciliation between the two sets of spending projections, Parliament and Canadians would have a much better understanding of how much the Government intends to spend in the upcoming fiscal year. This would greatly increase the credibility and transparency of the spending projections. This alone would justify a February Budget.

Mr. Flaherty probably doesn’t know, and probably doesn’t care, but he has done Parliament’ and Canadians, a huge favour by tabling his budget in February, provided the President of the Treasury Board provides a reconciliation between the two sets of numbers. The last time this was done was in the 2007 budget.

Nevertheless, why Mr. Flaherty decided to change the timing for the 2014 budget after tabling most of his previous budgets in March remains a mystery. The media are speculating that he did it because it will be a “bare-bones” budget and the Government wants it to go unnoticed. If that were the case, then Mr. Flaherty should have scheduled for a day when the Canadian Olympic hockey team was playing.

But what is a “bare bones” budget? Surely the 2013 budget qualifies as a “bare-bones”: budget? It did absolutely nothing but announce the proposed Canada Jobs Grant, which was a blunt attempt by the Harper Government to create a federal training initiative using Provincial funds. So far the only thing we have to show for this initiative is $2.5 million in fraudulent advertising.  In fact, there was more fiscal action taken in the 2013 Economic and Fiscal Update than in the 2013 budget.

What the media have forgotten is that this Government has fundamentally changed the nature of the budget. Prior to 2012, it was possible to get a pretty clear understanding of the government’s policy intentions by reading the budget documents presented on budget day. This all changed with the 2012 budget and 2013 budget. Their budget documents, besides being badly written, were noteworthy for their vagueness and, lack of detail and information. Both budgets, however, were followed by massive Budget Omnibus Bills, which contained major changes to a large amount of legislation either vaguely referred to, or not referred to at all, in the budgets.

 What really matters now is the Budget Omnibus Bill. This is where the government’s real policy intentions will set out. With a February budget, we won’t see the Budget Omnibus Bill until March or April. The 2014 budget may be a “bare-bones” budget, but that does not mean there will be a “bare-bones” Budget Omnibus Bill.

Forget February; the real budget will be in March or April. We will then see what surprises the government has for Canadians.















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