After being roused from a comfy autumn prorogue, the federal government handed down the speech from the throne Wednesday.
Among the government priorities is legislation to mandate balanced budgets at the federal level "in normal economic times."
You'll forgive us if we greet the promise with a bit of skepticism.
Never mind that the current government has only overseen a shrinking surplus and five deficit budgets. Never mind that this government also once created its own fixed election date law and then promptly broke it. Never mind that other parties in other levels of government, including our own B.C. Liberals, have passed balanced budget legislation only to repeatedly violate it when economic reality got in the way.
Such legislation always has more to do with politics than with fiscal prudence. The loopholes yawn large, even at a first blush. Who defines a "normal economic time"? Or an "event of economic crisis"? Most of the last five years could fit into the latter category.
The Conservatives will likely pack the legislation into another omnibus bill, which the opposition parties will vote against. So don't be surprised to see more Tory attack ads next spring, spinning a tale about the Liberals and New Democrats being against balanced budgets.
The fact is the government can't legislate its finances into the black any more than it can legislate crime away.
Most governments run deficits when times are tough and create surpluses during boom times. But that's based on reality, not special legislation.
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