Advance View: Budget building windows

One of the main advantages of fixed-election-date legislation in a parliamentary system like Canada’s is that it removes the ability of the sitting government to wait for the right window to open to maximize its chances for re-election.

A disadvantage of fixed election dates is that governments are tempted to spend billions of dollars to build such a window.

In the past, federal budgets have often signalled a government’s intent to call an election. Now, the fixed October election date signalled this week’s federal budget.

The budget has “election” written all over it. It apologetically offers a $1.4-billion surplus, a nod to earlier predictions of a $6-plus-billion surplus, predictions nixed by a loss of $6 billion of revenue due to an unexpected 50 per cent drop in oil prices.

In the same breath, the smaller surplus is premised on predictions that oil prices will rise an unexpected 50 per cent.

There are always goodies in an election budget, and the treats are for seniors and those approaching retirement age. But they’re geared to be of greatest advantage to the most affluent seniors. Likewise, there are handouts for families – but affluence is again almost a prerequisite.

The surplus depends on an immediate one-time sale of stock options and a deep swig from the feds’ contingency fund.

Meanwhile, many of the goodies don’t come into effect for two years – lots of time for strategic back-tracking after this year’s election, if oil prices don’t budge.

Another disadvantage of fixed election dates includes a big advantage of a parliamentary system like Canada’s: it precludes a government from dissolving itself by lack of confidence in its leadership.

That’s why we don’t really have fixed election dates – the pertinent federal legislation is more like a guideline, allowing the government to ignore it… which Prime Minister Stephen Harper did once already.

The question that the current budget raises is whether it’s a window-building project or an excuse to bend the fixed-election guideline once again. 

– B.G.

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