Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The reviews are in

Murray Mandryk gets at part of the reason for the consistent gap between conservative parties' claims to fiscal responsibility and their actual track record of massive deficits. But unfortunately, both the provincial and federal governments are offering up ideal case studies:
The political instinct that the Saskatchewan Party premier must fight in 2010 is his dyed-in-the-wool conservative belief that we will simply grow our way out of the budgetary problems we're now encountering.

Of course, Wall and his officials are quick to dismiss any such unflattering characterizations. And with a remarkable economic upturn in its first 18 months of rule, the Sask. Party has been spared from having to put any of its philosophy to the test. However, its first taste of economic adversity (in the last few months) has really served to demonstrate how deeply rooted this Conservative economic philosophy might really be in Wall's governing Sask. Party ranks.

Facing a mid-year 2009-10 budget report that ushered in Wall's first real governing challenge (in the form of a $1.05-billion overall deficit), what we saw is a disturbing return to some old Conservative notions:

- Debt and deficit are manageable.
- That $1.8-billion overestimate of potash revenues was a blip on a market that will correct itself next year, and;
- You can always rely on your resource economy to grow your way out of deficit.

This was a wrong-headed belief made famous by former Progressive Conservative premier Grant Devine, who said early in his term that you could "mismanage the Saskatchewan economy and still run surpluses." But it was also the fervent belief of Brian Mulroney's federal Progressive Conservatives of the 1980s and, to some extent, the Stephen Harper Conservatives of today.

Unfortunately, the history of the Devine and Mulroney governments demonstrated that market recoveries...don't automatically translate into the end of a deficit cycle.

Disturbingly, it was a similar unfettered belief in the surging market that likely led the Sask. Party government this spring to ignore the better advice of its own ministry of finance and bet the budget on a repeat of 2008's record potash revenues.

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