Here’s exactly what will be in the federal budget: James Cowan

Prepare for a snooze

James Cowan 0
(Adrian Wyld/CP)

(Adrian Wyld/CP)

We know the 2014 federal budget will be a “stay the course” budget, a “risk free” budget and a “no frills” budget. Some might even say it will be a “do nothing” budget. But these are euphemisms for the same thing. This budget will be dull. It will be boring. Prepare for a snooze.

There’s not even novelty in the promise of boredom; Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has recycled his “stay the course” message over the last few years. But the Conservatives are now promising boredom with renewed vigor as they focus squarely on eliminating the current $17.9 billion deficit and achieving a surplus by the 2015-2016 fiscal year. Towards this goal, Flaherty will likely renew a freeze on government departments’ own budgets, which will have helped cut $90 billion out of government spending between 2010 and 2017.

In a move apparently designed to rob the budget of any excitement, the single largest expenditure has already been announced, according to the Globe and Mail. Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Feb. 7 committed $1.9 billion towards improving education in First Nations communities. Meanwhile, Employment Minister Jason Kenney committed $800,000 to help skilled immigrants find work in their fields. These measures will be joined by additional new funding for job training and apprenticeships, all part of the government’s efforts to boost employment and aid segments of the population that have trouble finding work. “We have to do a better job of matching people that want to work with the jobs that are available,” Flaherty told CTV.

Flaherty has also promised money for infrastructure projects as spending begins on a 10-year renewal program unveiled in last year’s budget. The Conservatives have already identified a few key projects—like the Windsor-Detroit crossing, Montreal’s Champlain Bridge and Toronto’s subway expansion—that will likely receive the funding. The government is also expected to spend money on bringing the Internet to rural communities, with enough money to connect 280,000 homes.

For most Canadians, all of these measures will indeed seem “stay the course,” “no frills” and dull. But when the budget is balanced, things promise to get more exciting. The Conservatives made a number of promises in the 2011 election campaign that only take effect once the deficit is eliminated. They range from a hike to the limit for tax-free savings accounts to the introduction or expansion of fitness tax credits. Perhaps the most controversial measure would permit income-splitting for couples with children, allowing them to reduce their income tax burden. Flaherty told Global News that there’s a need for a “fulsome discussion” on income splitting, suggesting the campaign promise might be more of a campaign notion. A decision on income splitting will need to be made once the budget is balanced. Either way, the Conservatives will have to do something—including fight the 2015 election on their “stay the course” record.

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