A while back, an enthusiastic relative in Saskatchewan used old-fashioned Canada Post to mail us the boxed set of Battlestar Galactica. It was the updated version of the Lorne Greene space opera, and in this modern version, Vancouver is the stand-in for a space-age city blasted by invading robots.
As bold type tells us at the beginning of each adventure, the robots, called Cylons, were created by humans, but they rebelled.
To disturbing rhythmic music, the screen tells us, "They look, and feel, human. Some are programmed to think they are human."
The final ominous line: "And they have a plan."
Well, I am not saying the Conservatives and their leader, Stephen Harper, are nefarious robots disguised as humans. What I am saying is that like the Cylons, the Conservatives have a plan.
As I write, the first round of hoopla over the budget is just dying down.
The finance minister, Jim Flaherty, has given his speech in the House of Commons. Opposition Leader Michael Ignatieff has said he won't vote in favour of the budget, but he will contrive not to let the government fall and cause an election.
Essentially, the government has it all worked out. They have a plan. It is there in black and white and Tory blue on the Department of Finance website.
There are bar charts.
The deficit may have expanded by nearly $50 billion from last year to this, but next year, it is going to shrink a little. The next year after that, it is going to shrink even more. And in five years, it will be almost gone.
Plans can go awry
However if this is a Cylon budget, we must beware.
At the beginning of the TV show, using their wise, all-knowing, mechanical brains, the Cylons have a plan. They must have a plan. It says so in bold type at the beginning of each adventure.
But in TV shows, just as in real life, plans go awry.
At the beginning, it seems the Cylon plan is clear and singular — to wipe human life out of the universe. Being brilliant mechanical thinkers, they probably had bar charts at least the equal of those on the Finance Department website.
A few million humans a year and zap! — in a few years they're all gone.
But annoyingly — from the Cylon point of view of course — those wretched human flesh puppets keep fighting back. Not only that, but as the television series lingers on and on, it appears that the absolute and singular plan is not as clear as we thought. There may be a plan. But it has changed.
Now back to Earth, and Ottawa.
For the Cylons read Tories.
For the annoying and persistent humans, read federal deficit.
Bar charts aren't enough
If this is a Cylon budget, drawing a bar chart is not enough. Reality (or the TV show equivalent, plot line) has a way of intervening.
Government revenue, charted to grow by $80 billion over five years, may not do that well. Increasing revenue depends on growing incomes. And they depend on a growing economy both here and in our biggest trading partner south of the border.
A robust U.S. recovery is far from assured, and when stimulus programs end, growth may not be so healthy as it seems.
Saving money by cutting the civil service is much more politically painful than demonstrating it with a bar chart. Former Ontario premier Bob Rae's efforts to cut the province's budget that way caused his overthrow, and has been an albatross around his neck to the present day.
Undoubtedly, keeping to the plan will be difficult in many different ways.
But if this really is a Cylon budget there is something else we should consider: Maybe the clear and singular reason for this budget is not what we thought.
The Cylons had a plan. But it changed.
Maybe it wasn't what we thought it was at all.
What if the Cylons never really cared whether they wiped out those pesky humans at all?
What if all they really wanted was to take power and keep it?