Rex On The Budget

Rex Murphy shares his thoughts on the federal budget.

Rex Murphy shares his thoughts on the federal budget.

Read a transcript of this Rex Murphy episode

Thursday, March 29, 2012

First thing to say about today's Budget is we in Canada have a Budget. Down in the U.S., under a less kindly providence, they’ve gone three years without one, all the while spending in amounts - a trillion here, a trillion there - that have not been seen since money was invented and governments learned how to sponge up as much of it as they could.

Today I had a personal curiosity I grant you - would the government take a smack at the CBC? Well does Dracula hate mirrors and avoid the rising sun? Whether as a cost-cutting measure, or in answer to a deep yearning that has been in some Tory hearts since the days of Reform, a chop at the CBC this year was as predictable as the fall of autumn leaves.

But the Budget can - and will - tell us more, and speak to larger themes.

The bigger revelations come in what the Budget tells us of the leaders and their parties. For example, now that those grim Harperites have their majority, now that they're free of having to be so damn careful, does today's document tell us what they're really like? Will the famous "hidden agenda" finally see the unforgiving light? Or will it prove a phantom of melodramatic critics? Today had little that was hidden, but a decidedly Tory agenda.

Pushing back the timing of Old Age Security for 10 years - should this be read as just a pure Harper-Scroogian twist of the knife to older citizens? Or is it rather, with the long run-in time, more gesture than reform?

Will the NDP declare - in principle - 10 years from now or not, this cannot be done? Will the new Opposition with its brand new leader, acknowledge that the times are not normal, that some - some retrenchment is at least a defensible policy?

The government, now that those large 19,000 cuts announced, proceed with some genuine feeling for those their cuts will hit?

Mr. Harper's troops can sometimes be appallingly clumsy and crude - they have been know to liken their critics to child pornographers - hardly an index of courtesy or broad-mindedness. Can we conceive a budget debate in which the government is open to argument, freer with information, and less perpetually on the attack?

And an opposition, occasionally willing to concede that the government acts from something other than disdain?

The Budget today was Mr. Mulcair's real debut, the debate on the budget his real public introduction.

We will know the new Opposition leader after this, in a way the leadership contest, or last weekend's long vote, could not provide. We will know if he is old-line and bound to the rituals of the 'pure' NDP. Or whether, all those new Quebec seats and the times we live in, have woken Mr. Mulcair and the NDP to a new sense of themselves and what the country wants.

And of Mr. Harper, we will learn whether he is more pragmatist than ideologue. And with a budget speech that begins with pennies - even just getting rid of them - I think we're looking more at the pragmatist.

For the National, I'm Rex Murphy.