Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Speech's message balanced

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The early media hype said the promises in Wednesday's throne speech were intended to divert attention from the Conservative government's political problems, but the pledge to introduce balanced-budget legislation means Prime Minister Stephen Harper has not abandoned his most important principles.

As Manitobans know, balanced-budget legislation is only as good as the discipline of governing parties, but it also sets a benchmark that future ruling parties can only overturn at their peril.

The proposed legislation would permit deficits during tough economic times, but it would also set timelines for restoring the balance.

The Conservatives also promised a variety of populist consumer measures, such as lowering wireless roaming fees and unbundling cable TV packages, but they will be meaningless politically if the budget is not balanced in two years.

The Harper government has made jobs and the economy its No. 1 priority and it has staked its credibility on eliminating the fiscal red ink before the next general election in 2015. If the deficit is not wiped out, then all the trinkets and baubles in the throne speech may not be enough to stave off defeat for a government that depends on the perception it can be trusted with the economy.

Government deficits are not inherently evil and sometimes they are necessary, but large structural deficits put taxpayers at risk and reduce disposable income because debt has to be repaid. They are particularly problematic, however, in uncertain economic times.

Balanced budgets and surpluses mean a society can cope with sudden downturns caused by events outside the control of central governments.

The Harper government has also promised to introduce income-splitting for couples when the budget is balanced, which would be worth more in tax savings than cheaper TV.

The populist agenda outlined Wednesday can be achieved without new spending or major tax cuts, which means it will not interfere with the government's strategic goal of balancing the books. It remains to be seen if it will refocus Canadian attitudes about the Conservatives, but at least they did not sacrifice fiscal discipline for short-term political gains.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 17, 2013 A14

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