We got a good reminder today of why it would be foolish to write off the Conservatives in 2015:
Conservatives’ new surplus forecast: $3.7-billion for election year
Ottawa’s fall economic update shows the government is counting on a surplus of at least $3.7-billion in 2015-16, the year of the next federal election.
A mix of spending cuts, public sector wage control and the sale of government assets are behind the latest government numbers, which show a better bottom line than the $800-million 2015-16 surplus forecast in the March budget. There are also several conservative assumptions in the numbers, meaning the surplus could easily come in higher than currently planned.
You’ll remember the 2011 election featured a swarm of promises by the Conservatives that would only come into being once the budget got back in black. As ridiculous as the “4-year IOU” was at the time, it now looks more and more like Flaherty’s pre-election budget will be one of the most voter-friendly in Canada’s history. Income splitting! An adult fitness tax credit! Double your TFSA space!
Which means the spring and summer of 2015 will feature a barrage of commercials (courtesy of the Government of Canada and taxpayers everywhere) touting these new initiatives, while Conservative Cabinet Ministers fan across the country to remind us it would not have been possible without Stephen Harper’s strong and steady leadership during this turbulent period. And, oh yeah, it could all be for naught if we take a risk on that pothead.
I would argue the narrative that Harper successfully guided Canada through the recession is mostly fiction – he inherited a surplus, became the largest spending Prime Minister in Canada’s history, and recent cuts make up only a very small percentage of the expected surplus. But fiction is what sells (Harper himself will realize this once the minuscule royalty cheques from his hockey book start trickling in). And fiction or not, the story Flaherty read today will be a lot more relevant to voters in 2015 than whatever happened with a few senators all the way back in 2013.
What’s interesting is that this story is largely cribbed from the Jean Chretien’s 2000 election playbook. Yes, the Liberals were dealing with scandals, voters were tiring of them, and the “succession question” loomed over everything. But Paul Martin’s budget and economic update offered what he dubbed in his usual understated manner as “the largest tax cuts in Canadian history”. The Liberals ran on their economic record, all the while painting Stockwell Day as a lightweight who wasn’t ready for prime time. The result was a crushing majority. Sound familiar?
Every election is unique, and voters have been known to turf leaders who led them through dark periods. Just look at Churchill after World War 2. But as bad a year as he’s had, Harper is quietly laying the groundwork for what figures to be a compelling election narrative in 2015.