Recently there have been a couple stories in the news that have peaked the interest of taxpayers.
First there was a report about the Finance Department’s projections stating the federal budget now won’t be balanced until 2055. The second was a story which discovered that under the Liberals, the federal public service increased staff levels in Ottawa and Gatineau by 10.5% in just one year. In response to these stories, you won’t be surprised to hear that many constituents have written to me to express their concerns about what the heck is going on with the Liberal government.
While the previous Conservative minority government introduced a stimulus budget in the winter of 2009, it was evidently apparent many of the measures were purposely designed to be temporary. The plan was for the overall size of government to return to pre-recession levels. Now some critics from the right will say we didn’t shrink government enough and critics from the left will say that we shrunk it too much. The truth is found somewhere in the middle.
In the federal election of 2015, I spoke a lot about the importance of governments living within their means. Unfortunately, talking about reining in government spending and saying “no” more than “yes” to financial asks is a tough sell on the doorstep.
Every Canadian wants better healthcare, smoother roads, cleaner water, and to care for the most vulnerable. The question for every government is how you do it without taxing people into poverty or mortgaging our grandchildren’s futures. As the old adage goes: today’s deficits are tomorrow’s taxes.
Conservatism at its core doesn’t normally lend itself to being politically appealing during the age of selfies and 140 character sound bites. The last campaign was a good reminder that Conservatives need to significantly improve at communicating our beliefs in limited government, fiscal management, and individual responsibility. Sadly, #spendwisely has yet to go viral with young people on Twitter.
Our platform didn’t offer billions of dollars in new spending for this, that and everything else. And with such a lengthy campaign, it was difficult to grab voters’ attention by having rather seemingly banal campaign promises. There was no legalization of marijuana, introducing electoral reform, or creating a so-called Infrastructure Bank.
At every campaign stop I highlighted our plan to open new markets around the world for Westman products and agricultural goods. I shared our record of keeping taxes low for hardworking Canadians and closing the skills gap so small businesses have the workforce they need to grow and create new high-paying jobs. We felt that locally, sticking to an economic message and stressing the importance of having a strong voice from Westman in Parliament, was key to a successful campaign.
In the Brandon Sun/Westman Communications all candidates debate at the Keystone Centre during the last federal election, I pointed out the Liberal’s plan to steal a page directly out of Greg Selinger’s NDP playbook: spend money we don’t have while adding billions of dollars of debt. To no one’s surprise, Liberal supporters in the room let out a loud groan, a few NDP supporters jeered and my fellow Conservatives gave a round of applause.
The reason I raised the issue in the candidates’ debate were twofold: I doubted the Liberals would only introduce a “modest” $10 billon dollar deficit in their first year in office and I certainly didn’t believe the numbers written down to cost out their platform. Secondly, Greg Selinger’s fiscal plans were not worth stealing. Regrettably, I was right on both accounts.
Truth be told, the Liberals were let off pretty easy by pundits and the mainstream media after they broke their promise and tripled their initial deficit in their first budget, far surpassing what their election platform stated just months before. It’s a rather worrisome development as it’s tremendously easy for governments, both politically and in practice, to spend your money and far more difficult to apply the brakes.
I was recently reminded of this moment from our candidates’ debate when it was reported that numerous provincial governments are having difficulties in reducing their deficits. In particular, our province is trying to get spending under control and is working diligently on subduing the burgeoning red ink and repairing the fiscal mess the NDP left behind. This example is a good reminder of how important it is for governments to instill the importance of responsible spending. When you watch the pennies, the dollars will take care of themselves.
As a Member of Parliament and as part of the larger conservative movement, I believe in the year 2017 we need to change tactics and rekindle people’s interest in responsible government spending. If we don’t, we’ll continue to read news stories about unsustainable deficits and Canadians will be on the hook paying higher debt servicing costs which means less money for roads, healthcare and education.