The Finance Minister – another endangered species

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland delivers the federal budget Tuesday, March 28, 2023. Photo: Sean Kilpatrick / THE CANADIAN PRESS

We don’t know when Canada’s finance ministers stopped sounding like accountants, but it was a bad moment.

It might have been back in 2017, when then Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau spoke in his budget speech about “the joys of building a campfire with” the kids.

Finance Ministers should neither wax poetic nor sound joyful.

Their proper role in a Parliamentary system is to be the only fussbudgets in a cabinet full of spendthrifts.

Their job is to say ‘No’ to new spending, or to at least to ask ‘Why?’

Today, Canada’s finance ministers too often spill beans instead of counting them.

Unfortunately, in her budget speech this week, Federal Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland did nothing to herald the recovery of that endangered species known as the Real Finance Minister

Instead, she announced massive additional spending for green investments, a GST rebate rebranded as a “grocery rebate,” and an extended dental care program.

The minister does hope to trim $7 billion from government travel and outside contractors over the next five years.

But fiscal watchdogs can take no comfort from this budget. Nor can those who believe governments should focus more on growing the economy, and less on distributing income through deficit spending.

The deficit in the fiscal year starting April 1 is $40.1 billion, up from the $30.6 billion forecast Ms. Freeland provided only a few months ago.

Like the federal government, provincial governments have also been big spenders since the pandemic years, a trend that continued (with some exceptions) through this budget season.

In his March 23 budget speech, for instance, Nova Scotia Finance Minister Allan MacMaster announced significant new spending on health care.

We get this.

Health care is in crisis; additional funding and better system management are required.

Still, we wonder if MacMaster couldn’t have found a way to utter the words ‘restraint’ and ‘austerity’ somewhere in his budget speech.

Like all provincial finance ministers, MacMaster has been blessed in recent years by higher-than-forecast revenues as the economy soared instead of faltering coming out of the pandemic.

But we’re now struggling through a period of high inflation and economic uncertainty, as Ms. Freeland signalled this week.

Good times don’t last forever, which is why the CrowsNest consensus prefers traditional finance ministers to New Age sages. It’s time they all got back to being boring, tough-minded, and focused on matters fiscal.