Friday, December 12, 2008

Budget gamesmanship

The PMO seems to be gaming the budget process. Engaging in a you-first game of chicken:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper called Mr. Ignatieff two days ago, offering to discuss economic matters with him “any time,” according to a government official.

An official in the Prime Minister's Office would not say when or whether the two men will meet. The official said the Liberals should submit specific proposals for what they want to see in the budget, to be delivered the day after the Jan. 26 resumption of Parliament.

“Our position is if you want to have input in the direction of the budget, you have to share that in advance of the budget,” said the official.
The problem with this request, according to the Liberals and Kevin Page, the parliamentary budget officer, is that the government's financial position as presented in that economic update is gravely suspect. That and the lack of trust in Harper. In this atmosphere of financial uncertainty and personal mistrust, the Conservatives are essentially looking for the Liberals to go out on a limb. Putting the onus elsewhere. Can you remember a government futzing around with a budget like this? They seem to be paralyzed by the fear that an inevitable deficit be hung round their necks:
The reluctance to take the lead could be partly explained by a shared fear of assuming blame for causing a federal deficit.

Several Tory sources were already declaring weeks ago that they planned to include opposition ideas in the next budget - and then cite those spending promises as the reason Canada had fallen into the red.
Thus the attempts to get the opposition to become participants and take responsibility for a potentially large stimulus and deficit. The PMO seems content to sit and wait and lay traps for the opposition.

What's also interesting in the Globe report is the news trickling out of Ignatieff consulting some key economic advisers and players. Whether this is indeed for the development of an alternative plan or whether these are just ongoing consultations, who knows. If this is with a view to formulating a competent alternative plan to the idling, do-nothing Conservatives, then there might be opportunity seized out of that Harper passivity.

There's also the picture here of Ignatieff as active on the economic file, in contrast to the dearth of information about what the Conservatives are up to at the moment. Offers a contrast in leadership styles. Ignatieff works well with others, interacting with a team of leading economic advisers? Well that would be something new.

And we're still waiting for that change in tone from the Conservative side of the ledger by the way...