Moral Deficit Leads to Fiscal Deficit
Politicians are often pilloried for making promises they don’t keep (or don’t even intend to keep). Occasionally they promise—or threaten—something and actually carry it out. But some trends are so predictable as to tempt citizens to incurable cynicism.
In the 2008 Canadian federal election, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty assured Canadians that they did not see a deficit coming. What Stephen Harper actually said on Oct. 14, 2008 (Voting Day, 2008) is: “We’ll NEVER go back into deficit.” He said it different ways on different days but the message was clear: “We will not go into deficit” (Sept 17, 2008). “We will not be running a deficit” (Oct 7, 2008). In the following fiscal year, Prime Minister Stephen Harper ran the biggest deficit in Canadian history.
Fast forward to 2011. At the time of the election, Canada was spending money it didn’t have (read: borrowing money, running a deficit) to the tune of $124 million per day! Most of the debt repayment that had taken place during the Conservative tenure as well as the surpluses generated in the last years of the Liberal government had been wiped out. They are all wiped out now. Canada, under a supposedly “conservative” government is more than $100 billion further in debt than when Mr Harper first took the reins.
In the spring of 2011, while the Middle East and North Africa were busy having an Arab Spring, Canada went to the polls to decide—among other things—how we want to be governed and how we want our public tax dollars spent (or squandered, depending on your point of view). In the lead-up to that election, Mr. Harper and Mr. Flaherty encouraged Canadians with this: the budget would be balanced by 2015-2016. That meant, of course, that we would continue to go deeper and deeper into debt until that wonderful day, far off in the future, when we could begin, once again, to pay it off. For many Canadians, “balancing the budget” is assumed to mean becoming debt-free but the real hard work of becoming debt-free only begins with a balanced budget. It then requires consistently balanced—actually “surplus” budgets—before the nation can crawl out of the hole.
During this spring’s election (April 8, 2011), in an ebullient frame of mind, Mr. Harper further encouraged Canadians with this promise: Canada would actually be balancing its books a whole year ahead of schedule (by 2014) and after that, well, things like income-splitting could become a reality for Canada’s hard-hit families.
Unfortunately, a mere 6 months after casting ballots for this austere and hopeful sea change (wink! wink!), Finance Minister Jim Flaherty had the unpleasant task of informing Canadians once again that they had been a little too optimistic in their assessment just before votes were cast and they would not actually be able to keep their promise this time either. Better luck next time. We mean well. We’re better off than the rest of the world. And oh yes, we intend to keep drawing executive salaries and building our gold-plated pension funds. We accept no blame for misleading Canadians or for failing to read the economic situation accurately. We accept no blame for borrowing Canadians into a debt level that sees over $31 billion per year going to the international bankers to service our debt. We thank you for your support and we expect you to remain loyal. After all, we are the”Conservatives”.
This is another case of moral failure to:
- Tell the truth, even if it costs you votes
- Keep your promises, even if it costs you votes
- Accept responsibility for failures
In the aftermath of this shocker, even the NDP is challenging the Prime Minister about promises made and not kept. Until politicians actually begin basing their decisions on unchanging moral principles, we can expect Canadians to be suspicious, cynical and angry when asked to give their undying devotion to any party. As a nation, we must hold politicians accountable for their promises and vote them out when they break trust. We cannot stop someone from lying to us but we must not lie to ourselves.