Since Coyne’s on vacation…

…it falls to me to do the pained, more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger gloating he would be doing now if he were on deck:

Understand: there will be no going back from this, for the party or for the country. Whatever the budget’s soothing talk of “temporary” this and “extraordinary” that, and for all its well-mannered charts showing spending obediently returning to its pen, deficits meekly subsiding, multi-billion dollar “investments” repaid in full, we are in fact headed somewhere we have never been before. We are on course towards a massive and permanent increase in the size and scope of government: record spending, sky-high borrowing, and — inevitably — higher taxes…

If everything the budget foretells comes to pass, we might not come out too badly. A $34-billion deficit, after all, is only 2% of GDP, and even four years of deficits, if the budget’s projections hold, would barely budge our debt-to-GDP ratio. But if they do not — if the economy fails to recover on cue; if inflation spikes when it does, and interest rates soon after; if all those billions in new spending, once in place, do not prove so easy to trim back; if the assets the government acquires with all of its borrowed money do not turn out to be worth what they cost — then we will head into the approaching demographic storm loaded down to the gunwhales. It’s a monumental, even reckless gamble…

A. Columnist, Maclean’s, Jan. 29, 2009

And indeed it is so. Why, in no time at all, a five-year timeline for getting out of deficit has gone from a budget-speech promise to an idea derided by Our Economist Prime Minister as “dumb.”

Recall that a few weeks ago, when Michael Ignatieff was still messing with Harper, he put four double-dare deal-breaker questions/demands/ultimata to the big guy. Only one was about improving EI by assigning Pierre Polilievre and Ryan Sparrow to the file (actually, it wasn’t even about that, though that’s the way the Prime Minister heard it); another was a demand/question/ultimatum that Harper explain how he planned to dig out of these immense deficits.

Now we have our answer. He won’t even bother to try. I believe it was Chantal Hébert who first wrote that, while many Canadian politicians claim to be socially progressive and fiscally conservative, Harper is turning out to be the opposite on both scales.

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