By 2011 standards, former Prime Minister Paul Martin is a wild-eyed, government-slashing, right-wing extremist with a hidden agenda. With Maxime Bernier’s call to merely freeze the federal budget labeled radical in today’s Ottawa, Paul Martin’s track record as one of the only finance ministers to actually cut net federal spending puts him truly beyond the pale.
Speaking to fellow Liberals in Regina yesterday, the former PM and finance minister attacked the Tories for their lackluster deficit-elimination plan and the reliability of their numbers – numbers that have been wildly off-target in the past and are not corroborated by the Parliamentary Budget Officer.
Now we all remember then Prime Minister Martin attacking then Leader of the Opposition Stephen Harper for having a “hidden, right-wing agenda” with a plan to gut public spending, but history can be a sonofabitch. While campaigning on a promise to keep spending under control (although not actually reduce it), the federal Tories have increased program spending by 40% during their first four years in power, beginning long before a dollar of so-called “stimulus” spending went out the door.
By contrast, the Liberals campaigned in 1993 on promises of evermore public spending with little attention paid towards the burgeoning deficit, yet in 1995 Paul Martin tabled a deficit-elimination budget that significantly cut net federal spending, including transfers to the provinces. If that same budget were tabled today by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, Paul Martin’s own Liberals would denounce it as a heartless, right-wing attack on all that is green and good, forged in the very fires of Mordor. For that matter, if the Liberals were to table that same budget today, all indications are that they Tories would attack them in kind.
So what is different from 1995? A good many things, but among them was an opposition party (Reform) attacking the government from a position of credibility on the issue, and public opinion. At this time *shameless sales pitch alert*, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) was touring the National Debt Clock across Canada attempting to do the impossible: make the national debt a priority public issue with voters. Along with other organizations, political parties and writers, public opinion was turned and the government was forced into action.
Today, the governing party brags about how much it is spending on dubious “stimulus” projects, while all three parties in opposition demand “more, more, more,” without any serrious plans of their own. Without any party in parliament credibly threatening the government on the issues of spending, debt and deficits, the role of groups outside of parliament are all the more important than they were in 1995.
For our part, the CTF has restored the National Debt Clock and is once again touring it from coast-to-coast. Governments must get the message: cut spending, balance the budget and stop the clock. They vaguely hear this message right now, but are unlikely to act unless public opinion demands that they do.
The National Debt Clock Tour costs $3.65/km. You can do your part by chipping in a few bucks to bring it a little closer to Ottawa and share a link to this page with your friends via email, Facebook and Twitter.