Today's speech from the throne is heavy on regulatory initiatives. Here is a good summary. The related budget will possibly fill in gaps re: costs of the various initiatives and the overall fiscal outlook. In the meantime, let's look at what's notable in the speech from the throne.
Fiscal situation: Don't worry, be happy! No major cuts to spending or increases in revenue. Commitment to "protecting growth in transfers that directly benefit Canadians, such as pensions, health care and education." So what is left over? The 2008-2009 public accounts provide a bit of a guide, although the 2009-2010 accounts will show where the stimulus spending has been allocated. The 2008-2009 public accounts breakdown expenditures as follows:
- Major transfers to persons (25.8%), major transfers to other governments (19.5%), other transfer payments (12.6%) and public debt charges (13.0%).
- This leaves operating/ministries (25.7%) and crown corporations (3.7%) as areas for potential spending freezes/reductions.
- National defence by itself accounts for $18.6 of $69.1 billion (or 27%) of the total operating category (excluding its small portion of other transfer payments).
- Spending in all remaining ministries, excluding transfer payments, therefore accounts for only $50.5 billion (18.7%) of total government expenditures (25.7% less 6.9% for national defence).
- As a percentage of this $50.4 billion, deficits over the next few years are projected to be 86%, 56%, 46% and 38%. Freezing spending growth on the $50.4 billion will not make a meaningful difference.
- The government refers to eliminating "unnecessary appointments" to various boards, agencies and Crown Corporations. This is a token gesture, but perhaps indicative of the government's future plans for Crown Corporations, which account for $8 billion in spending.
The government's view on balancing the budget:
- Step one: wind down stimulus spending within a year.
- Step two: restrain spending (ie. salary freezes, overall departmental spending caps, etc)
- Step three: hope the economy rebounds and more tax revenue is available.
What is the plan for national defence?
- The combat mission in Afghanistan is scheduled to end in 2011.
- Since the mission in Afghanistan began, national defence spending has increased by 82% from $10.4 billion to $19 billion. Roughly half of this increase occurred under Liberal governments; the other half occurred under the Conservative government.
- The strength of the regular force has increased by 10.3% from 61,340 to 67,756 since 2003-2004 (still well below a recent historical peak of 75,000 in 1994).
- The Canada First defence strategy, announced in 2008, committed the government to steady increases in defence spending, on the order of 2% annually, with a goal of $30 billion by 2027-2028.
- Will national defence spending be reduced? Although this may seem unlikely, given the government's enthusiasm for the military, the Mulroney government talked a big game about the military as well. It ultimately cut spending. It remains to be seen whether the departmental freeze will apply to DND, which is the largest employer in the federal government and one of the largest in Canada.
Copyright & IP law to be "strengthened." This is likely code for greater regulatory/legal barriers to competition in creative industries. Rightsholders seek legal protections but who stands up for users and citizens? Conservatives need to be reminded of the virtues of creative destruction and individual freedom, apparently. I'm still somewhat optimistic that Tony Clement and especially James Moore will see the light.
Environment: The government proposes very little in such an important policy area.
Trade: Government commits to pursuing bilateral FTAs, essentially giving up on the multilateral process through the WTO. This is bad news for Canada. Is it a surprise that there have been four ministers of international trade since Feb 2006?