Tuesday, federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty told the nation that his budget projections have turned out to be a little off — that, even though it’s been just nine months since the budget, the federal deficit’s looking like it will come in around $25 billion — $7 billion or roughly 38 per cent higher than expected.
The cause? Weak economics almost everywhere else in the world.
The effect? Well, if you talk to some observers, a critical loss of conservative spine.
The National Post put the coverage on the top of its website under a headline saying, in part, “Canada no longer has a conservative party.”
The Conservatives have gone all fiscally liberal on us, the Post says. It’s an argument the newspaper says is evidenced by Flaherty’s comments about how we should view balanced budgets.
“As I have said on many occasions,” the Post quotes Flaherty as saying, “balanced budgets are not an end in themselves. They are a means to an end and that end is a better, more prosperous future for all Canadians.”
Imagine that: a conservative party joining the rush to the middle, discovering something that we perhaps should have known all along. While people suggested in the past that the Liberals felt they were the natural ruling party for the nation, in fact, it might have been policy, not parties, that were the natural order.
The natural ruling philosophy in the country may just be centrist, with a tiny socially reactive twist to the left. Which is perhaps why the federal Conservatives are making themselves more liberal, and the New Democrats are so eager to business-up and show they can swing more hard-line, well-defined economic policies.
So, what will the nation do with a plethora of middle-ground-grabbing parties?
Well, perhaps they could look to Newfoundland and Labrador.
After all, it’s an area this province has more than a little experience with. Our spectrum of political parties — Progressive Conservative, Liberal and NDP — could easily be described as left, lefter and leftist.
It’s led to the peculiar world of having the civil service grow vastly and services expand, all the while having tax rates shrink, and, at this point, deficits grow — under a nominally “conservative” government.
It’s been a marvellous electoral balancing act, but one that topples over the moment oil revenues fail.
The truth is perhaps that the Progressive Conservatives here have been as conservative as the middle allows.
It’s let us muddle through successive governments of different political stripes and colours, but with far more differentiation between the individual personalities of specific leaders than between true ideologies.
It might well also be a lesson that federal Conservatives have to learn, even though the lesson is a deceptively simple one about democracy and pragmatism (and one that party stalwarts might not like to accept): majority governments need to appeal to a majority of a country’s citizens. And that majority is far more likely at the centre than at either the right wing or left-wing fringes.