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EDITORIAL: Campaign budgets, campaign buses

The Canadian Cancer Society and Dr. H. Bliss Murphy Cancer Care Foundation will light the Confederation Building yellow in recognition of Cancer Awareness Month. On Monday at 7 p.m. at the East Block main lobby, there will be a ceremony in honour or in memory of someone you love.
Confederation Building in St. John's. - SaltWire Network

Tuesday morning, before the provincial budget was brought down, Ches Crosbie’s Progressive Conservatives parked a giant campaign bus in front of Confederation Building, all dressed up in Tory blue and sporting the party’s election slogans.

It was a bit of a garish display, considering that an election hadn’t even been called at that point, and social media piled on quickly, saying the move was tacky politics.

But whether you like it or not, Crosbie — and perhaps his team — were making a trenchant point.

And that is that yesterday’s budget is not about the province’s financial plan. It’s all about a provincial election that was set to be called at any moment.

To put that more simply, Crosbie’s bus is an obvious political advertisement.

The Liberal budget is also an obvious political advertisement.

The only difference is that the Liberals are making you pay for their advertising.

The lines are already muddied between what’s political partisanship and what’s government resources: new signs promoting the eventual construction of a new mental health facility bear a red “The Way Forward” logo that not only is the current government plan for future development, but that also is a policy document that appears prominently on Liberal party’s own website.

The line is equally blurred by the several weeks of campaign-style announcements being made by the Liberal government, but being paid for by the taxpayer.

...when it comes to fiscal reality, the Liberals parked their campaign bus — the budget — at the Confederation Building Tuesday, too.

And then there’s the budget itself: the government planned, wrote and printed a document that will be interrupted by an election that Premier Dwight Ball has already promised to call.

The budget, which will be essentially unchallenged before the election, claims to have a $1.92 billion surplus — but that surplus would be a deficit of $575 million if it wasn’t for the fact that the provincial Liberals are booking 38 years of payments under the Atlantic Accord this fiscal year.

It’s a little like getting a 10-year contract at $60,000 a year, and claiming that, because of that contract, you’re now worth $600,000.

It’s also a repeat of the Liberal math that claimed the province’s net debt had been reduced — instantly — by $2.5 billion. In reality, the total debt will rise by $1.2 billion. (Using the same sort of math stylings, if someone promised to donate $1 a year to the province for the next 2.5 billion years, the provincial government could also claim the net debt had immediately shrunk by $2.5 billion.)

We are, as far as the bottom line goes, still living beyond our means.

It is a pre-election budget, no new taxes, a removal of the insurance tax, and no new fees.

Feel heartened by that if you like.

But remember, when it comes to fiscal reality, the Liberals parked their campaign bus — the budget — at the Confederation Building Tuesday, too.

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