EDITORIAL: Expecting ‘bad news’ federal budget

Many Canadians who are paying attention are bracing themselves for the Stephen Harper government to start acting like fiscal Conservatives.

Many Canadians who are paying attention are bracing themselves for the Stephen Harper government to start acting like fiscal Conservatives.In the words of Treasury Board president Tony Clement, the March 29 budget will herald the beginning of a culture shift in Ottawa from “spending enablers” to “cost containers.”Considering the effort and energy required for a culture shift in Ottawa is akin to moving Mount Washington to Comox, Clement is biting off a lot.Harper has tasked Clement to carve $4 billion to $8 billion annually from federal government expenses so the Tories can balance the books and maybe even reduce the debt of more than $800 billion.Resembling the Comox Valley Common Sense mantra, Clement is preaching to government workers to do their jobs “in an excellent way at less cost to the taxpayers.”This is sweet music to the ears of long-suffering taxpayers, yet 49 per cent in an Ipsos Reid poll of 1,012 adults are steeling themselves for a “bad news budget” from Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.Fifty-seven per cent don’t trust Harper’s Conservatives to make the “right choices” to ensure the budget is “fair and reasonable.”Some of this concern no doubt stems from recent overseas musings by Harper about reducing federal pension benefits for future seniors.More than two-thirds of survey respondents do not believe we need to sacrifice pensions to limit taxes or increase the retirement age to address increasing pension system costs.Harper, Clement and other senior government leaders have clearly been readying us for an austere budget, but if they find savings at the expense of pensions, they might create an HST-style backlash that could last into the next election.Slashing public service jobs would provoke no small amount of grief from unions yet less than from Canadians outraged about pension reductions.A million analogies to Greece might not be enough to save the Tories in the next election.editor@comoxvalleyrecord.com