Martin sits on surplus while Canada crumbles

Scandal camouflage for inaction
March 23, 2004

OTTAWA--The Martin government is hiding behind the sponsorship scandal as a pretext for inaction in Budget 2004, charges the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

The Prime Minister says it's time for transformative change but his pre-election budget delivers more of what the federal Liberals always do: pay down the debt at the expense of rebuilding Canada.

"The Martin government is simply pulling out its old tricks: low-balling surpluses, focusing on debt reduction at all costs, and turning a blind eye as Canada crumbles," says CCPA Executive Director Bruce Campbell. "Paul Martin's bottom line is debt reduction. But Canadians' bottom line is rebuilding Canada."

The CCPA, a progressive economic think-tank, has consistently called out the federal Liberals for deliberately low-balling surplus estimates--and this year's budget is no exception. This year the feds say the surplus is $5.5 billion; we say it is $8.3 billion. Our numbers show that they are also likely hiding an additional $8 billion in surplus in the next two years, over and above the $8 billion they are conceding to.

"The Martin government has plenty of room to invest in things that matter, like implementing the Romanow plan to fix health care," says CCPA economist Armine Yalnizyan. "Last month Canada's premiers stood shoulder to shoulder and said universal medicare was going down the drain yet this budget does nothing to stabilize health care."

"Martinites sit on a loaded surplus, hoarding it to pay down the debt, while the nation waits. It's like paying off the mortgage when the roof is leaking and the foundations are crumbling. Eventually, the house isn't liveable anymore," says CCPA economist Ellen Russell.

The CCPA has been urging the Martin government to increase funding for health care, a new deal for cities, education, training, and environmental clean-up efforts. Budget 2004 not only falls short of this vision, it lacks critical measures of accountability to ensure new money buys real change.

"This year's budget misses the point," adds Yalnizyan. "After a decade of the federal government passing the buck, but not the bucks, this country is in desperate need of rebuilding. It's not just the size of the surplus that matters, it's what you do with it."