...there was a speech:
Federal budget day began as a simple affair on a Saturday afternoon in 1867, when finance minister John Rose read a modest speech in the House of Commons to set out the government's first-ever spending plan of just $5.3 million.
Almost a century and a half later, budgets have become elaborate productions – with about a half-million taxpayer dollars already spent before Finance Minister Bill Morneau rises in the Commons to set out his own fiscal blueprint on March 22.
To which I ask a simple question: Why? If John Rose - our first Minister of Finance - could explain the nation's finances with little fuss and bother, why must his modern successors make such a damn show of it? The cited article goes onto provide a fascinating glimpse into the history of budget making and budget delivery. From an informal affair conducted with a certain subdued gravitas, it has devolved into a spectacle of state power. A long and slow decline from the small and very limited government which John A presided over, to the sprawling and insatiable Leviathan that the younger Trudeau now heads. Unlike fine wine the Canadian federal government has not gotten better with age.
The article treats us to such tidbits as:
In the 1970s and 1980s, before the age of the internet, military cargo planes would transport hundreds of copies of the printed budget to major Canadian cities days before the big event.
And to think people actually lived in such a primitive era.
Near the end of the article we are treated to a quintessentially Trudeaupian moment. Back in 1983 then Minister of Finance Marc Lalonde - who had previously been charged with destroying the Alberta economy as Energy Minister - was video taped with an open copy of the draft budget. In a rare moment of conservatism, minister Lalonde was forced to honour the Parliamentary tradition that budget information could not be released before being announced in the Commons. Being a senior Trudeau henchman he naturally honoured that traditional by screwing the taxpayers. The astute camera man had caught a page describing how a particular government program was budgeted at so many hundreds of millions. When the budget was finally delivered that figure had gone up by $200 million. Through this extravagance Lalonde could claim that the budget had not been leaked as the figures shown on TV were not final.
So for those keeping tracking at home: Marc Lalonde blew $200 million in order to avoid resigning. If there was a moment that summed up the venality of Pierre Trudeau's last term, that was it. We shouldn't expect much better from his son and the government he now heads.