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Abbott and Costello meets Harper and Flaherty

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As I try to make sense of the varied and multiple trial balloons our federal government is floating in advance of the January 27 budget, I am reminded of Abbott and Costello.

You know their hilarious baseball schtick Who's On First (What's on second, I Don't Know's on third)?
In Canada, we've witnessed our own Abbott and Costello show. Here it is, courtesy of Coach Harper and Pitcher Flaherty, whose game plan has been changing wildly from inning to inning.

Line Drive to First Base: Recession.

During the fall federal election, Coach Harper stuck to classic pep talk: Canada, he assured us, is recession-proof.

"This country will not go into recession next year," he proclaimed on October 10, 2008.

Two days later, same position, only more insistent:

"If you don't want ... a deficit and recession, the only way to ensure that is the case is to vote for the Conservative party."

Once they were returned to the relative safety of minority government status, Pitcher Flaherty threw us a bit of a curve ball: "We may well be in a technical recession," he said on November 23.

By January 12, Pitcher Flaherty was lamenting about how "we are in extraordinary times" and that he's trying "to get through the consequences in Canada of a synchronized global recession."

Sliding to Second: Deficits.

On October 9, Pitcher Flaherty was insisting he would never run a deficit. He said, simply: "We will not run a deficit."

On November 23 Coach Harper tried to steal a base: "Deficits are generally bad, but there are occasions in which deficits are not necessarily bad, but in fact they are essential."

On January 22 a federal official knocked it out of the ball park, confirming the federal government will be $64 billion in the red within the next two years.

Easy Stroll to Third: Tax cuts.

Despite research showing tax cuts aren't the powerful stimulus Canada needs to ward off the worst of a recession, as recently as January 15 Coach Harper was sticking to the old Conservative game plan, strongly hinting there would be tax cuts for the middle class in the federal budget.

On January 21, Pitcher Flaherty gave similar signals.

A day later, he put broad-based tax breaks back on the bench. Instead, there would be short-term breaks and tax credits for home renovations or tax savings for companies that invest in advanced or green technologies.

Will They Make it Home?

Ironically, last October 4 Coach Harper was vowing a reprieve from such games. He said, and I quote:
"We're not going to get into a situation like we have in the United States where we're panicking and enunciating a different plan every day."

As it happens, he's followed a similar playbook, throwing curve balls, fast balls and knuckle balls with dizzying speed. And while Who was on first, no one seemed to know What was on second and all Canadians really want is a good coach to get us safely to home base.

Game day (budget day) is coming fast upon us. Will the Harper-Flaherty team deliver a grand slam or more foul balls? If their budget falls short, the Harper-Flaherty team may soon discover two strikes and they're out.

Part of a series on Canada's economy.

Trish Hennessy is director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives' inequality project, www.growinggap.ca. Not much of a player herself, she thanks Jennefer Laidley for the baseball analogies.

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