A good read, this. Some highlights cut and pasted below:
During that time we were fortunate to work with ministers who wanted to hear advice and engage in discussion before they made decisions. That’s how good policy decisions are made.
The real purpose of your consultations seems to be to deliver photo ops, quotes and conditioning for the upcoming budget. We note that the prime minister has now decided to get into the pre-budget consultation exercise. Rarely do your “public” consultations ever lead to any policy actions. In fact, in the past, most major fiscal actions have been taken without consultation.
Our most important recommendation is that you implement a “real strategy” to support economic growth and job creation and not focus on more tax expenditures.
We believe that the government should put aside its sole policy commitment of eliminating the deficit by 2015-16, and introduce a medium-term strategy to support job creation and economic growth.
What is emerging is a widening “fiscal divide” between a federal government of diminished size with sound finances, and provincial governments with deepening fiscal imbalances resulting from growing spending pressures (health, education, infrastructure) and slower economic and revenue growth. This growing fiscal divide is not sustainable.
These irrational brawls with the PBO inevitably end up making the government look like it has something to hide and cannot be trusted. Both your credibility and the credibility of the government have suffered as a result.
Given the vagueness and opacity of the 2012 budget and the size and breadth of the two budget ominous bills, it’s hard for us to understand how a minister of finance could agree to them in the first place. Your credibility has suffered as a result.
There is an urgent need to restore the role of Parliament and its committees in assessing, reviewing and approving proposed legislation. Without sufficient information, Parliament and its committees cannot properly assess the budget. Parliamentary debate is stifled, public involvement is ignored and good public policy is derailed.
Unlike your predecessors, your legacy so far is one of a minister of finance who inherited a surplus and immediately eliminated it with a two-point cut in the GST, against the advice of all economists (including the ones in your own department) except one — the prime minister.
The budget needs to be much more explicit on proposed policy initiatives, providing details and background information sufficient for Parliamentary assessment and a better understanding by the public. Budget omnibus bills should be restricted to proposed tax changes only and all proposed spending initiatives should be presented either through the Main Estimates or through separate legislation, submitted to the applicable parliamentary committee for review.
It was you, along with the prime minister, who in the fall of 2008 stated the country would avoid a recession and never go into deficit. We all know how that went. You were subsequently forced to go ‘Keynesian’ and bring in a budget which introduced a major temporary stimulus program. This was the right thing to do, but it was imposed on you by the G20 and the rules of political survival. In your 2010 and 2012 budgets you introduced cuts in spending designed to eliminate the deficit over the “medium-term”. This seems to have become the only achievement that you want for your legacy.
We believe you can do much more. There is a need now for the federal government to take action to support medium-term growth and job creation, while maintaining a long-term sustainable fiscal framework. The government has the fiscal flexibility to do exactly that.