Budget now about “policy communication”, veteran budget-watcher says

Budget day tomorrow (Speech from the Throne in just 2 hours… but who cares?). Instead of trying to read the collective mind of the PMO like I did the last time, I’m going to turn over this blogging space to Bruce Doern, retired Carleton University academic and famous budget-watcher. From an interview in the Hill Times this morning:

“Another trend Prof. Doern has noticed is the centralization of the decision-making into the Prime Minister’s Office and the shift from policy-making to “policy communication,” where much of the crafting and what goes around budgets is about taking care of the wording and proper framing of the policy so that it’s well-received by the public.

Ah yes… once a muted and fairly straightforward exercise, budgets are now shrouded in a thick veil of public relations. Witness the massive leaking of the budget’s content this time around, for example. The spin doesn’t always work too well though:

Prof. Doern said the Nov. 27 economic and fiscal update and “the events surrounding” what is usually a fairly apolitical document dealing with the overall state of the economy were “amongst the most incompetent” he’s ever seen. (…)

“Just the way that it was prepared and how vindictive it was, and then the consequences of what happened, and I also think it tended to show that the Department of Finance was itself kind of asleep at the switch because it’s clear that a lot of that was being drafted out of the Prime Minister’s Office so I just think that was a real low point,” said Prof. Doern.

“This one will be different because I think they really got burnt at the last one so I’m sure they are listening and they are getting lots of advice,” said Prof. Doern.

Advice from whom?

The combination of fiscal forecasting by think-tanks, banks, international bodies and the Parliamentary budget officer creates a more “pluralistic set of views” that is “healthier for fiscal policymaking” he said.

Ah yes. Prof. Doern is too well mannered to use the “L” word, but the Hill Times isn’t. See its front-page text posted on the Web:

Lobbyists to descend on Parliament Hill on budget day

They asked and they shall receive. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving for lobbyists.

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