Finance Minister Rosann Wowchuk, who can barely speak English at the best of times, was mumbling and bumbling her way through her first budget. Her shellshocked NDP colleagues sat in stunned silence. They could barely rouse themselves to slap their hands together once or twice at the obligatory applause lines. You hear more enthusiasm at a funeral.
The government of unelected Premier Greg Selinger was laying out its vision for Manitoba for the next five years: SPEND. SPEND. SPEND.
Yup, the NDP is going to spend its way out of the recession.
Gone is the pragmatic social democrat Gary Doer. In his place is doctrinaire socialist Greg Selinger. Deficits are good, balanced budgets are bad, said Wowchuk, his handpicked finance minister.
In the good times past, the NDP spent every cent they could get their hands on. And in the current hard times, they're going to spend billions of dollars (they don't have) more.
Let's see...what do you call borrowing your face off when interest rates are at their highest so you can maximize your debt?
Wowchuk said that Manitoba will be $602 million in the hole in the year that ends this Thursday, March 31.
Next year, she predicts, we'll only spend $545 million more than we have.
And in the four years after that, according to Wowchuk's budget, almost another billion dollars of red ink will swamp the government books.
She's going to start raiding the cookie jar, the rainy day fund set up by the Conservatives in the Nineties, to pay off this year's debt by $47 million, so that the cooked books will show the NDP ran a deficit of $555 million.
After that, the sky's the limit.
The recession officially ended in Canada last year, but the NDP plans to spend every cent in the "rainy day" fund over the next five years, about $600 million worth.
They say that will still leave $200 million, but that's another, er, whopper by unelected premier Greg Selinger, the dirtiest politician in Manitoba.
The only reason the NDP won't be able to touch that rest of the money for its pet projects is because it is dedicated by law for health care, federal law which the NDP can't change.
Here's the punch line of the budget: Selinger says his government will limit spending over the next five years to an average of 1.8 percent a year, while annual revenue will grow to 3.2 percent.
Bwahahahahah. Good one, Greg.
Let's see...according to the record:
In 2007-2008, the NDP overspent their budget by $264 million.
In 2008-2009, the NDP overspent their budget by $321 million.
In 2009-2010, the NDP overspent their budget by $421 million.
In three years, the NDP overspent their budgets by a billion dollars.
If they had simply kept to their budgets, we wouldn't need to borrow money.
If anyone's betting they'll stay within budget this year, next year or the year after that, we're in.
Not to mention, how can a government spend a billion dollars without the approval of the Legislature? That's a question for Opposition Leader Hugh McFadyen.
It's a question he had better start asking fast.
If the NDP manages to get past the next election, scheduled for 2011, they'll start singing the second chorus of Selinger's song for socialists: TAX TAX TAX.
That provincial sales tax seems awfully small at 7 percent next to Ontario's 13 percent HST, doesn't it?
Of course, the last government that tried to spend its way out of a recession was in Ontario, headed by Bob Rae when he was still a New Democrat. A one-term premier, his legacy was to make the NDP radioactive with less chance of winning an election than the provincial Liberals in Manitoba.