Not surprisingly, all of the residents of Lower Idiotville who have been yapping on about how Stephen Harper is "required by law" to apply the current surplus of almost $14 billion to paying down the national debt appear to have got it wrong again. There is, as far as I can tell, absolutely nothing in law that "requires" the above. But hang on ... that's not the whole story.
In the comments section back here, Robert McClelland explains:
The fiscal year ends on March 31st. If there's any revenues that the government hasn't spent by that date, it's required by law that it be used for debt repayment. I don't know exactly where this is in the legislation but it is law.
Ah, now we might be getting somewhere. If Robert is correct, then any surplus that is still hanging around at the end of the fiscal year would have to go to debt reduction. But if that doesn't happen until March 31, then there's nothing whatsoever that stops Harper from spending any or all of that money elsewhere before then. To claim that that entire surplus must go to debt reduction now is sheer dishonesty. But, like many things, it's all in the wording.
So how might Harper go about making that claim so that it's technically correct? Simple. He can merely arrange that that surplus is untouched and untouchable until March 31. If he explicitly sets aside that surplus in a secure place and prevents anything from being done with it until March 31, then, by law, it would have to go to debt reduction. And notice how that isn't just a default outcome -- it requires a conscious effort on Harper's part to not do anything else with that surplus. There's nothing "required by law" about this -- what it does require is deliberate effort on the part of the Conservatives to not spend that money anywhere else, quite a different thing. And that begins to explain the odd wording in this article (emphasis added):
Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the massive surplus and added that it would be funnelled into debt reduction during an event in Toronto that had all the earmarks of a mid-campaign event.
His announcement means the end-of-year fiscal windfall is no longer available for program spending. The money must, by law, go into national debt-reduction and the interest savings - about $725 million - will go to tax cuts.
Note the curious wording at the beginning of that second paragraph: "His announcement means the end-of-year fiscal windfall is no longer available for program spending." That would seem to fit nicely with what I just proposed -- that it is Harper's conscious decision and announcement that the surplus would go untouched until the end of the fiscal year that makes it required to pay down national debt. But this opens up a whole can of ugly, conservative worms.
Does this mean that that entire current surplus is now locked into debt reduction? That it is entirely unavailable for anything else and that Harper can't change his mind before March 31? Because, if that's the case (which I doubt), that would make a federal election before March 31 extremely interesting, since Harper wouldn't have any of that surplus to throw around as campaign presents to try to buy votes, would he?
I think this is the perfect time to call Harper on his bluff and bring down the government, then watch as he suddenly redefines "surplus" and "requires" to give him the freedom to star flinging surplus-provided bags of cash at Canadians in order to buy their votes. I suspect the English language would suddenly get an entertaining overhaul, and we'd see the hypocrisy start to ooze out of every pore of Harper's body. Not that that would surprise me, either.