Guest Commentary

Hon. Gary Filmon

How To Budget

(Editor’s note: Gary Filmon, 77 this week, was Manitoba’s longest-serving postwar premier, from 1988 to 1999. Filmon balanced five of eleven budgets, and introduced a Taxpayer Accountability Act to limit spending. In an April 19, 2011 interview with Blacklock’s publisher Holly Doan, Filmon explained his views on budgeting. Following is a transcription of his remarks)

Excessive borrowing doesn’t work and excessive debt usually results in people having to suffer. I went throughout the province, up and down every corner, and I listened at people’s kitchen tables, town halls – wherever I was, I found a consistent message: Why can’t government live the way we do?  Why can’t they live within their means?

I think we have to be careful about how much debt we take on and how we manage our financial affairs. We have to think in the long term, for the future of our children and grandchildren. I know people want things now, and financial services companies are way more involved in persuading people they can afford it. But you have to concede you’re not going to retire at 55 or 60, maybe at 65, maybe 70, if you want to enjoy all these things.

My dad never owned a credit card. If you didn’t have it, you didn’t spend it. I remember him in his later years going to Eaton’s with my mother to buy a new set of appliances, and taking the money from the bank first and walking in there with over a thousand dollars in cash. Though I’m a child of the modern era and have lots of credit cards and am used to dealing with banks and loans, somewhere that attitude is in the back of my consciousness. Prairie folk have that.

In those years people became disaffected with the status quo. People just said, “No one party represents me on this, so I’ve got to find another party.” There was the Reform Party. I didn’t think it was going anywhere, I’ll be honest. I was wrong. I didn’t see them as a threat, I honestly didn’t. I totally misread that. The Reformers tapped into something and they inflamed it.

I was in British Columbia at a Western Premiers’ Conference, at a gathering of Conservatives. I found people coming up to me and telling me how mad they were – and they were Conservatives who were telling me this!  I thought, wow, this Reform thing really does have legs.

My view was our political leaders were becoming performers. Brian Mulroney was a media star. He was charismatic, he was a wonderful speaker, he could set a crowd alive at any time, he had funny stories. He just seemed to over-promote and under-deliver, whereas his successor Jean Chretien under-promoted and over-delivered. There’s no question that Western backlash was specifically against Brian Mulroney.

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