A Liberal government would spend any windfall surpluses beyond $3-billion on fixing Canada's failing infrastructure, Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion promised Friday.
He said the first $3-billion of any surplus would be used to pay down the national debt....
If the Liberals were in government now, Mr. Dion's pledge would mean Ottawa would dole out as much as $7-billion to new infrastructure spending after the books had closed this current fiscal year. A planning surplus of more than $10-billion has already been projected for the year ended March 31, 2008, all of which the Tories have pledged to paying down the debt instead.
I like this proposal for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it offers a distinct contrast with the Conservatives. The Liberals demonstrate fiscal responsibility, acknowledging the primary need to pay down the debt, while pledging to invest in infastructure beyond that. Dion's proposal innoculates the Liberals from any criticisms that they won't be able to fund their promises, because the initiative only kicks in if there is a healthy surplus. Whether or not that surplus materializes in the future is debatable, so in a sense Dion's proposal achieves the political goal of recognizing the need, without a firm commitment to do anything.
It's a pretty basic idea, that Canadians will understand. You pay off your bills first, any remaining money in the bank is put against your mortgage and then if there is still more, you do some maintenance or renovations. Simple, concise, and best of all, immune from Conservative criticisms that your promises are fiscally irresponsible.