So, the first Stephen Harper budget has been introduced. On the whole, it is difficult to criticize passionately. While there are some valid reasons to dislike it, it strikes me as a fair representation of the policies that got the Conservatives elected without too much of the things that scared other voters off.
Of course, as Declan pointed out, it's pretty easy to write a budget like this when you start from the base of an $18-billion surplus.
Looking back at the ways Stephen Harper turns out to be not-so-scary, two main areas are the fiscal imbalance and urban affairs.
On the fiscal imbalance front, I wrote (in my pre-election review):
Well, I see no sign of anything like that. They haven't taken any action on this issue yet, but they have laid out their priorities for how to attack it. While they plan to move the federal government away from designing plans and imposing them on the provincial governments, it sounds like they intend on maintaining -- even increasing -- the fiscal transfers to the lower orders of government.
I'm a federalist who supports a strong role for Ottawa in setting national standards that stretch from coast to coast. I'll be disappointed if this changes. However, so long as each province has the money required to keep up, then this isn't a nightmare scenario. Finance Minister Flaherty said "Provincial governments have to be able to focus on their core responsibilities. They have to have the resources they need to meet those responsibilities."
Furthermore, the Conservatives are commited to working out a deal with the provinces. This means they are unlikely to implement a response that puts the 7-8 have-not provinces (including Quebec) at a disadvantage.
Another issue where there was great fear was the urban agenda.
However, Harper's 2006 promises, and the results in the budget, tell a different story. A review by James Bow highlights some of the areas of Conservative support for transit. The Liberals' New Deal for Cities is being maintained as is, and most of the Jack Layton budget survived.
Is this the budget I would have written? Probably not. But it is a reasonable budget from a Conservative government. And it isn't comparable to either Mike Harris or George W. Bush -- the two reference points that the Toronto Star would like us to use.
Ultimately, this document seems like an evolution, not a revolution. It's taking what has worked for the Liberals, and tweaking it.