Canada's budget brouhaha - a picture worth $200 million

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. But here in Canada, a news photographer's zoom-lens shot of Finance Minister Marc Lalonde holding up an easily read page of the budget message he would deliver 24 hours later seems to be worth $200 million.

That's the amount Mr. Lalonde added to his already printed federal budget April 19 after the photograph became a national scandal.

It has stirred a controversy that includes calls for Mr. Lalonde's resignation.

The episode overshadows the budget itself, which Canada's Liberal government labels a ''recovery budget'' aimed at ending the recession that has put Canada in an economic tailspin in the past three years. With its litany of new programs the budget will require $31.3 billion ($26.1 billion US) of deficit financing.

But business is cheering. ''Profits,'' Mr. Lalonde said, ''must return to more normal levels if the recovery is to endure.'' Toward this end the budget reduces many capital gains taxes.

Moreover, the government intends to spend billions in late 1983 and in 1984 on new highways, ports, and similar facilities. These expenditures could keep a lot of businesses from going bankrupt and put many thousands of unemployed Canadians to work.

Many Canadian observers say the Liberal government of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, stung by charges of being unsympathetic to business, has responded in the budget with a variety of measures to make businessmen happier.

But labor is not so pleased: It is uncertain whether Canada's jobless rate will begin dropping anytime soon. At present more than 1 million Canadians - some 12.4 percent of the work force - are unemployed.

The increasingly vocal opposition to Mr. Trudeau and his Liberals - led by the Progressive Conservatives - is skeptical of the recovery program's effect on joblessness. (According to opinion polls, the Progressive Conservatives have a good prospect of taking over at the next general election.)

But many Canadian politicians as well as most of the newspapers here center on Mr. Lalonde's gaffe in allowing a key page of his budget to be photographed. That leak was ''a dumb indiscretion,'' says the Toronto Globe and Mail. It adds bluntly, ''He should resign.''

This brouhaha led to a most acrimonious session in Canada's Parliament prior to delivery of the budget message.

The finance minister was castigated in the House of Commons for allowing the zoom lens of a television camera to get an advance peek at the budget April 18 - particularly the page indicating that $4.6 billion ($3.8 billion US) was being earmarked for capital projects aimed at pulling Canada out of recession.

Some think Mr. Lalonde added $200 million to the budget (raising public works expenditures to $4.8 billion) out of embarrassment for ''leaking'' the budget figures. Others say he was thinking about raising the public works budget anyway.

Whatever his reason, Lalonde can expect Canadians to take a good close look at his budget message - to determine how much, as the Globe and Mail said, ''is good, and how much is show.''

But there is little doubt here that Canada is in deep economic distress. ''There is a lot of suffering in the (Canadian) west, in Sudbury,'' a University of Toronto professor said on the television program ''Canada AM'' April 20 in comment on the budget message.

He and others stressed the unemployment problem, worrying that amid signs of a slow but steady recovery in the United States Canada's own economic recovery was at best ''spotty'' and probably wouldn't be helped much by the budget.

Some analysts say Canadians use the fact of living next to the US as more of an excuse than may be valid. Canada cannot boom when the US economy is lagging, for the two economies are intimately tied together, they say.

But many Canadian economists, as well as some Liberal and opposition Progressive Conservative politicians, believe Canada ought to to do as well, if not a bit better, than the US in difficult times. The Canadian economy is smaller, they argue, and more manageable.

Some Canadians are calling on the government to shave all wages about 3 percent, cut business profits and government spending by the same amount, and reduce expenditures all around to stimulate the economy.

Would it work? No one knows for sure, but Austria, linked to its larger neighbor Germany, has stimulated the Austrian economy with a 3 percent cut - and some say Canada could do the same. The Austrian economy is performing better than that of Germany.

Yet the Lalonde budget does not incorporate such an approach. So Canadians are going to try to ride out the recession, hoping that the US recovery will somehow pull the Canadian economy along, too.

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