Tuesday, August 3, 2010

PM’s actions, words at odds –

When Prime Minister Stephen Harper shut down Parliament for three months to prepare this year’s budget, he told Canadians he was “recalibrating the government’s agenda.” It was time to switch from stimulus to restraint, he said.

In his March budget, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty did lay out a rigorous plan to eliminate Ottawa’s $56 billion deficit in five years. “Canada has returned to economic growth following the deepest global economic recession since the 1930s,” he said. “In this budget we will take action to ensure the government lives within its means.”

But since then the Conservatives have running up some eye-popping bills.

They spent $1.2 billion to host world leaders for a weekend in June. The original price tag was $179 million.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews told taxpayers it would cost $2 billion to build new prison facilities to crack down on young offenders. Parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page calculated the government would have to spend $9.5 billion to implement its plan.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay announced a $9 billion commitment to purchase to 65 new state-of-the-art fighter jets. A maintenance contract, yet to be finalized, is likely to add $7 billion to the price, for a grand total of $16 billion.

In addition to these big-ticket expenditures, the government passed up opportunities to practise the restraint that it preaches.

Asked if he would trim his 38-member cabinet — one of the largest in Canadian history — Harper said: “I don’t think it would be appropriate at this time.”

Asked if his decision to replace Canada’s mandatory long-form consensus with a voluntary questionnaire was a cost-cutting measure, Industry Minister Tony Clement pointed out that the new survey would cost $30 million more.

There has been no discernible drop in foreign travel by cabinet ministers, no demonstration of frugality at the top, no attempt to reconcile this summer’s spending spree with the Prime Minister’s rhetoric about prudence and restraint.

None of this means the government’s plan to wipe out the deficit by 2015 is doomed. If the economic recovery that began early this year strengthens, global conditions are benign and the government matches its words with action from now on, Flaherty’s target may still be achievable.

But the government is sending out very confusing signals.

Was it really necessary to spend $1.2 billion on the G8 and G20 summits, turning Toronto into an armed camp where vandals had a field day and peaceful protesters were jailed?

Was the awarding of a contract for new fighter jets without tender the way to get the best price, or could a lower price have been achieved with a proper bidding process?

Does it make sense to pay more for a voluntary census when most statisticians, decision-makers and planners consider it too unreliable to use?

This is a strange introduction to an era of restraint.


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I have been a resident of Coldstream since 1976. I have had 15 years of experience on Council, 3 years as Mayor. As a current Councillor I am working to achieve fair water and sewer rates and to ensure that taxpayers get fair treatment. The current direction regarding water supply is unsustainable and I am doing all I can to get the most cost effective water supply possible.