Harper refuses to identify spending cuts
NationalPost.com – election2011
Apr 10, 2011. By Andrew Mayeda
ACTON VALE, Que. — Stephen Harper repeatedly refused Sunday to provide more details about where the Conservatives would cut to achieve the $4-billion in annual savings on program spending the party has promised to find.
The Tories announced in their campaign platform, unveiled Friday, that they would eliminate the federal deficit a year earlier than expected.
The party has pledged to cut $4-billion from the roughly $80-billion that federal departments spend directly to deliver government programs — less than a month after saying it imprudent to book those savings now in the federal budget tabled March 22.
Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff has ridiculed the Conservatives for changing their numbers on such short notice. And he has accused the Tories of planning to slash spending in areas such as health care to achieve their deficit goal.
Mr. Harper has said the Conservatives could find the promised savings by consolidating computers systems and not replacing the roughly 80,000 public servants expected to retire over the next few years.
But asked three times Sunday to offer more details, Mr. Harper declined to elaborate. “The operational savings we’re looking for are modest,” he told reporters at a campaign stop at a farm in Quebec.
“Anybody who says that you can’t find money in Ottawa without cutting vital services to people, simply is living in a fantasy world,” Mr. Harper continued.
“That’s not how government works. There are inefficiencies, and it is your job to constantly find them. That’s what we have been doing and that’s what we will continue to do, and as I say, unlike the Liberals, we have a pretty good record of doing that, while increasing the amount of money we spend on vital services like health care, pensions and education.”
Mr. Harper noted the government has already found savings through four years of strategic reviews of the operating budgets of individual departments.
But after four years, the government has only found $2.8-billion in ongoing savings. Some experts say the Conservatives will be hard pressed to find further savings without shutting down major programs or laying off bureaucrats.
The Tories have pledged to find an additional $4-billion in annual savings in four years.
The Liberals cut health transfers to the provinces in the 1990s to slay the deficit. Both the Conservatives and Liberals have promised on this year’s campaign that they would keep increasing health-care transfers by the current rate of six-per-cent per year once the existing deal with the provinces expires in 2014.
Earlier on Sunday, Mr. Harper warned the Liberals, if elected, would wreak the same kind of economic damage to Canada that was caused by the minority government led by Pierre Trudeau in the early 1970s.
At a campaign event in Quebec, Mr. Harper was asked whether he is comparing Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff to Trudeau when he tells Conservative audiences on the hustings in this campaign that the Liberals would bring Canada back to the 1970s if they got power.
“All they did was spend money. That led to two decades of not just runaway spending, higher taxes, double-digit unemployment, double-digit interest rates. We were a generation fixing those problems,” he said.
“And when I look at the Liberal platform today and its obvious appeal, and its obvious, frankly, mimicking of the platforms of the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois, I’m saying that that’s the alternative.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Harper, once a fierce opponent of agricultural protectionism, is touting the Conservatives as stout defenders of Canada’s highly protected dairy, egg and poultry industries.
Mr. Harper confirmed that the Conservatives would increase funding by $10-million annually for the Market Access Secretariat and Canadian Trade Commissioner Service.
The organizations help farmers gain access to foreign markets for their products.
- With files from Mark Kennedy
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