Harper’s austerity is for other people

NationalPost – Opinion/Full Comment
Posted: March 08, 2010.   Jeff Jedras

With Thursday’s budget, the Conservatives were determined to send a message of austerity, of belt-tightening. of deficit fighting. But a rash of new Economic Action Plan ads flooding the airwaves mocks this message, and exposes it as a fraud.

Austerity was the message they wanted to send. There was empty symbolism like promising to freeze MP and Senator salaries. There was a freezing of operating budgets. Promises to find efficiencies and cut waste they’ve apparently been tolerating for nearly four years. And there was a pretty chart of reducing deficits. Read the fine print and you’d see it’s all pretty much a sham, with no real plan for deficit reduction to back their rosy projections.
Still, some of the more gullible members of the media swallowed the message uncritically. The most glaring example of this was John Ibbitson. In a Globe column that made me regret actually dropping $1.50 for a print newspaper for the first time in two years, Ibbitson called this the “the most austere, hell-and-high-water, deficit-fighting document since Paul Martin set out to balance his budget in the nineties.” And I’m the King of Siam.

The austerity message was patently absurd from the start, as a look inside government operations clearly shows.
  • Stephen Harper has made no move to trim his bloated cabinet, which would generate real savings on salaries and perks. Reducing cabinet to the level Jean Chretien did when he was fighting the deficit would save $3.9 million.
  • Though Harper once boasted he didn’t govern according to polls, spending on polling skyrocketed under his government. Just bringing polling spending back to the level it was at when Harper came into office would save $5 million.
  • They’re spending 156 per cent more on management consultants than the Liberals did, costing a whopping $355 million.
  • And then there’s the incessant, taxpayer funding advertising flooding the airwaves. The Reform-era Conservatives once railed against these ads. But the “Transport and Communications” budget which includes government advertising, as well as travel and communications contracts, has increased by 31.9 per cent under the Conservatives, costing a staggering $820 million. On Economic Action Plan ads alone, the Conservatives dropped $100 million. Yes, $100 million.
And they’re not done yet. Watching the Leafs/Sens game tonight on Hockey Night in Canada, during the commercial breaks I was treated to a brand new round of Economic Action Plan ads. Clearly designed as a post-budget ad campaign, the ads tout year two of the stimulus program, and feature shots of the Hurdman Transitway station that bring back memories of my years in Ottawa.
How much will this new ad campaign cost? The Conservatives are still stalling on revealing how much they dropped on ads during the Olympics, when the price for a 30-second ad peaked at a staggering $365,000.
And what purpose will the new ad campaign serve? That there’s any purpose at all is highly debatable. Stimulus for the broadcasters, perhaps. But one thing is for sure: it exposes as a laughable fraud the message of Conservative austerity, of serious deficit fighting, of any semblance of belt-tightening. Now when they’re flooding the airwaves with ads.
Austerity begins at home. Unless you’re a government that wants to use tax dollars to keep its poll numbers up, it seems.

National Post

A Liberal blogger and activist from the left coast who now reluctantly calls Toronto home, Jeff Jedras blogs as A BCer in Toronto

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