If we’re cutting useless things in Ottawa

Macleans.ca – It’s time to fire half the cabinet
Friday, July 23, 2010.   by Paul Wells

Finally, the serious business of tearing down the Canadian federal state has begun.

The opening shots in these great battles are always so nondescript. Mighty oaks from tiny acorns grow. And in much the same way, the business of cramming the mighty oak of overgrown government back into an acorn starts with a little hedge trimming. And so it is the long-form census questionnaire that forms the first beachhead of the Harper government’s assault on big government.

It took a while. Federal program spending grew from $175 billion in 2005 to $229 billion in 2009. Truly, this is liberty’s darkest hour. But in the fight for freedom, one lonely soldier has never budged from his foxhole, except sometimes to chase foxes, but that’s another story.

Two years ago I was told, by a senior public servant and by a former employee in Maxime Bernier’s political office, that the randy MP from the Beauce had taken a particular dislike to the work of Statistics Canada when he was named industry minister in 2006. It’s StatsCan, after all, that asks citizens prying questions. It’s census data that are used as a basis for program design. And, too often, it’s census data that are used to judge the success of government programs against observable fact instead of random guesswork.

If you’re like me and Max Bernier, you’re not afraid to call all this by its real name: Communism. “Fundamentally,” Bernier wrote the other day on the Western Standard’s Shotgun Blog, “my position is that whatever the presumed usefulness of these data, I don’t believe it justifies forcing people to answer intrusive questions about their lives, under threat from a fine or jail time if they don’t.”

Sometimes the future is so shiny and new we hardly dare gaze upon its face. But here was the brave new world in all its freedom-loving glory: a deposed former cabinet minister, writing on the website of a defunct magazine, about a soon-to-be-discredited federal program. Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs! I love the smell of napalm in the morning.

But here’s the thing: the revolution must not end here. Once we’re done gutting the census—sorry, I mean scattering the quinquennial bean-counting armies of tyranny—it will be time to move on to the next hill. What on Earth can the Harper government do for an encore?

At first I thought we could eliminate the penny. Do you have spare change in your bedroom? I knew it! The state will get in there any way they can! But once again, that’s small change. Forgive the pun. It’s time to think bigger. It’s time to fire half the cabinet.

Fundamentally, my position is that whatever the presumed usefulness of these people, I don’t believe it justifies forcing people to pay for their chauffeured cars and putting up with their really bad imitations of competent administrators. When we roll back the state, let’s roll it right over this crew:

Josée Verner. Who? Precisely. She’s the minister of intergovernmental affairs, president of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada and minister for La Francophonie. Already that title is way too long. And yet teams of scientists working in underground caverns with sensitive instruments can find no evidence that she works for a living. Her website shows that the minister responsible for federal-provincial relations has visited two provincial capitals, Quebec City and Toronto, in 2010, and that she has given no speech worth preserving since 2009. If she were fired tomorrow nobody would never notice. Don’t believe me? Let’s find out.

John Baird. The minister of transport. Have you flown in an airplane lately? After emptying your briefcase, displaying your lotions and ointments to a line of uniformed strangers, and enduring a random pat-down at the hands of security agents who flunked out of charm school, filling out a long-form census questionnaire starts to look like a monastery retreat in comparison.

Jason Kenney, Vic Toews and Peter MacKay. The ministers of immigration, public safety and defence. Because if you think a questionnaire is an invasion of your privacy, just try to imagine what a refugee-board hearing, a jailhouse or an infantry battalion could do.

Jim Prentice. The minister of the environment. Because who is he kidding?

Lawrence Cannon. The minister of foreign affairs. Because how do we keep track of all those teeny countries? We ask them. And we have no right to pry like that.

Tony Clement. The minister of industry. Because (a) he still administers the agricultural long-form census, which is as bad as the general long-form census, plus it has cows; (b) since Max Bernier is able to set policy from the backbenches, how hard can it be?; (c) just look at the guy. He’s dying up there.

Jim Flaherty. The minister of finance. Taxes. Spends. No good can come of this.
When it’s over, and the jackboot of the state has finally been pried from the neck of the law-abiding taxpayer, we’ll wonder how we ever put up with such pervasive tyranny. We’ll be 33 million people living in liberty. Give or take a few million.

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