Where the Tory axe will fall

Posted on March 11, 2011 in Governance Debates

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TheStar.com – opinion/editorialopinion
Published On Fri Mar 11 2011.   By Carol Goar, Editorial Board

Eager to demonstrate his commitment to fiscal fitness, Treasury Board President Stockwell Day unveiled this year’s spending estimates at an Ottawa athletic club.

He vowed there would be no flab or laxity in government spending. Expenditures would drop by $10.4 billion over the next 12 months — the first decrease in a decade. “Like all Canadian families and businesses, our government must live within its means”

His 519-page expenditure plan did show a 4 per cent reduction in outlays. But it did not back up Day’s claim that “prudent management” was the reason.

Most of the savings will come from the expiry of the government’s fiscal stimulus program. The second biggest source of fiscal relief will be a reduction in debt charges thanks to lower interest rates. The third big contributor will be an anticipated drop in employment insurance payouts.

In terms of actual belt-tightening, the story is mixed. Two sectors — prisons and border security — will get a substantial increase in funding. Five sectors will face cuts. The rest will remain under a budgetary freeze.

Anyone looking for evidence of a government-wide crackdown on waste and inefficiency won’t find it in the estimates.

What is clear, however, is that there will be winners and losers in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s austerity drive.

The winners list is not surprising. Corrections Canada will get a 21 per cent increase in public funds (including 57 per cent more for prison construction). Canada Border Services Agency will get a 14 per increase. The budget of the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority will double. The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions will get 8.4 per cent more. And the Department of Defence will get an additional 8 per cent for new equipment.

The losers list is more revealing:

Environment Canada will take a huge hit, affecting everything from park maintenance to climate change initiatives. The department’s overall budget will drop by 20 per cent. But its clean air program will be chopped by 59 per cent. Environment Minister Peter Kent says there is no need for alarm. Several large programs are scheduled to “sunset” but he has asked Flaherty to renew them in his budget. Environmentalists don’t have much confidence in either minister.

The axe will fall on dozens of cultural programs. Almost every agency funded by Heritage Canada will lose money, but the deepest cuts will come at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, the National Library and the Office of the Status of Women. Across the board, spending will fall by 4.5 per cent.

The five regional economic development agencies will suffer substantial losses, ranging from a 16.8 per cent cut in funding to the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency to a 56.5 per cent cut to the Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario.

Funding for scientific research and technological support will be slashed by 33 per cent.

Some of the smaller changes are the most telling.

The government is ending its Victims of Crime Initiative and cutting its contribution of the Youth Justice Fund, despite Harper’s claim that “every victim matters.”

The Treasury Board Secretariat is slated for a 21 per cent increase in funding. Day evidently sees no need to lead by example.

The numbers in the estimates are not carved in stone. There will be adjustments after Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s March 22 budget and three rounds of supplementary estimates to accommodate unforeseen expenditures. The whole thing could be thrown into disarray by an election.

But as things now stand, there will be pain for some, plenty for others. What is emerging is not trim, muscular government; it is tough, punitive government.

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