Dr.Dawg

Budget 2012

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The strategy was simple: prepare us for an attack by chainsaw-wielding maniacs—then just slap us around a little and break a few fingers. Folks will still sigh in relief, or so the Harper government is hoping with this year’s Spring surprise.

Taking a well-aimed swipe at the Liberals, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty stated in the House on Thursday that there was “no need to undertake the radical austerity measures imposed by the federal government in the 1990s.” But the budget is, as a whole, radical enough to hurt almost every ordinary Canadian.

It’s a crassly ideological one, in fact, feeding just about every known Conservative prejudice. It imposes an austerity upon working Canadians that we simply do not need. As Andrew Jackson, Chief Economist of the Canadian Labour Congress, notes, our deficit is not particularly alarming—about 2% of GDP. Canada is in good financial shape, in part due to stimulus spending after the 2008 recession. The government pats itself vigorously on the back for that successful Keynesian move, although it was forced upon the unwilling Conservatives by the opposition parties back in the minority days.

Almost needless to say, the federal public service takes a direct hit—19,200 federal public employees are about to be tossed onto the street. With them, of course, go the services they provided to Canadians, as well as additional jobs in the private sector: less money in the local economy has its inevitable effects. Jackson expects that 50,000 jobs in all will be lost. The National Capital Region will bear the brunt of the cuts.

Those who stay in the public service and those who join will also be penalized. Pension contribution rates will increase in the here and now, and those who join next year will have their pensions deferred by five years, to age 65. PSAC President John Gordon rightly states that this will be a significant disincentive to seek public service employment. But maybe that’s the point.

Roxanne Dubois, national chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students, sees “no relief for students” in the budget, despite rising tuition costs and cumulative student debt. And younger and middle-aged Canadians will have to wait longer for Old Age Security: as predicted, the qualifying age will rise to 67. As Patty Ducharme, Executive Vice-President of the PSAC, reminds us, poverty is already endemic among women seniors: they will now have to wait that much longer for their modest entitlements.

The sheer vindictiveness of the Harper government played itself out in large ways and small. In an abrupt departure from tradition, the President of the 60,000-member Professional Institute of the Public Service, Gary Corbett, was excluded from the stakeholders’ budget lockup. A Harper spokesperson claimed he was on a waiting list, pleading space problems, and threw in another excuse: PIPSC has just joined the Canadian Labour Congress, and the CLC was represented in the lockup.

Other CLC affiliates (e.g., the PSAC and CUPE) were present, however, and reportedly there were plenty of empty chairs. To add insult to injury, space was found for former Harper mouthpiece Dimitri Soudas, who now heads up the Canadian Olympic Committee. Corbett has been outspokenly critical of the government recently, and he was obviously being taught a lesson—if not the one, perhaps, that the Harper regime meant to convey.

But that petty act of spite pales in comparison with the government’s literal decimation of the CBC. Here’s Heritage Minister James Moore, the day after last year’s election: “We have said that we will maintain or increase support for the CBC. That is our platform and we have said that before and we will commit to that.”

He lied.

Ian Morrison, of Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, is blunt about the 10% cut proposed:

This will require CBC to cut hundreds of staff, including some of the most famous personalities from flagship TV and Radio shows, thereby incurring heavy separation costs, putting further downward pressure on programming.

Having learned its lesson from a surprisingly strong public pushback in 2008 when Harper claimed that ordinary people don’t care about the arts, however, the government is planning no reductions in the budget of the Canada Council for the Arts, the National Gallery or our federally-run museums.

Recent deliberately-fostered paranoia about alleged “foreign influences” on charities also got reinforcement from the finance minister: stricter reporting requirements will be forced upon them, as well as a closer watch on “political activity.” Will this affect the far-right noise machine known as the Fraser Institute? Don’t be holding your breath on that one.

First Nations parents and kids hoping for new or retrofitted schools will not see any overwhelming improvement. The Budget trumpets the spending of $175 million over three years on reserve schools (annually, just a little more than Tony Clement lavished upon his own riding for such necessities as gazebos and chandelier adjustments). According to the government’s own figures, however, this money would construct all of twelve or so schools, including the as-yet unbuilt one in Attawapiskat. Meanwhile, in another part of the forest, the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development is to be slashed by $252.6 million.

By contrast, the Harper government proposes to spend $450 million on the Pan-American and Parapan American Games to be held in Toronto in 2015.

Research? From now on it’s to have a crassly commercial aim—no more star-gazing and string theory and God particles, no profits to be generated there. The National Research Council will be “refocused” on “demand-driven business-oriented research that will help Canadian business develop innovative products and services.” Support will go to “business-led, industry relevant research.” Innovation will be driven by “active business-led initiatives.”

It’s difficult to conceive of a more narrow, short-term, intellectually parochial approach to scientific research, but it’s hardly surprising. The Minister of State for Science and Technology, Gary Goodyear, is a Creationist with little or no understanding of science—and Harper appointed him.

Our environment is also in serious trouble. Elizabeth May calls this a “tough on nature” budget, one that takes us back to the 1970s. In particular, she raised the matter of what she rightly called “steamrollered environment reviews,” touted by the government as “lifting the regulatory burden” on resource-extracting industries. Now huge and complex proposals developed over many years by major corporations will be subject to time-limited environmental assessments that will in many cases be far less than thorough.

The abolition of the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy is also symptomatic of the government’s destructive approach to the environment. The NRTEE had dared to bring up the issue of the effects of global warming on Canada—a subject about which the budget is curiously silent.

Then it’s pipelines, pipelines, pipelines. Much is made of consulting with First Nations groups—actually a constitutional requirement—but the assumption is explicitly made that they will be built, and the budget proposes schooling the First Nations about the economic benefits to be accrued.

This government, of course, dislikes any regulation of business. It’s been working hand-in-glove with Catherine Swift of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business to reduce “red tape,” something explicitly stated in the budget document. Our safety and security will obviously come second: the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is to be slashed by $51.6 million. It will be assigned the new role of matchmaker, as well, helping consumers to submit labelling complaints to offending companies. Good luck with that.

(As if threats to our food safety weren’t enough, the Public Health Agency of Canada is to be cut by $68 million by 2014-15, and Health Canada will be slashed by $200.6 million.)

The fight against regulation under the Harper government has at this point reached almost surreal extremes. For some months it has been imposing what it calls a one-for-one rule: any time a new regulation is passed, an old one must be dropped. This is a bit like removing a prescription drug from a formulary every time a new one is added. There is no logic to it whatsoever, but it makes for a great right-wing talking point.

Something called the Public Appointments Commission Secretariat will be abolished, which is just as well, because it has no Public Appointments Commission to service. No word, however, about the even more wasteful Canadian Employment Insurance Financing Board .

On a lighter note, there will be no more pennies for hard-pressed Canadians to pinch. And we now learn that “[t]he government…has no intention of building any new prisons”—a surprise that would be welcome news, except that the casualties of mandatory minimum sentencing in Bill C-10 will now be stuffed into the existing ones.

Ann Decter, YWCA Director of Advocacy and Public Policy, applies her “gender lens” here: women prisoners are already sleeping in the halls and visiting areas, having been convicted of “crimes of poverty, homelessness, addiction and mental illness.”

Indeed, applying that lens to the budget as a whole, Decter doesn’t like what she sees one bit. It’s “a failure for women,” she says flatly: a proposed committee to get women onto corporate boards, even if it has merit, has no money attached, and money set aside to counteract violence against women on First Nations reserves—$11.9 million—won’t go very far. As for child care, there’s not a word in the budget on that.

“There’s lot of hurt for Canadians in this budget,” says the PSAC’s John Gordon. It’s hard to disagree. And there will be three more of the things before we head to the polls in 2015, as Canada is steadily re-made in Stephen Joseph Harper’s image.

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This page contains a single entry by Dr.Dawg published on March 30, 2012 2:31 AM.

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