By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, March 21, 2013 - 0 Comments
Stopping by the House of Commons on his way to China, Jim Flaherty received the customary ovation afforded a finance minister upon him arriving to deliver the budget. He received another standing ovation when he stood to table the four books that apparently comprised this year’s Action! Plan!
The Conservatives did not stand to applaud again for another 400 words. Until precisely this.
“Much of what I announce today is aimed at making this country an even better place to raise a family, to work and to establish a business. But, before I proceed, I need to make one thing very clear,” Mr. Flaherty explained. “And it is simply this: Our government is committed to balancing the budget in 2015.”
The Conservatives cheered. And a couple dozen of them stood again a few moments later when he restated it.
“We will not back away from our steadfast commitment to fiscal responsibility,” Mr. Flaherty vowed. “We will not balance the budget on the backs of hard-working Canadian families or those in need. But we will balance the budget. And we will do it in 2015.”
As Scott Clark and Peter DeVries have noted, this promise has the odd quirk of being unverifiable until after the next election. The Harper government can say now that it will balance the budget by 2015 and it might even present a budget in 2015 that demonstrates as much, but not until 2016 will anyone be able to say for sure whether the federal budget has actually returned to black. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 10:15 AM - 0 Comments
The Star attaches some numbers to the budget’s big promises and the Globe previews the Finance Minister’s signature commitment to cheaper hockey gear. Earlier this week, Scott Clark and Peter DeVries advised caution and scrutiny.
The Government is conditioning everyone to expect very little in the budget. Our experience is that when a government does this, you should start to be concerned with the fine print in the budget. Look what happened with the 2012 budget. The actual budget was vague, obtuse, and lacked substance. Then came the budget Omnibus Bill. A two part Omnibus Bill with over 1000 pages, which included legislative changes, only remotely referred to in the budget or not at all. Hopefully, this will not happen again, but the reality now is that the budget runs from the day of delivery (March 21st this year) to the tabling and passing of the budget bills by June 30. Minister Flaherty may deliver his budget March 21st but we may not know what is actually in it until he tables the budget omnibus bill(s). The media should be reading budget documents a lot more carefully than in the past. They should take advantage of Finance and Treasury Board officials and other government officials in the budget lock-up to explain “vague” drafting in the budget.
As I wrote for our preview, the budget has become an annual test of parliamentary democracy.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, March 20, 2013 at 12:40 PM - 0 Comments
Ahead of budget day, what do we know, or think we know, about what the Finance Minister will present at 4pm tomorrow?
There’ll be something for the manufacturing sector. And a new focus on skills training. And money for infrastructure. And some tax loopholes will be closed. And changes to public sector sick leave and disability insurance. And more spending cuts, including cuts to the Defence Department. And nuclear liabilities will add $2.4 to the deficit.
What’s left to announce? If we’re placing bets, I’ll take a flyer on a royal commission on taxation.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, March 19, 2013 at 9:00 PM - 0 Comments
Together with our friends at Canadian Business, we at Maclean’s have prepared a 16-page guide to Thursday’s federal budget.
Once the budget is tabled on Friday afternoon, we’ll have comprehensive coverage of its contents, the ramifications, the reaction and the spectacle on the Hill.
And then on Friday morning, Paul Wells, John Geddes, Stephen Gordon and I will be gathering for a chat at Play Food & Wine in Ottawa (continental breakfast included!).
I’m also planning to build a book club around the next budget bill. Watch this space for details.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, March 18, 2013 at 4:05 PM - 0 Comments
Friday morning, I sat down with Kevin Page to discuss his time as Parliamentary Budget Officer, the future of the office and the ability of Parliament to scrutinize government spending.
Above is video of six and a half minutes of that conversation and below is a fuller, but slightly abridged, transcript of our 25-minute chat. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 12:25 PM - 0 Comments
Jim Flaherty has announced that the federal budget—or “Economic Action Plan 2013“—will be tabled on March 21.
Stephen Gordon offers his wish list here and Erica Alini looks at the wider economic trends here. Stephen previously considered how the latest GDP numbers should impact the budget here. And John Geddes looks at defence spending here.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, March 11, 2013 at 4:02 PM - 0 Comments
The latest annual report on advertising by the federal government has been posted here. In the fiscal year of 2011-2012, the Harper government spent $78.5 million on advertising, which is actually the lowest total since the Conservatives formed government. (See this post for more background.)
Last week, Glen McGregor reviewed a recent poll on attitudes toward the government’s advertising.
More than half of those surveyed this week reacted negatively to the ads, calling them either political advertising, a waste of taxpayers’ money, or “junk.” The interactive voice-response poll by Forum Research found that only about one respondent in ten thought the widely-broadcast ads were just part of normal government communications…
Respondents to the poll most often characterized the campaign as political advertising for the Conservative Party (30%), while 24 per cent called them “a waste of taxpayers’ money” and 12 per cent denounced them as “more commercial junk.”
But, be that as it may, there was also this bit dug up by the Canadian Press last month in a review of the government’s own polling on its advertising.
The internal Privy Council Office analysis of the April 2012 post-advertising survey may provide a clue to the Harper government’s continued use of EAP ads. The analysis, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act, notes that among those who had not seen the ads, 42 per cent approved of the overall performance of the government. But the number rises to 47 per cent among those who had seen the TV spots, a five-percentage-point boost in popularity attributed to the advertising campaign.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, March 8, 2013 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
The Conservative MPs on the public accounts committee apparently voted down a Liberal motion that would have ordered the finance department to turn over long-term fiscal sustainability analyses produced over the last two and a half years.
The auditor general reported last fall that such analyses existed.
Regularly since 2010 and on occasion before that, Finance Canada has been providing the Minister of Finance with the results of fiscal sustainability analyses that project budgetary balance and public debt in the long term. However, the Department does not prepare these analyses—which indicate how budget measures will impact the fiscal position of the federal, provincial, and territorial governments—in time to inform budget decisions and before budgets are tabled in Parliament. For a given budget, the Minister is not informed of the overall long-term fiscal impact until months after the budget measures have been approved…
While long-term fiscal sustainability analyses have been regularly prepared since 2010, they have not been made public. This lack of reporting means that parliamentarians and Canadians do not have all the relevant information to understand the long-term impact of budgets on the federal, provincial, and territorial governments in order to support public debate and to hold the government to account. Many of the countries that are members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) already publish reports on their long-term fiscal positions.
In October, the Harper government produced a report on the fiscal implications of an aging population. And that’s apparently enough for Conservative MP Daryl Kramp.
Tory MP Daryl Kramp said Thursday the October 2012 report encompassed a number of long-term fiscal analyses stretching back to 2007, and rendered the opposition motion moot. “It’s a published report, it’s all in there,” said Kramp. “That why if there’s working papers, or other things like that are part of a composition of developing a report, they’re probably not there, as they wouldn’t be. That’s the government prerogative to be able to decide what they should or shouldn’t have.”
But Liberal MP Gerry Byrne said it’s preposterous to suggest that a report on a single issue — demographics — would represent the kind of large-scale analysis recommended by the auditor general. “For instance, a report on changing demographics would obviously not deal with any analysis that would also exist dealing with the long-term sustainability of defence procurement spending, of the sustainability of infrastructure spending and other matters not necessarily dealing with demographic concerns,” Byrne said.
In its response to the auditor general last fall, the government said it would start publishing annual analyses for the federal government starting in 2013 (it seemed to decline the auditor’s recommendation the state of provincial and territorial finances be included in some of those reports).
It is perhaps useful here to recall Brent Rathgeber’s understanding of parliamentary democracy.
I understand that Members of Parliament, who are not members of the executive, sometimes think of themselves as part of the government; we are not. Under our system of Responsible Government, the Executive is responsible and accountable to the Legislature. The latter holds the former to account. A disservice is provided to both when Parliament forgets to hold the Cabinet to account.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, March 7, 2013 at 1:15 PM - 0 Comments
According to the Conservatives, the New Democrats have proposed $56 billion in new spending.
That figure apparently represents a “costing” of the NDP’s submission to the finance committee’s report pre-budget consultations in 2011. If you read through the NDP’s submission, you’ll note that there are relatively few figures related to total cost. Presumably then, the Conservatives have done their own math to arrive at that $56 billion estimate. Unfortunately, the Conservatives don’t seem particularly keen to show or share their work. They do at least acknowledge that that $56 billion is spread out over four years.
So I’ve attempted to do the math myself. Mostly by cross-referencing the NDP’s submission to the finance committee with the costing document that accompanied the NDP’s 2011 election platform.
Including a reduction in the small business tax rate, the introduction of a job creation tax credit, an extension of the accelerated capital cost allowance, increasing the guaranteed income supplement, investing in long-term care and home care, adjusting the employment insurance system for new parents, investing in high-speed broadband access, investing in child care, transferring funding to the provinces to lower tuition fees, increasing funding for the Canada Student Grants Program, helping parents with the cost of raising kids, hiring more doctors and nurses, improving access to prescription drugs, increasing foreign aid, establishing a benefit for the families of fallen police officers and firefighters, hiring more police officers, funding arts and culture, increasing funding for aboriginal education and infrastructure, expanding mental health programs, establishing a fund for demonstration projects for military procurement and aerospace and, for the sake of argument, all of the environmental initiatives in the NDP platform, I count $55.73 billion in expenses over four years.
So possibly the Conservatives and I are using the same math. Though I suspect estimates will vary depending on how the NDP’s submission is interpreted. (The Conservatives, it has been suggested to me, attach a cost to the NDP’s EI reforms. But I think this is a disputed point, so I’ve excluded that from my estimate.)
Of course, the NDP submission also includes new revenue: an increase in the corporate tax rate and the introduction of a cap-and-trade system. The NDP platform booked $33.7 billion from the former and $21.5 billion from the latter, for a total of $55.2 billion over four years.
That, by my very unofficial estimate, would leave $530 million over four years—$132.5 million per year—to be paid for.
The full NDP platform in 2011 proposed $68.9 billion in new spending over four years and $72.3 billion in new revenue.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 11:56 AM - 0 Comments
Colin Horgan compares the concerns of the “non-partisan” (in the Prime Minister’s estimation) CD Howe Institute with the “partisan” (in the Prime Minister’s estimation) criticisms of Scott Clark and Peter DeVries.
Concerns about Parliament’s ability to scrutinize government spending are not quite novel, nor limited to individuals who the Prime Minister and Finance Minister might easily dismiss as Liberals. Here is Conservative MP Mike Wallace expressing concern in July 2011. And here is Conservative MP Daryl Kramp expressing concern in December 2011. (It might also be relevant to note that the G8 Legacy Fund was criticized by the auditor general, in part, for how it was not clearly identified in the estimates.)
Complaints, of course, also predate this government. Here, for instance, is what a young Reform MP in March 1995.
As British history unfolded, Parliament asserted more and more its rights, not only to give its approval and its input, but to control the entire process: to control the agenda, to select ministers, to ultimately provide responsible government and democratic control over the affairs of the crown.
The funny thing about this is that as time went on the process almost reversed itself. Gradually Parliament pushed the crown out as the governing force in British democratic countries. As soon as that happened, the government increasingly became a force very much independent of Parliament, until it is as we have it today, where estimates are presented in the hundreds of billions of dollars, approved by Parliament without serious scrutiny, almost on a ritualistic basis. We saw that here last week.
Auditors General have pointed out on many occasions, and in many different ways, that Parliament has lost control of the estimate process. The question will increasingly arise, particularly as we go through this period of governments cutting spending, cutting favours and the goodies which they give to the population, as to why people believe that this process protects their interests, protects their tax dollars and protects their financial interests.
Eleven years later, a slightly older Stephen Harper was still sufficiently concerned that he ran on a platform that included the creation of “an independent Parliamentary Budget Authority” on the grounds that “governments cannot be held to account if Parliament does not know the accurate state of public finances.”
Maybe Mr. Harper now thinks that his government has completely rectified the situation and that the concerns of Mr. Clark and Mr. DeVries are thus baseless. But then, even the irreproachable CD Howe Institute seems to quibble.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 9:20 AM - 0 Comments
I asked the two former finance officials if they had any response to the comments made in reference to them yesterday in the House. They’ve now sent along the following response.
We have never been members of any political party. We have both served under Conservative and Liberal governments and were never accused by them of being partisan. We provide independent advice to anyone or any organization/party who seeks it.
To date, there are over 100 articles on our blog. The article for Inside Policy brings together observation made in previous blogs – none of which received any reaction from the Government.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, March 5, 2013 at 6:20 PM - 0 Comments
With his second question, Thomas Mulcair rounded on the Finance Minister.
“Mr. Speaker, the Finance Minister announces changes to mortgage rules and then reverses them. The Finance Minister announces changes to skilled training programs and then reverses them, all without warning, all without consultation, all at great cost,” Mr. Mulcair declared. “It is no wonder that senior public servants from the Finance Minister’s own office are now calling his actions ‘a disgrace and an insult to Parliament.’ ”
The NDP leader had slipped two ways here. First, the two senior public servants in this case—Scott Clark and Peter DeVries—are formerly of the finance department and neither ever worked under the authority of Jim Flaherty. Second, the specific “disgrace” and “insult” to Parliament referred to was the practice of omnibus legislation.
The Prime Minister might remember feeling somewhat likewise about omnibus bills, but he stood here to resolutely defend his Finance Minister. “Canada is very lucky to have the most successful finance minister in the world,” Mr. Harper proclaimed. “That has been recognized by experts in this field around the world and is backed by the performance of the Canadian economy. In spite of the tremendous difficulties that continue to exist, the global uncertainty, the Canadian economy has managed to created 900,000 net new jobs since the end of the recession and that is due, in no small measure, to the good efforts of the Minister of Finance.”
Mr. Mulcair persisted, returning to the matter of Mr. Flaherty’s letter to the CRTC. Mr. Harper persisted in defending his minister. Somehow or another this culminated in John Duncan, the former aboriginal affairs minister who was recently dispatched after an errant letter to the tax court, receiving a standing ovation from the Conservatives.
When Bob Rae stood to ask his first question, he returned the House to this matter of the former public servants and their quibbles with the government’s general approach to budgetary matters. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, March 5, 2013 at 11:12 AM - 0 Comments
Scott Clark and Peter DeVries explain all of the ways the federal budgetary process fails.
The two budget Bills associated with the 2012 budget were, to put it mildly, a disgrace and an insult to Parliament and to Canadians. The use of Budget Omnibus Bills has grown to the point that they seriously undermine the integrity and credibility of the budget process and the authority of Parliament. Little information is now provided in the Budget, so it has become impossible in reading the budget documents to fully understand what the government is actually proposing to do. There is a clear lack of transparency and accountability.
There is an urgent need to restore the role of Parliament and its committees in assessing, reviewing, and approving proposed legislation. Without sufficient information and clear intention of the proposed initiatives, Parliament and its Committees cannot properly assess the budget. Parliamentary debate is stifled, public involvement ignored and the implementation of good public policy prevented.
See previously: Do you know how your government is spending your money?
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, February 28, 2013 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
Yesterday, Tony Clement decided it was too early to make much of the main estimates. Scott Clark and Peter DeVries argue Mr. Clement’s previous pronouncement about those estimates should be disregarded.
The President of the Treasury Board tabled the Main Estimates for 2013-14 on February 26, 2013. He claimed that “voted” expenditures were down $4.9 billion from that tabled for 2012-13 in February 2012. Although his math is correct, the statement is extremely misleading…
Voted expenditures for 2013-14 are not directly comparable to those for 2012-13, as the former includes the impact of the various expenditure reductions announced in the March 2012 Budget. The voted expenditures for 2012-13 were tabled before the March 2012 Budget and do not include any of the restraint reductions announced in the Budget. The impact of these restraint measures on departmental spending was requested by the Parliamentary Budget Officer but refused by the Government. No aggregate estimate of the March 2012 Budget expenditure restraint measures was provided in the Main Estimates for either 2012-13 or 2013-14 so that it is not possible to determine how much of the $4.9 billion decline was overstated. Given that the Estimates for these two years are not on the same basis, meaning that the statement that the 2013-14 voted expenditures are $4.9 billion lower than those tabled in 2012-13 is misleading.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, February 27, 2013 at 5:30 PM - 0 Comments
On Monday, Tony Clement, President of the Treasury Board, presented to the House of Commons the government’s main estimates. This was apparently cause for celebration. Indeed, according to Mr. Clement’s office, the main estimates “reflect the Government of Canada’s ongoing commitment to finding savings and returning to balanced budgets.”
“I think you will find that when you review the estimates, that they do reflect our commitment to sound fiscal management and the commitment to return to the balanced budget within the medium term,” Mr. Clement explained to reporters afterwards. “You will see that the estimates have decreased over the past four years so at this stage of the budgetary cycle, we are continuing to rein in spending. In fact, the estimates are down $4.9 billion from last year.”
But, with a budget still to be tabled, what importance should be attached to the estimates?
“Obviously, the budget is the main economic document of the government,” Mr. Clement clarified. “Having said that, the estimates is a signal of the direction of the government on some basic files and some basic portfolios so it is, I would call it a harbinger, perhaps, a signal of the kind of budget that we will have in 2013-2014.”
On Tuesday, a specific victory was identified and declared as Robert Goguen was sent up to note that, whatever the wild-eyed worries of the New Democrats, the main estimates showed “significant reductions” in prison spending. And lest anyone miss this point, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews followed up with a written statement sent out to reporters by his press secretary. “Last summer, we announced the closure of two prisons to save taxpayer dollars,” Mr. Toews was said to have said, “and yesterday in the Main Estimates, there were significant reductions in the cost of prisons.”
Unfortunately for Mr. Goguen and Mr. Toews, the estimates are apparently not to be taken too seriously. Or at least not quite as seriously as various members of the opposition are now taking them. At least so far as Mr. Clement is now concerned. Continue…
By Lindsey Wiebe - Wednesday, February 27, 2013 at 2:05 PM - 0 Comments
OTTAWA – Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird says Canada will be watching closely to…
OTTAWA – Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird says Canada will be watching closely to see if a massive scheduled budget cut in the U.S. this week will affect the Beyond the Border pact between the two countries.
About $85 billion in cuts are set to hit U.S. federal programs starting on Friday.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said earlier this week that her department would have to furlough 5,000 border patrol agents if the cuts go through.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President Barack Obama signed the much vaunted border deal 14 months ago.
It is designed to speed trade across the 49th parallel while protecting the security of the North American continent from terrorist threats.
Baird says the scheduled March 1 cut is not the way Canada would prefer to make budgetary decisions.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, February 26, 2013 at 5:43 PM - 0 Comments
Conservative MP Robert Goguen had apparently been up late last night, carefully reviewing the main estimates and he was keen this afternoon to rise shortly before Question Period and report back to the House with what he’d found. “Yesterday, in main estimates, there were significant reductions in the cost of prisons due to the influx of new prisoners not materializing,” the government backbencher celebrated, dismissing opposition concerns about prison spending in the process.
Mr. Goguen was being modest. At last report there were actually more individuals in prison than ever before. Which would seem to render those “significant reductions” all the more impressive. (Although the increasing violence in prisons might make it more difficult to feel good about frugality.)
This good news might’ve ruled the day were it not for those on the opposition side who’d also taken some time to review the estimates themselves. They were decidedly less enthused than Mr. Goguen.
“Mr. Speaker, at the same time that we continue to read in the estimates with respect to the cuts that are being made in front line programs, in foreign aid programs, in foreign affairs budgets, we now see that the CIC is increasing its advertising budget by $4 million, the Department of Finance is increasing its advertising budget by nearly $7 million, and the Department of Natural Resources is increasing its advertising budget by $4.5 million compared to the main estimates of last year,” interim Liberal leader Bob Rae reported, reading from a white piece of paper.
Now Mr. Rae wagged his finger in the Prime Minister’s general direction. “I would like to ask the Prime Minister how he can justify again this double standard where front line services are being cut but propaganda is being increased?”
Oddly, Mr. Harper begged to differ almost entirely. “Mr. Speaker,” the Prime Minister corrected, “those front line services are not being cut.”
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, February 26, 2013 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
Tony Clement tabled the main estimates yesterday afternoon. Postmedia and iPolitics note some of the cuts that might be presaged by the estimates, depending on what is including in the federal budget, but this is a good moment to recall—see here, here, here, here, here and here—just how little is clear about how the government spends money.
The government operations committee’s report on reforming the system, including the discrepancy between the main estimates and the budget, is here.
Kevin Page’s opening statement to the committee is here.
One of the key principles underlying responsible parliamentary government is that the House of Commons holds the “power of the purse”. The House must be able to satisfy itself, as the confidence chamber, that all spending and taxation is consistent with legislation, Parliament’s intentions, and the principles of parliamentary control. When this is accomplished, Parliament is serving Canadians. In my view, this is rarely accomplished.
Scott Clark and Peter DeVries explained the system’s shortcomings in a long review posted in August 2011.
The reality is that Parliamentarians and Canadians in general are in the dark about what the Government is planning to spend this year. Even worse, the Government is making no effort to clear up the confusion and provide greater transparency and ultimately greater accountability.
And, of course, there is also Mr. Page’s quest for details of the government’s cuts (which is perhaps all the more reason to clarify Mr. Page’s mandate and his power to compel disclosure).
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, February 22, 2013 at 9:45 AM - 0 Comments
The parliamentary budget officers of the OECD are meeting in Ottawa this week. NDP MP Pat Martin, as chair of the government operations committee, gave a keynote address to the gathering last night. Here is the prepared text of that speech.
Great to be here with you today.
Sunlight is a powerful disinfectant, and Freedom of information is the oxygen democracy breathes. These are two of my favorite cliché’s and they find their way into a lot of my speeches so I might as well get them out of the way right off the top.
I didn’t write either of those sayings…in fact I don’t know their origins…but they are truths that I have come to know and believe after 16 years in the trenches as a Member of Parliament.
Simply put, The public has a right to know what their government is doing with their money and secrecy is the natural enemy of good public administration…that simple message pretty well sums up my six terms in Parliament and I try to shout it from the roof tops every chance I get. In fact, I’m thinking of getting tattoo to that effect …and it may even make a fitting epitaph on my tombstone when I finally succumb to injuries sustained by banging my head against the brick wall of the vault, where our Government has been hoarding information.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, February 21, 2013 at 10:49 AM - 0 Comments
The Canadian Press finds that the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association was interested in changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act.
The Harper government’s attempts to explain the changes to the act have been problematic from the start. First was the attempt, in the context of last year’s second omnibus budget bill, to claim that the changes had been mentioned in the budget. Then there was the case of the disappearing FAQ. And then there was the claim that the act had nothing to do with the environment.
But members of the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM) are claiming a victory with the change to navigable water legislation. ”We’re ecstatic about that,” president David Marit told delegates to SARM’s mid-term convention back in November. It’s a long fight that we’ve had to deal with and we finally got what we wanted.”
… Marit said the change is the result of a 10-year battle waged by Saskatchewan RMs. “We were the leading advocate across Canada on this issue and we got it,” he said. He said it means streams that only run during the spring season no longer come under the Act. And there’s “one less bureaucracy that we have to go through for approvals on either bridge or culvert replacements.”
Here is Mr. Marit’s testimony to the transport committee last fall.
(Mr. Marit is now perhaps better known as the dissenting commissioner in the dispute over the new Saskatchewan riding boundaries.)
By Julian Beltrame, The Canadian Press - Wednesday, February 6, 2013 at 6:19 PM - 0 Comments
OTTAWA – Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is hinting his upcoming budget will include further…
OTTAWA – Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is hinting his upcoming budget will include further modest cuts in spending if they’re needed to keep the federal government on track to balance the budget by 2015.
The finance minister said the Conservatives’ will deliver on their promise to eliminate the deficit before the next election and, despite health problems, he intends to stay on the job until the goal is accomplished.
“It’s been a long road back to balanced budgets,” he said following a speech to the Economic Club. “We’re more than half-way there and we’ll be even farther there the next fiscal year and I would like to see it through to the finish.”
Although the economy is weaker than expected, “I do not see the need for additional stimulus,” he said.
Instead, he added, “We have to do more on the controlling our own spending side. But we don’t have to slash and burn, we just have to be careful about government spending.”
The minister said government revenues were also being impacted by lower-than-expected commodity prices, particularly Alberta crude, which is being shipped at a discount of up to $40 a barrel due in part to pipeline restraints.
“It is obviously a concern, not only in Alberta, but in our government about commodities prices, the price of oil,” he told reporters.
The budget is expected to include an extension and possibly a top-up of the $33 billion infrastructure program known as Building Canada which expires in 2014.
Canadian municipalities have called for a new 20-year funding arrangement, citing what they estimate is a $170-billion infrastructure deficit.
Flaherty appeared anxious to dampen expectations, pointing out that Ottawa has already made substantial investments in infrastructure. Municipalities are receiving an additional $3 billion annually from the gas tax and a GST rebate, he said.
No final decision has been made on what could be the biggest item in a lean budget, Flaherty said, but any spending commitment “will be made in the context of our current fiscal situation.”
The minister revealed last week he was suffering from a serious skin condition called bullous pemphigoid that requires him to take steroids. The medication side effects including bloating, weight gain and redness of the face.
The finance minister said the condition is not affecting his ability to do his job, adding that the budget development process this year is further ahead at this time than previous budgets.
During his speech, Flaherty gave the business audience a glimpse of the upcoming budget but without offering details.
A key theme will be to expand Canada’s labour force by additional programs to encourage aboriginal people to join the work force, attract skilled immigrants and provide additional skills and training initiatives.
Flaherty says the government is seeking to encourage all under-represented groups, including seniors and the handicapped, to join the labour force, saying the country will need them.
“We need all hands on deck,” he said. “We’re going to have terrific economic growth in Canada in the next decade.”
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, January 24, 2013 at 5:24 PM - 0 Comments
A day after releasing a report that concurred with the government’s long-term projections, the Parliamentary Budget Officer has released a new report that seems to clash with the government’s stated approach to budget cuts.
The Conservative government’s spending restraint is focusing on front-line services while back-office spending continues to rise, says a new report from the Parliamentary Budget Office.
That’s exactly the opposite of promises made by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, who said last year that the majority of Ottawa’s $5.2-billion austerity program would target administrative and support costs without impacting service to the public.
See previously, our cataloguing of the budget cuts—now spread over several budgets—that have been reported.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, January 8, 2013 at 1:50 PM - 0 Comments
Scott Clark and Peter DeVries explain how to fix the budget process.
The use of Budget Omnibus Bills has grown to the point that they seriously undermine the credibility of the budget process and the authority of Parliament. There is a clear lack of transparency and accountability. There is an urgent need to restore the role of Parliament and its committees in assessing, reviewing and approving proposed legislation. Without sufficient information and clear intention of the proposed initiatives, Parliament and its Committees cannot properly assess the budget. Parliamentary debate is stifled, public involvement ignored and the implementation of good public policy prevented.
The budget needs to be much more explicit on the proposed policy initiatives, providing sufficient details and background information on the proposed initiatives for Parliamentary assessment and for a better understanding by the public at large. Budget Omnibus Bills should be restricted to proposed tax changes only and all proposed spending initiatives should be presented either through the Main Estimates or through separate legislation, submitted to the applicable Parliamentary Committee for review.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, December 18, 2012 at 9:06 AM - 0 Comments
Wab Kinew explains the Idle No More protests.
2. #IdleNoMore is about the Environment
Idle No More started in part because of outrage that Bill C-45 reduced the number of federally protected waterways. The environment continues to be a regular topic at Idle No More protests. Dr. Pam Palmater, one of the leading voices in the Idle No More conversation, argues this is indigenous environmentalism is significant since the crown has a duty to consult with Aboriginal people before natural resource projects proceed. She says, “First Nations are Canadians’ last, best hope of protecting the land, water, sky and plants and animals for their future generations as well.”
1. #IdleNoMore is about Democracy
Democracy thrives when well-informed people are engaged and make their voices heard. Idle No More started with four young lawyers trying to inform the people in their communities about an issue they were passionate about. Now many people are engaged. Even more information is being shared, and even more voices are being heard. There is no one leader or “list of demands” attributable to Idle No More. While this may seem chaotic, this is what democracy is all about. Democracy is messy. Democracy is loud. Democracy is about hearing a wide ranges of voices and trying to build a path forward among them. It is not about shutting off debate or trying to rush things in through the back door.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, December 11, 2012 at 11:16 AM - 0 Comments
Chantal Chagnon, an aboriginal singer and drummer originally from the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation in Saskatchewan, said the omnibus bill violates First Nations’ treaty rights as well as human rights. “We’re fed up,” Chagnon said. “This new bill coming in, it’s just the tip of the iceberg.”
Regena Crowchild, a treaty consultant with the Tsuu T’ina nation, said the government hasn’t consulted with First Nations groups on the legislation that affects them. “They’re not giving us proper opportunity to address our concerns or talk to them about it,” Crowchild said. “They want to amend the Indian Act without consulting us. All this legislation is just moving towards making us ordinary Canadians with no treaty rights.”