Wisdom and the Canadian Budget: A Tale of Misplaced Priorities

A budget is perhaps the purest expression of a government’s priorities. Prime ministers and presidents may speak passionately about what issues matter deeply, but when it comes down to it the budget is a place where citizens can see their elected officials in action. By Kyle Boulden

A budget is perhaps the purest expression of a government’s priorities. Prime ministers and presidents may speak passionately about what issues matter deeply, but when it comes down to it the budget is a place where citizens can see their elected officials in action.

As the debate rages around the proposed Canadian Federal budget, more light is being shed on the cutbacks proposed by Stephen Harper and the Conservative government. Unfortunately, these cuts run deepest in some of the sectors most important to the prosperity of future generations, while increases in spending are planned in many areas that offer no long-term benefit to the country.

What does the 2012 Canadian Federal budget say about this government’s priorities? The most glaring and obvious reductions have been to social programs, scientific research and environmental regulation, while large chunks of funding continue to be dedicated to “getting tougher on crime,” purchasing military hardware and subsidizing fossil fuels.

What does the 2012 Canadian Federal budget say about this government’s priorities? The most glaring and obvious reductions have been to social programs, scientific research and environmental regulation, while large chunks of funding continue to be dedicated to “getting tougher on crime,” purchasing military hardware and subsidizing fossil fuels.

The broad cuts to funding for the environment have faced the most vocal criticism, with the three opposition parties in the House of Commons joining a wide spectrum of prominent Canadian figures in questioning their long-term wisdom. Environment Canada for one faces a reduction of $222.2 million from last year’s total spending, as well as an elimination of over a thousand jobs over three years. Many advisory groups also stand to be axed, including the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, a twenty year-old body established to advise the government on sustainable economic development.

In December of 2011, the Conservative government officially withdrew from the Kyoto accord, situating Canada alone in the world as the only country to do so. Perhaps it should come as no surprise then that the largest amount of job cuts at Environment Canada are to come from the Climate Change and Clean Air program – nearly half their workforce is slated to be eliminated.

Much of the Conservatives’ reasoning behind their stance on climate change is that combating it would hurt the country’s economy, but recent news out of South Korea highlights how foolish such short-term thinking is. Just a few weeks ago South Korean lawmakers voted unanimously to approve a cap on carbon emissions and a national emissions trading scheme.

“This is to develop green industry technologies and technology to reduce energy consumption, and develop those as one industry … ultimately we want to organize markets for green business ahead of other countries,” said Yang Soogil, chairman of the Presidential Committee on Green Growth.

On the other side of the ledger, the Conservatives plan to spend billions of dollars on items that offer no such benefit to future generations of Canadians. Take a look at Bill C-10, proposed crime legislation that would change the rules on conditional sentences, ensuring that more people will be sent to prison instead of receiving house arrest. The parliamentary budget officer recently estimated that the changes could cost taxpayers an extra $145 million, without even taking into account the costs associated with building more prisons to house these additional prisoners. At a time when Canadian crime rates are falling (and in fact at their lowest level since 1973), there is hardly any wisdom in prioritizing such budget increases while cutting costs elsewhere.

At a time when Canadian crime rates are falling (and in fact at their lowest level since 1973), there is hardly any wisdom in prioritizing such budget increases while cutting costs elsewhere.

Unfortunately, there are many more examples of the Conservatives’ misplaced priorities. Subsidies to the fossil fuel industry continue to divert hundreds of millions of dollars from Canadian taxpayers into oil companies that are enjoying huge profits. The planned purchase of F-35 fighter aircraft for up to $25-billion moves along with the government’s enthusiasm. Meanwhile, deep cuts are proposed to social programs, foreign aid and scientific research, such as the closing of Ontario’s Experimental Lakes Area – a world famous “living laboratory” where scientists study how pollutants affect freshwater lakes.

Just as South Korea has realized, Canada must look to the future when setting its monetary and policy priorities. By giving short thrift to science and the environment, the Conservative government is setting in motion a range of negative consequences for future generations of Canadians. The recent uproar over the budget shows that citizens are aware of the wisdom in planning for the long-term. It is vital that the federal government sees that wisdom as well, before it’s too late.

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1 comment to “Wisdom and the Canadian Budget: A Tale of Misplaced Priorities”

  • Wisdom and the Canadian Budget | Kyle Boulden, October 28, 2012 at 10:12 pm
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