The Canadian Conservatives are calling it a "jobs and growth" budget and citing the need for a fiscal readjustment in federal spending given the precarious state of the world economy, as well as the growing demographic imbalance between seniors and workers. The basic song and dance has been, essentially, one of trimming "excess" spending and then simply living with the aches and pains of a correlating decline in services (also know as protections). This, so the logic goes, is more favorable than slipping into a Euro-America-like recession, and a future where Old Age Security is a long extinct, long-in-the-tooth fairy tale.
There may be some merit to some of these observations, and every so often a systemic re-calibration of any federal structure is necessary, but the claims of fiscal responsibility and calls for Canadians to simply "live with the lack of X, Y and Z" given the Conservatives own quasi-erotic and seemingly mindless fixation with ballooning provincial budgets -- in their heavy-handed and completely-non-cooperative Omnibus Crime Bill -- is yet another example of the calculated gamesmanship the Harper government plays with the power it now wields.
The largest provinces in the country opposed the Omnibus Crime Bill on the grounds that they wouldn't be able to afford the ways in which it was set to change the administration of justice in this country. Criminologists, judges, lawyers and correctional experts all warned of the severe ways in which the bill would not only saddle the country with massive logistical and financial costs it couldn't afford, but also that it would serve as a self-fulfilling recidivism prophesy -- easy to sell "Tough on Crime" legislation that would actually have the adverse effect of creating and enabling future crime.
"The Bill's approach," said the Canadian Bar Association in a statement, "is contrary to what is known to lead to a safer society."
Expert opinion, from all over the world, boils down to the same points, again and again: Punishment-oriented (retributive) justice does more harm than good, to everyone -- the public, the offender, the victim. Consider that most convicted offenders receive sentences which will see them re-enter society again at some point, regardless of how "tough" the Tough on Crime legislation is. Inflexible, mandatory-minimum based retributive justice significantly jeopardizes the offenders chances at successful re-entry to society (i.e. increases recidivism).
These weren't rogue opinions by peripheral actors, these were unanimous warnings by international and domestic experts in the fields-in-question: provincial budgets, the effective operation of correctional facilities, the power and effect of various brands of justice. The Harper government had access and held audience with all of them and chose to ignore the dissenting opinion of the vast majority. As a result the provinces and Canada as a whole will pay more than it can afford for a more damaging system of conveyor-belt-of-crime justice.
But as this "jobs and growth" budget demonstrates, the Conservative Party of Canada is clearly willing to make the hard decisions necessary in order for Canada to be fiscally responsible and economically strong...
...Like spending 29 billion dollars on sixty-five unnecessary F-35 fighter jets (the United States is buying over 2,400) and in a manner which ignored proper procurement protocols and which generally called into question the government's application of ordinary due diligence (original estimates were 14-15 billion), which one would think an important factor given that this is and always was the largest defense contract in Canadian history. But, again, ulterior motives trumped accepted ethos:
One senior official noted the air force didn't have to make a decision on replacing the 1980s vintage CF-18s for a few years and that the 2010 announcement was all about positioning business and the aerospace sector for F-35 contracts.
The "Jobs and Growth Budget," like the "Safe Streets & Communities Act," is nothing more than an unclever play on reality. The Safe Streets Act has been cited by any and all experts as one which will lead to an increase in acquittals and a general hardening of those who pass through any avenue of correctional services, and The Jobs Budget will cut nearly 20, 000 public service jobs and lop off 5.2 billion dollars in spending, from which the environmental agencies will suffer the most (and the resource extraction industry will benefit the most, shocking!).
All of this, cloaked behind the justification of stabilizing the Canadian economy from a rapidly destabilizing world economy... Despite the fact that two major international ratings agencies say otherwise:
The federal government doesn’t need to ramp up spending cuts, and implementing them could harm Canada’s economy as it struggles with weak global demand, two major ratings agencies have said.
Steven Hess, the lead Canada analyst for Moody’s, told the Wall Street Journal that there is a “risk to growth” if the government moves too quickly with austerity measures designed to return the country to balanced budgets.
...which this budget will still not balance...
This all adds up a troubling mix of inconsistency on the part of the Harper led Canadian Conservatives, none of which is all that surprising but all of which is that much more incriminating as to (a) general incompetence or (b) calculated political manipulation.
The latter is more likely, and indicative of Stephen Harper's power-at-any-cost "leadership," but one which is hardly surprising, given the trail of cronyism he leaves in his wake, and which funnels this all quite nicely and neatly into questions of why: Why make austerity measures when Canada has weathered the world recession in remarkably (relative) painless fashion? Why make austerity measures when the general consensus outside Canada is that Canada is far from the point of having to make them? Why gut environmental protection services and neuter the ability of organized charities to launch and support pro-environment campaigns, given Canada's long history as a world leader in environmentalism?
Clearly, as the Omnibus Crime Bill demonstrates, the Harper government is not above spending money it cannot afford for services which an overwhelming number of experts agree Canada doesn't need, so long as those services fold nicely into party ideology. So the claims of fiscal responsibility and "tough sacrifice during hard times" is really nothing more than very ugly, very transparent window dressing.
Questions of why are best met with answers of "who benefits?"
Under the timely guise of a precarious world economy, the Conservatives have packaged and sold a "Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity" budget which is anything but. Rather, it's a bundle of conveniently-party-aligned austerity measures aimed at reducing the size of the federal public service and reducing the power of virtually anything which is not pro-business oriented, be it environmental protection, organized charity, or even basic scientific research (even the 1.1 billion over five years set aside for innovation grants is for business innovation for commercialization and does not extend to research without immediate prospects for profit).
But most of us will focus on the penny and the raising of OAS from 65 to 67, and most of us will say it's about time for the penny and it had to be done for the OAS. Both of which are true but both of which -- relative to the rest of the budget and the rest of the Harper landscape -- don't really matter and don't really represent the Conservative party M.O. and track record, which this budget cements quite a few steps further: manipulation of message, calculated hypocrisy, and pro-business cronyism.