The Commons: Tony Clement would prefer you disregard his estimates now

Rest assured, the Conservatives are saving money. Somehow.

by Aaron Wherry

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.

Again today, for the second consecutive afternoon, there was much fretting about various reductions.

“Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives’ planned cuts will make travellers less safe in the air, on the water, or riding the rails,” Olivia Chow declared. “The minister has repeatedly ignored recommendations from the Transportation Safety Board. He just will not implement its recommendations. Conservatives are cutting Transport Canada’s budget by almost 30%. Canadians are travelling more than ever, so how can the minister possibly justify these drastic cuts to transportation safety?”

The Transport Minister attempted to reassure her. “Mr. Speaker, we maintain our core function and we have not cut any frontline safety inspectors,” Denis Lebel explained.

Moving on, Malcolm Allen raised concerns about food safety. “Mr. Speaker, making up stories does not change the facts. Conservatives have cut service to Canadians. Where did they increase the spending? In the Senate, of course,” he huffed. “However, in the spending plans the Conservatives tabled yesterday we learned of more cuts to food safety. This is the same government that brought us the largest meat recall in Canadian history. Reduced meat inspections, ignored compliance orders and increased self-regulation. Why are they gambling with Canadians’ health and why are these reckless cuts coming to Canada’s food safety system?”

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz was entirely dismissive. Not merely of Mr. Allen’s conclusions, but also of the basis for his premise. “Mr. Speaker, absolutely none of that diatribe is true,” he lamented. “It is well known that the main estimates do not include departments’ total budgets for the year. That is why they are called estimates. The member opposite should know that. There are supplementary estimates throughout the year that continue to build the capacity for CFIA and other departments to do the job that Canadians require of them.”

Apparently unwilling to take Mr. Ritz’s word for it, The NDP’s Peggy Nash pressed on. What of cuts to infrastructure funding and VIA Rail? Why more money for advertising—or the “Ministry of Propaganda,” as Ms. Nash put it? “Are the estimates,” she asked, “a foretaste of what will be in the next budget?”

Forty-eight hours earlier, Mr. Clement had used the word “harbinger” to describe the estimates. And a “harbinger” is something like a “forerunner,” which is a word similar in meaning to “foretaste.” But now Mr. Clement was apparently more concerned that Ms. Nash might be worrying unnecessarily.

“Mr. Speaker, as my honourable colleague, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, has already indicated and as the honourable members should know and do know, the estimates are not the budget,” he patronized. “The estimates are a baseline that is used for planning purposes.”

Merely a baseline. So maybe the spending on prisons will go down. Maybe it will go up. Who is to say really? Certainly not anyone just yet, apparently. (Indeed, there’s still the budget and the public accounts and the supplementary estimates and departmental performance reports to come. Somewhere within those documents will hopefully be something definitive about the state of prison spending. So long as someone has the time and the wherewithal to find it.)

“The budget is the budget,” Mr. Clement explained, next attempting to conclude on a more rousing note, “and of course we will continue to fulfill our responsibilities when it comes to health and safety and the core programs of the federal government. We will continue to build jobs, opportunity and economic prosperity for our country. That is what the budget is about and we will continue to stand with Canadians.”

So never mind. At least for now. The government will get round to explaining itself soon enough. Understand only that the government is committed to “finding savings and returning to balanced budgets” and continuing to “stand with Canadians” How precisely it will go about this saving and returning and standing will be revealed in the fullness of time. Presumably. Maybe. Or at the very least if Kevin Page wins his court case.

The Commons: Tony Clement would prefer you disregard his estimates now

  1. The Cons play the same budget shell game every year. In the Spring of 2011, they refused to release public budget documents related to their 2010 budget to the Budget Officer they appointed (citing “cabinet confidence.”) For this they were found to be in Contempt of Parliament which led to the 2011 election. Now that they have a majority, they can get away with contempt on a regular basis.

    It should be noted that all the drastic cuts that threaten public safety and download huge costs onto the provinces are the result of a “starving the beast” campaign Harper has undertook. As Stephen Gordon pointed out, this is a 4 step process: 1) recklessly cut taxes; 2) manufacture a budget crisis; 3) justify deep cuts to spending; 4) go to step 1.

    According to Harper’s 2009 budget, he has cut taxes by $44.4B/yr. So it’s no wonder Harper has turned a $14B Liberal surplus into a massive structural deficit. But it wasn’t by accident or incompetence; it was by design.

    Starving the Beast
    http://www2.macleans.ca/2012/11/07/starving-the-beast-what-canadian-conservatives-can-teach-us-republicans/

    • So how come the deficit is steadily going down, Ron? I mean, you don’t starve the beast by steadily reducing the deficit, do you?

      • I mean, you don’t starve the beast by steadily reducing the deficit.

        Isn’t that exactly what you do? Isn’t that the plan Ron laid out? I’m not certain that it’s happening (because, as the post above indicates, who has any idea what’s actually happening) but yes, in Ron’s plan points 1 and 2 artificially create a deficit by slashing taxes and eliminating the previous budget surplus (right before a major economic downturn too, how fortuitous), and then you justify spending cuts by touting the importance of eliminating the deficit that you created.

        According to the strategy that Ron has outlined, creating a deficit which must be eliminated is EXACTLY how one would go about justifying “starving the beast”. If the Tories want to justify cutting spending on programs and services while simultaneously giving away tax cuts to voters, they need the money they’re eliminating from programs and services to be going somewhere else in addition to tax cuts (lest voters one day say “Hey, if we can’t afford X, Y and Z anymore, then why are you cutting taxes”?). Eliminating the deficit that the Tories created is the “somewhere else”.

        Now, I always tend to think that incompetence is the more likely explanation in cases like this than some sinister, cynical political strategy. That’s why I don’t believe the theory that Harper DELIBERATELY appointed the worst people he could find to Senate, and told them all to behave as badly as possible, in order to help him spur on the need for Senate reform. I just don’t think that Harper is a Machiavellian genius. He’s probably swearing up and down every day that another story comes out about the Senate. So, I don’t happen to believe that the Tories eliminated the budget surplus and took us back into deficit a few months before the largest recession in a generation on purpose. However, I can see how someone trying to make sense of the government’s actions could be led to the conclusion that there simply must be some secret, cynical political plan that makes their actions make sense.

  2. The Main Estimates (MEs) are meaningless in trying to analyze year-over-year changes. For example, they exclude funding for all programs whose time-limited funding is expiring at the end of March 2013. Many of those programs will be extended and possibly made permanent through the Budget. The MEs do not include funding for new programs or increased funding for ongoing programs. They also do not include new initiatives or other increases buried in the Budget and which will be used to win votes in the coming year. Finally, they do not reflect in-year decisions to respond to unexpected crises and for which funding will be sought through Supplementary Estimates (2 or 3 times in the coming fiscal year).

  3. When the Liberals were in office we saw massive cutting of transfers to the provinces for Health, Education and Social Services, the raiding of the pensions of the Public Service, the RCMP and the Military, the illegal appropriation of some $54 Billion Dollars paid by workers and their employers into EI, myriad scandals involving graft and corruption by the Liberal Party, the most notable being ADSCAM, and one of the most infamous quotes coming from Justice Gomery saying of the Liberal Party, ‘they are criminally organized”.

    The Liberal Party is toast, there is no way back.

    And when will they pay back that missing $40 Million from ADSCAM?

    What about the $162 Million Taxpayer Dollars Paul Martin’s CSL received while he was Finance Minister?

    • Ooh… distraction noodle!

    • You seem to be saying that Liberal restraint and various alleged misdemeanors then are a legitimate excuse for Cons’ obfuscation, equivocating, and lying now.

      “They did it it, so we are entitled to be worse”. That’s a nice moral foundation for governing.

      • Shouldn’t you be relieving yourself on KeithBram about now?

        • Nope, your leg was fine. Does your sock feel squishy?

          • You need glasses, that wasn’t my leg and I don’t wear socks.

          • Hah! Dogs don’t wear glasses. We go by scent and yours is unmistakable.

          • Dogs make mistakes……….ask Stephane Dion about Bam the dog.

    • OK so let’s get some facts: 1) the “appropriation” of the EI funds was not illegal as confirmed by a court decision; 2) the “raiding” of the pensions was also legal as confirmed by a court decision; 3) there are no missing $40M; this is a myth/lie like the $1B HRDC boondoggle which is also a myth/lie; 4) once the economy was in better shape, the liberals also increased transfers to much higher levels; remember the $40B + 6% annual health increases given by Martin and which Harper is reducing in a significant way; 5) Paul Martin and CSL did exactly what all shipping companies were doing and are still doing, i.e use a flag of convenience; this is the only way you can stay competitive in this business.

      • Liberal revisionist history is just so much BS.

      • Re:CSL, that $162 million dollars had nothing to do with any flag of convenience, these were funds given by the Liberal government of the day to the Finance Ministers company.

        That is a huge conflict of interest.

        Try reading the SIdewinder Report from the RCMP, it has to do with Chretien and Chinese criminal organizations.

        • Ask Tony how border services, when relieved of $50mil to stop gun smuggling, human trafficking etc etc, were able to do their jobs as he built outhouses and gazebos in his riding to get elected?

      • Don’t play his game. All of those Liberal moves were dirty and dishonest. That does not excuse Conservative dishonesty and dirt.

        • Nonsense. Liberals never do anything wrong. They are 100% good, and Conservatives are 100% evil. Don’t you read these comment boards?

          • Still the victim, are we?

  4. I just had so much smoke blown up my posterior, it came out my ears!

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