Zero means zero -

Zero means zero


Maxime Bernier muses on government spending and taxation in a speech to the Frontier Centre for Public Policy in Winnipeg.

Let’s try a thought experiment. Let’s say that the federal government is big enough as it is and that expenses are not going to grow anymore. And I’m not saying zero growth adjusted for inflation and population or GDP increase. Just zero growth. The overall budget is frozen. From now on, any government decision has to be taken within this budgetary constraint. Every new government program, or increase in an existing program, has to be balanced by a decrease somewhere else.

We will no longer have debates about how much more generous the government can be with this or that group, as if the money belonged to the government instead of taxpayers. The focus of the debate will shift to a determination of priorities: what are the most important tasks for government to achieve with the money we have? Is this government function really important and should we have more of it? Then where should we do less or what should we stop doing and leave in the hands of the free market, voluntary organisations and individual citizens? The silent majority’s interests are always being protected.


Zero means zero

  1. Wow, this idea hasn't gotten any smarter in the last few months. Zero nominal growth means real cuts, every year. Bernier should not be allowed to make this speech without somebody asking where he'll find the $1B he'd need to cut to absorb this year's inflation. That should be an interesting list…

    • CBC

      • Year after that? And the year after that? And the decade after that? Even daft anti-government types ought to realise that negative real program spending growth eventually starts eating into programs that even they like. So after we shut down all government-supported university research, and leave the rotting corpses of the poor and ill (no money for corpse removal, you see–budget cutbacks) in the streets, we might even have to start cutting soldiers, prisons, and income tax deductions for charities, and 'charities' like religious groups. So now that we've established that they don't want negative real program spending in perpetuity, the questions becomes: why for some arbitrary amount of time? Why not, (after winning a mandate from the people of course), just slash government by 50% in one fell swoop? And that means no new megaprisons to warehouse kids charged with pot possession.

        • Some of us like the idea of government getting small enough that we can drown it in the bathtub, as a wise man once said. From that perspective, cuts are good at least for the foreseeable future.

          • Yes, but there's a difference between running with that idea when a party who believes in it has the power to do so and forcing all future governments to adhere to that ideology whether or not they (or their constituents) want to.

            Nothing stops a government from reducing its size by any amount it wants, if it has the support of the majority of elected representatives. If they wanted to reduce the size of government, all that's stopping the Conservatives is their own lack of willpower to do so (and, of course, their lack of a majority in parliament, reflecting their lack of majority in support from citizens).

          • So someone with an irrational dislike of something supports a bad idea to get rid of it?


        • "Even daft anti-government types ought to realise that negative real program spending growth eventually starts eating into programs that even they like."

          I am one of those daft anti-government types and I can assure you that lots would need to be cut before they reach the programs I, and many others, would be worried about.

          Frozen budget sounds like awesome idea for exactly why Bernier says – people have to start making choices and priorities instead of spend, spend, spend like we do now while not actually paying for our profligate ways.

          • Great – let's hear about those choices. Shutting down the CBC gets you through one year, at very low inflation. How do you get through the next five?

          • No one said shut down, they can go the PBS route as ask the cultural warriors in Toronto and Montreal to step up. I have no interest in my tax dollars paying for Hockey Night in Canada, Don Cherry or Wheel of Fortune.

            A private company will pick those up, in the real world we call it competition.

            Point # 2

            Subsidies, loans to Airlines, Banks, Auto companies, Oil Companies and Farmers equally. Supply management protects too many special interest groups.

            Equalization changed to reflect have not provinces refusing to fix their books has better benefits and lower fees. Quebec is our Greece.

            Step 3

            No audit no expenses and political party welfare. Senate Reform Max Salary 50k no benefits, no expenses. They can teleconference to reduce airline trips.

            Step 4

            Reduce Regional Development unless it is Environmental (Pollution clean up) or National Defence

          • Take a look at Canada's Public Accounts:

            Your proposals are silly enough as it is, but they also give you far too little in savings. Supply management and loans are costless for the government. The regional development agencies seem to have a combined budget of less than $1 billion. Capping parliamentary salaries and expenses might save tens of millions – chump change in this context. And equalization is a constitutional mandate so I'm curious how you see savings coming from that. The payments are based on fiscal capacity, not government revenues already.

          • Are you the Finance Minister for Greece or Quebec?

            Equalization is growing at over 5% per year. Over $13 billion in 2008-2009. Nearly 60% to Quebec.

            Next thing you will suggest "Carbon Credits" will help the environment and will help the economy.

            "Supply management and loans are costless for the government."

            Too funny.

            I understand your constitutional expertise makes $ 8 billion transfer to quebec non-negotiable …lol

            Ask Danny Williams how that went for him in 2008.

          • What do you think supply management is? And how do you think it costs the government money?

            And how does Newfoundland's offshore oil teach Quebec a lesson about equalization payments?

          • This was your point "equalization is a constitutional mandate "

            I explained it can be changed without a "constitutional talk". The "culture of entitlement" to fund parades and regional development can be reduced, frozen or capped.

            Clearly the Liberals in the 1990's had the politicial will to gut $ 25 Billion in Health, Education and Social Services. They also found the will to use the $ 57 Billion from EI program to general revenue.

            So the CPC are limited to the will to test their opposition and spreading the pain by eliminating the special interest groups to the teats of the taxpayers.

            Why do you think Quebec is against a European Trade Treaty without "supply management" guarantees?

            Do you believe those Quebec Farmers Association, Dairy boards want to compete fairly?

          • None of the transfers you've mentioned are part of equalization. Equalization is in the constitution as a program to balance fiscal capacities across provinces. When a province discovers oil, its fiscal capacity changes. That's why you can change equalization payments to Newfoundland without changing the program or the constitution.

            Clearly the Canadian dairy boards benefit from the protectionism of supply management. But that doesn't mean those import restrictions cost the government anything. Where do you see the costs coming from?

          • I could point out you are not an expert and you are wrong but we already know that.

            You keep stating something I never did, great strategy.

            Let's reduce this further.

            The Federal Gov't is responsible for the program and can make changes that are
            A) in line with expert opinion
            B) make changes as they fit (with majority MP)

            They can "top up" payment for extra whiney Premiers with regional development.

          • Okay, what expert opinion do you see that justifies reducing equalization payments to Quebec? Or overall? The federal government can make changes, but it has to stay within the framework set out in the Constitution. I can't see the argument for canceling the planned increases and implementing cuts. There isn't enough regional development spending to pay for the cuts Bernier is proposing. None of your other suggestions save much money. Which is why Bernier's proposal is silly – he's saying the government needs to make tough choices, but he's got no tough choices to propose..

          • Style…….there is something radically wrong when the 2nd largest province in the country is a continuous recipitent of equalization. We all know they have social services that only other provinces can dream of ie. $7.00 a day daycare etc.

            The intent of the program is to allow all provinces to provide basic services at a comparable level. Somehow the program needs to be rejigged so that basic services and their level are defined. Over and above that no equalization.

            Charest gave Quebecers a billion dollar tax cut with the top up of equalization that Quebec got. I am sure this ticked Harper to no end.

          • Equalization is to allow provinces to offer comparable services at comparable levels of taxation. The formula works much the way you propose. Quebec has higher taxes to pay for its more generous social services. That doesn't affect the logic or operation of equalization payments.

          • Style…..I agree that is the purpose of equalization.

            However, you did not address the fact that Quebec is perpetually on equalization. This is the 2nd largest province in the country. How can that be?
            Yes they have higher taxes but they are still living off the rest of Canada with $8 billion annually. If they lost say $2 billion they would certainly have to look at their expenses or raise taxes.
            Once again it is important to clearly define what are comparable services at comparable levels of taxation. The equalization formula need not be as complicated as it is. Nobody understands the bloody thing.
            Is it reasonable to have a province with a lower provincial tax rate than other provinces and still collect equalization?
            What would happen if suddenly Alberta became a have not province and qualified for equalization. Would it be fair that they collect equalization and still not have a provincial sales tax?

          • It is possible to be large and poor – that's the entire explanation for Quebec's recipient status. And poor in this context means having less fiscal capacity than the average of all provinces, so it's not that demanding to fall into the category.

            The formula isn't very complicated – you look at five tax types, use the same tax rate for every province and calculate how much money a province would collect. If it's less than the average, the province gets a per capita top-up. There are some fiddly bits to smooth payments and deal with resource development but they're just decoration.

            Equalization calculations deal only with fiscal capacity – they aren't affected by the tax rate or spending of a province. Quebec can raise taxes or cut services if it wants, but that will have no effect on equalization.

          • Quebec does have the second highest total GDP in the country, but also a large population to divide it among.

            There are only 3 provinces with a lower GDP per capita than Quebec – Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and PEI.

          • Um, supply management isn't a subsidy.

    • I agree with Bernier….we need to shrink the size of government not expand it. We can cut a lot of things if there is a will.

      For too long politicians have been living off of the public's largesse and it is time to control the size of government. The federal government has limited powers under the constitution. Perhaps if they stuck to their own knitting they could live withing their means.

      I know that won't make the socialists happy but some day it is going to happen whether we like it or not.

      • The federal government usually shows a 3 to 5 year budget. You'll need to cut at least $5B in the next budget to keep up with inflation. What specific cuts do you propose?

  2. Newsflash: Max Bernier is an idiot and a panderer.

    • Yes, but so are his fans like "wilson."

    • Funny, when I saw Wherry's headline & that this involved Bernier, I said to myself "Betcha someone has weighed in calling him a stupid (or some such epithet) pretty boy."

      Well, I was half right.

      • It's a bit of an open secret that he aint his daddy.

  3. You have to be one pig-ignorant rube to support an increase in government when we are half a trillion already in debt and running a huge deficit. I mean, the stupidity of anyone who would be opposed to Bernier's plan is just staggering. Good for Bernier for doing the intelligent thing and rallying support for a spending freeze, which only dirt-stupid morons would oppose.

    • Uh, you realize debt/deficit reduction would be a budget line item, right? I mean to say, you'd have to spend money to reduce it.

      Also, increase in government is what Harper did as soon as he became PM. But we are talking about increase in government spending here. And while increasing the size of government automatically means increasing spending as we pay salaries and benefits, increasing government spending doesn't automatically increase government. But if the Conservatives are so big on cutting spending, why did they nearly double the size of the PMO budget?

  4. If you don't properly fund your programs, your wasting the entire amount spent.

    • Mike T … much is too much? As someone said there is so much money wasted they probably could cut for 5 years before it hurts programs that mean something in the lives of Canadians.

      • Oh wow, you're vague baseless suppositions have completely changed my mind! You're so right! How did I not see it before now? Thank you hollinm, thank you thank you thank you!

        • Mike T……your welcome, your welcome, your welcome. Smart a$$. Obviously you have nothing to add to the discussion.

  5. The reality is that, as a short-term policy – say 1-3 years following a period of heavy (read: nearly out of control) deficit spending (like about now!) – zero nominal growth in spending might actually be healthy and a simple, useful and easily understood approach to get spending under control.

    Of course, all the special interests, right and left, would go berserk, so I doubt that even Mad Max would attempt it. Nevertheless, regardless of how you view it as an option, the discussion is healthy (okay, maybe not here, exactly) and kudos to Max for having the nerve to raise it.

    • Completely OT, but just curious: What is the significance of the four airport codes in your handle? Are LA, Dallas, Atlanta and Winnipeg all cities you've lived in?

      • YOW isn't Winnipeg, it's Ottawa.

        • You're right–my mistake. I should have checked, instead of relying on memory.

      • Yeah, it really should have started w/ YUL but it was just getting oppressively long.

        • That's an interesting list of former addresses. Was the transcontinental migration career-related?

          • Yep. Started when a small Cdn tech company was acquired by a US public co. and we then kept buying tech companies for a good while. Fun.

    • We don't need a spending freeze. We need a critical analysis of what spending there is. Mindlessly advocating that we stay at the present level of spending without regard to context is foolish and intellectually lazy. It reeks of the kind of 'rule of thumb' used by the unthinking to deal with a world they find bewildering and unfathomable.

      Heck, maybe absolute cuts are appropriate. Maybe not. I'd rather government spending be dictated at least somewhat by rational analysis and not gimmickry.

      • Andrew….how do you get that rational analysis and not gimmickry in this day and age. Any cut is deemed to ideological and is harped on by the opposition as if the country will go out of business. Women's groups. Most of them are a waste of money. Gay pride parade. It should stand on its own. NGOs not achieveing objectives etc. Gone. Tulip festivals, parades, corporate welfare, gone etc. etc. All gone.

        • I'd largely support that. What I take issue with is politically motivated punishment of groups that the current crop of yobs in charge deem worthy of scorn. That is exactly what defunding the Toronto Pride festival was. I could readily accept it if the government wasn't presently scattering gobs of cash all over the country for touristic and cultural events its religious base don't find so objectionable.

          I'd also point out that this is a red herring. Those things comprise a pretty small slice of the total federal spending pie. Unless you want to start hacking away at transfers to persons and provincial governments, you're going to be pressed to see substantial reduction in the size of the fed government. Maybe there's room for reform there, but I instinctively dig in my heels when people insist 'smaller is better'. I believe more in responding to empirical results rather than trying to bend reality to fit your worldview. Hence why Harper's approach to crime rankles. All the available evidence suggests his strategy will fail utterly at reducing crime, cost, or harm. Yet they do it anyway.

          • You have no idea that your so called funding punishments of groups is ideological. You have to start somewhere and I would prefer they not fund any of these touristy things across the country. Let sponsors and the public support it. If they won't its probably not worthwhile.
            Of course lets attack the Christians in Canada. They have as much right to participate in today's politics as anybody else. There is no evidence Harper is a religious zealot. Read Gerry Nichols column. He doesn't even go to church.
            I would suggest that much of the funding given to the provinces is wasted. Our educational results are abysmal. Fat teachers salaries with limited results. The kids are "graduating" unable to read or write properly. I would stop the transfers from the feds to the provinces. Let the provinces fund their own educational requirements and other provincial requirements through direct taxation.
            You may not agree with the criminal justice changes but the fact remains that most Canadians believe that the system favours the criminal versus the victim. At least putting the hard core criminals in the slammer for longer periods will stop the repeat offenders.

          • I'd like to discuss the "hard-core criminals" you would put in these extra slammers. I'm really not against that. I think it is atrocious that child-molesters get house arrest, and that white collar crime–stealing hundreds of millions–rarely gets any jail time at all if they're even arrested. But the plan is to fill these extra prisons with people with four marijuana plants. And since prisons are often a training ground for ethically challenged individuals to become "hard-core criminals" I think you are asking us to pay millions of dollars to make the problem worse. Not really the direction I wanted to go.

          • Jenn……either you enforce the law or it is a bad law. Are there that many people growing four marijuana plants in their homes that we would fill up our prisons with these kind of people?

            Come on you are missing the point. Canadians believe that the current justice system in Canada favours the criminals and the victims are forgotten. If we need to build more prisons so that we keep the scumbags in jail longer so be it. That is part of having a just society.

            The lefties yell it doesn't work to discourage crime. It may well not but at least the serious criminals are in jail and can't repeat their offences. We know that many crimes are committed by repeat offenders.

          • No, I think you are missing the point. Yes, there are that many people growing four marijuana plants in their homes that would more than fill up the prisons. Not that I care about them–I agree with you that if you are going to break the law you need to pay the price. Which is why I'd rather have the law changed because I just don't want to be PAYING for them paying the price. But show me where all this law and order hoopla actually impacts on the crimes I feel most outraged at (referenced earlier). Because I haven't found it.

            I cynically think it is because these crimes are mostly committed by older white males, rather than the young visible minority types, that they are not being cracked down on. Because older white males vote, see. and become members of political parties and even run for office. But I hope I'm wrong on that.

      • Of course we need "..a critical analysis…". But some times seemingly simplistic, somewhat contrived mechanisms can be useful. Remember the "old" zero-based-budgeting? A simple tool which added some much needed discipline to a complex process. Zero nominal spending growth could be a useful contrivance under the current federal budget circumstance. Both are full of flaws, but they serve to focus by simplifying.

        • Lax…..I agree the whole point of the exercise is not to destroy those things that Canadians need i.e. healthcare, old age security etc. However, it requiries a new mindset from the politician. Stop spending. Look at what the federal government is expected to do under the constitution and stick to that. Reduce federal taxes and allow the provinces to control their own jurisdictions by taxing their own citizens. That's real accountability.
          This thing of the government controlling vast amounts of money and doling it out as they see fit is not going to work any longer. To clarify. If the provinces are responsible for education up to university then the citizens of the province are taxed provincially to fund their education system. That way the province is held accountable for the results of their education system. The feds stay out of it completely other than the feds and the provinces and territories working together to come up with a national curriculum etc.

  6. Let's try a thought experiment.

    Max Bernier is to thought experiments as oil is to water.

  7. The silent majority? What a larf.

    • Hey, it worked for Nixon . . . until Watergate, of course.

  8. Let's see him tell the Hell's Angels that: "Let's try a thought experiment. Let's say that the business is big enough as it is and that expenses are not going to grow anymore. . . ."

  9. I can see why so many resort to calling this idea moronic. Why, if we're so reckless as that, government meddling in the economy of the nation might, with inflation eating into "real" dollars over the years, approach that of what, 1998, maybe? 1996? Oh, the misery…

    Bernier is calling on us to make choices and highlight priorities. To the "moron" adjudicators here, nothing could be further from common sense. Far better to spend-spend-SPEND on everything everybody can think of, I suppose.

    • I don't dispute the need to make government do its job better, but I don't think this is a smart approach. Most of the cuts will be centered in the small subset of government spending over which the federal government has a wide berth to cut. If those programs make up 25% of the budget, then zero growth will require cuts of 6%/year in those areas. That means you cut the budget in half over 11 years, and down to 29% of the original level in 20.

      Secondly, the rate of cuts or spending increases should be a response to actual needs. There are circumstances in which our need for spending is greater, such as the need for counter-cyclical policies or mobilization in wartime. There may also be instances where we want to cut more than a zero growth budget would suggest too. A zero growth approach would set the rate of spending cuts at the pace of inflation, which is a pretty arbitrary marker.

      As we get richer, we spend our money on things. Some of those things are private goods, but others we spend on collectively through that thing we call government. Do we spend too much on the latter? Arguably, yes. However, that doesn't mean we need to reduce spending indefinitely through some rule. Instead we need to look at what we spend badly and get out our chainsaws. From that point onward we should keep spending on pace with revenue growth, albeit with year-to-year fluctuations based on the business cycle and the heightened need for military spending or some sort of disaster response.

      • We can push spending priorities to the local government instead of asking Ottawa to provide the solution. If Quebec wants an NHL arena or an Opera house tax the locals.

        Oakville is facing a $ 200 million tax bill as a contribution for a new hospital, the Mayor is asking the residents. Push down the spending and priorities to local governments.

        • That can work for some things, but any bundle of government services will have some elements that are better delivered at higher and lower levels. For instance, consider police services. It is a good idea to tie police officers to particular precincts so that they can get to know the locals, the area, etc.

          At the same time, if all police departments operated at the precinct level, none could individually afford their own crimelab. So you may have a crimbelab for an entire metro region. Still a world of metropolitan police departments would also have trouble with some tasks. For instance, people move from city to city, and it is hard to keep track of vital information. It makes sense to have national (or international) databases, so that each department can access good information.

          Instead of local vs. national or federal vs. provincial, the ideal system is likely to include a good mix of all three.

          • Yes, I don't suggest we apply a one size fits all approach to everything. My objection is the fountain in Jean Chretien's riding being called a tourism investment. The Federal Gov't should not trample and respect division of powers. Each province can step up and fill the void in areas of their expertise. They can also decide to lower internal barriers and improve competition locally.
            The New West Partnership "We are eliminating unnecessary regulation. We are eliminating duplication of regulation. We are saying to ourselves when we work together we can accomplish so much more."
            "We've just gone through a huge global economic shift. There's going to be a tremendous competition for labour, for investment and investment will naturally navigate to those areas that have the same regulations, a larger base of population."

          • Part II
            "What we want is the most ambitious trade agreement we've ever had," federal Trade Minister Peter van Loan said in an interview with The Canadian Press.
            "We're looking for something that is deeper and broader than even NAFTA, and this is with the world's largest economy."

  10. hoser…….good analysis.

    How do you get so much room for you comment. I usually get cut off for having the message too long?

    You have made many good points that I agree with. It requires a new mindset on the part of the politicians. We will never get it under minority rule. We have a freight train loaded with problems coming down the track that is going to have to be addressed in the not too distant future. We need a majority government that can make the decision without fearing an election every other month.

    • I'm not sure how I got so much room. I am not a registered user – maybe that gives me more space for some strange reason?

  11. The openness of folks here to debate over the proper size and role of government is really inspiring. What? He wants to think about how we do things? What a moron!

  12. A person I know was sent on a year long training program to learn to speak French,

    rather than offering the job to someone who spoke it already, or rather than just have the person speak English only…the job didn't 'require' it, but rather it was the brainchild of a "let's make more people speak French in Canada" – social engineering on the taxpayers dime.

    A whole year's salary, plus the cost of the French course.

    That's the tip of the iceburg in what goes on in our Federal government.

  13. Don't let the progressives scare you into thinking people will starve if we cut government spending.

    We could cut pet projects, lavish government junkets, and redundent positions put in place by bureaucratic kindome makers, for years before we'd get anywhere near essential services.

    • Yeah, that's a lovely "gut-truth".. feel free to name those projects, junkets, and redundant positions that you obviously know so many of.. or I'll just assume you're making crap up.

  14. All very well about big government; I'll bet it's party on for big business in your world, though.

    • There are also things the government needs to do, in order to provide public goods (which no market would provide), protect private property/law and order, and to regulate some aspects of commerce.

      I think the government should spend more on R&D, I think more countries need to regulate their financial systems (Canada has a good model), and I support a carbon tax (C02 emissions represent a harm to the public, and so we should ensure that polluters pay, both to incentivize emission reductions and as a matter of justice). There are also many ways governments could do less that businesses would oppose. For instance, I oppose corporate welfare, agricultural subsidies and regional development programs (eg. ACOA). Rather than spending money in specific sectors, we should create a more generally competitive environment with low corporate and income taxes, less red tape, and good domestic institutions (namely a good education system and R&D).

  15. This kind of conversation is much more useful than Bernier's nonsense. I think you've got your facts wrong on the CPP – while the dependency ratio is rising, the scheme is fiscally sustainable (there are probably detailed reports available from Finance Canada). On tuition, there is a public benefit to an educated population so you might want to keep some level of public subsidy. How much does the federal government spend on PSE now anyway?

    • No, you don't need any public subsidy going to the universities. You need grants going to the students. The poorest students get up-front grants — they don't pay anything to go, and so long as they can keep their marks up, that continues. Those who are slightly more well off can receive loans and grants at the back end — after they successfully complete either a year or a program of studies they can receive grants to pay-off all of, or a portion of their loans depending on their (and their parents) financial state.

      And then just get the provinces to adapt social services so that if you are receiving tuition assistance for university, social services will look on that as a valid reason to not have employment, and thus give you normal social services benefits. (Note that for students with kids, this is generally a much better deal than what student loans provides, because social services will generally pay for various health care procedures and prescriptions for your child that the current student financing system doesn't acknowledge.)

      • Universities do more than teach, so you might want government subsidies for those activities (e.g. research). Are you sure provinces don't allow low-income students to access social services? That sounds very strange to me – in Ontario, education is accepted as meeting any "workfare" requirements.

        • Ach. Good points about research, and I should have been specific, I was only talking about the general operating subsidies that universities use to cover the costs of teaching and general maintenance of the facilities.

          Also, the social services thing is probably province specific (given that it's a provincial matter anyway) I know that here in Alberta, social services are automatically cancelled if you receive student funding.

  16. Newsflash: Max Bernier is an idiot and a panderer. Liberal, Tory same old story. The Liberals and Conservatives have spent the last few decades destroying Canada's economy,its English speaking history and culture, with high taxes,high salaries,big government,social engineering = forced bilingual and multicultural policies,unions controlling just about everything,new programs and new departments yearly, the size and growth of government and salaries have been out of control for decades with no end in sight.Lies,spin,from politicians/officials daily,scandals,corruption,billions wasted on socialist nonsense,with no end in sight.

    Governments heavily in debt,the HST,new taxes,user fees,with no end in sight – The Conservatives response to any of this, nothing.No such thing as a fiscally conservative,common sense party anywhere in this country.What Liberal policies will the Tories repeal, what programs will they eliminate, what taxes will they reduce,what waste will they cut? No response as usual.We need a new party ASAP.The entire system needs to be overhauled now.

    • 145 CPC MP's , need a dance partner. Perhaps you can ask the other parties to stop crying bloody murder every time a friend gets the pink slip at the NGO getting a reduction or defunded.
      Martin had Manning Day cooperate on cuts and Liberals had a majority.

  17. What makes the idea extra hard is that the easy cuts were made Chretien and Martin during the rightist-Liberal phase of the 1990s.

    • The most difficult cuts that the next government will have to do will affect socialist programs which Harper has put in place in order to buy votes : return to universal family allowance; never-ending list of tax deductions for taking kids hockey, public transit, etc. ad nauseum…

      I don't know how easy it was to cut 50,000 civil service jobs, I suspect not. Definitely cutting into transfers was not easy, and politically costly.

  18. The bottom line is that if you set a small, arbitrary cap, you're going to start cutting effective popular programs a lot quicker than you think. And if you blindly stick to it, the opposition would be quite right to point out that if a little more money were to be spent in a particular area, a lot of good could be done in a manner that gets a lot of bang for the buck.

    Talking about the efficacy of specific spending items can be very useful. Crass gimmickry and bizarre schemes aren't.

  19. There's absolutely no "leadership" in simply mandating cuts across the board to some arbitrary level. It's an extremely simplistic approach that fails to recognize that the "product" of government(peace, order, etcetera) is quite different from the "product" of business (profit for shareholders). Furthermore, businesses generally focus on a year to year (if not quarterly) basis; governments are expected (or should be expected, IMO) to plan a bit further ahead.

    Alberta tried this approach in the 90's, and is now paying the price of serious infrastructure and program deficits. There was no "planning" or leadership involved here; the same effect could have been acheived through the use of computer programs or a team of accountants.

    I don't have a problem with "zero-based budgeting", perhaps as the basis for a five year cycle, but that at least requires political decisions to be made for which the party in power would be held accountable.