When I ask cabinet ministers—Jim Flaherty last night, John Baird this morning—to explain the cuts the Harper government made under strategic review, I am not asking them to justify their projections for the future. All parties’ projections should be taken with a grain of salt. But the Conservatives have sought to answer that criticism by saying they will find $1 billion in savings, doubling a year later to $2 billion and again to $4 billion in the next two years, in the same way they have already found savings in the past. The Conservatives are planning more responsible spending. Fair enough: I am asking them to explain Annex 1 of the budget the Harper government brought down 18 days ago, which carries the title “Responsible Spending.”
“This round of strategic reviews, combined with targeted restraint in the growth of National Defence spending, has yielded savings of close to $1.6 billion in 2013–14,” the budget says, “amounting to 4.9 per cent of the review base on an ongoing basis. As a result of these reviews, departments are streamlining operations, realigning their activities and transforming their organizations to deliver better programs and better results to Canadians.”
Sounds great! Tell me more. Especially if this is the basis for all future saving, tell me how you achieved these savings in the past.
And nobody can. Bureaucrats responsible for implementing the cuts were embarrassed to admit to me at the budget lockup that they had no information on what was being cut. Jim Flaherty couldn’t explain any of it last night. So this morning at the weekly Conservative Fear-The-Coalition news conference, I asked John Baird. Here’s how that went.