In like a lion, out like a lamb.
That’s how I would describe the 2012 federal budget announced March 29 to the great anticipation of many, because this is the first time a majority government has delivered a budget since 2003.
The result was a relatively typical and tame middle-of-the-road budget, and certainly not the sort of fire and brimstone that had been predicted for the past decade should Stephen Harper and several of his former Reform-Alliance MPs ever secure absolute power in the Lower Chamber.
If anything, a number of the proposals on the budget read like a progressive, rather Liberal agenda, including forming an advisory council to get more women on corporate boards, deep cuts to the military, and changes that make it easier for the unemployed and those with disabilities to find work.
There’s nothing in the budget that calls for massive cuts to the unionized public sector except for modest downsizing of a bureaucracy that they themselves created since taking power in 2006.
It’s true that roughly 19,200 jobs will be lost over the next few years, representing 4.8 per cent of all federal public service jobs, but this is lacking the context that the Conservative government has overseen the most dramatic rise in civil service hiring in Canadian history.
According to Statistics Canada, the number of federal government employees (including military) rose from about 387,000 in 2007 to 427,000 in 2011, a 10.34 per cent increase over five years.
Nor does a $5.2 billion spending cut over three years really amount to much when the figures are as large as the federal expenditures listed in the budget. The estimated $276 billion in spending is $54 billion larger than the first budget presented by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty in 2006, nearly a 25 per cent increase over just six years.
Adjusted for inflation, cutting $5.2 billion over three years is about $12 billion less than the amount it will grow anyway. So, the size of budget isn’t being reduced, it’s simply growing slower.
Certainly, there were some announcements of cuts in the budget that might bother a few people. The CBC will now have to find some way to carry on with a 10 per cent reduction to its budget over the next three years, cutting $27.8 million next year, $41.8 million in 2013-14 and $45.4 million in 2014-15.
But there are those who might argue that a publicly funded company that already receives a subsidy of more than $1 billion should be able to find a way to absorb these cuts, particularly when free market media carry on without those subsidies.
There’s also the changes to Old Age Pension which will affect those who are not yet 65 years of age by 2023, and extend their working life by two years. That’s certainly frustrating for those of us who fall in that category, and even confusing given comments made by parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page in February indicating current OAP funds are sustainable.
Given that the federal government doesn’t seem to ever listen or believe the comments made by Page, perhaps it’s time to save another $1.8 million and get rid of the office the Conservatives created in 2008 to fulfill its promise in the Accountability Act.
But make no mistake. This budget changes little about Canada’s big-spending, big-debt government.
Adrian MacNair is a reporter with The Mission Record.