Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Back Door Cuts: Not a Basketball Reference

Stephen Harper is such a wonderful set of contradictions.  Today's exemplar: he tends to be viewed as a tough guy, but his budget processes are ... craven.  How so?

Harper has been so incredibly focused on balancing the budget, perhaps due to ideology but also to set a trap for the opposing parties: for new programs, they have to either promise to raise taxes or make cuts.  But how did Harper get here?  By cutting spending through the back door.  What do I mean by that?  Each year and especially last year, the government refuses to spend what it promised to spend--lapsed spending they call it.  This year, this amounted to nearly $9 billion, which does not seem like much in American terms, but is about half of the defence budget here.

Where did this money come from?  What programs didn't need all of the money that was originally allocated?
hundreds of millions set aside for new military equipment, processing refugee applications, First Nations communities and transportation infrastructure went unspent.
Maybe Harper has turned the broken defence procurement system into a positive, as each unbuilt ship means more money left in the budget.  Kicking the can down the road for each major defence project means magic savings!  Ok, whatever, but the other stuff reminds us of the government under-serving the Canadian public and broader interests.  Good thing that there is no need to process refugee applications this fall, eh?  First Nations are doing just fine as some have running water?  Maybe the Liberals thought we need to spend money on infrastructure because the government did not seem to be spending enough money on it?  Oh, there was money allocated but not spent?  Wonderful.

Most of the figures of what is spent come out long after the budget year is over, which is very different from the US where the budget is actually a budget--a set of figures that represents where the money is actually spent.  The US process is broken in different ways, but at least one can easily figure out once the budget is passed where the money is going to go.  Up here?  Nope.  Budget cuts through the back door.

How brave Stephen Harper is to reach a balanced budget through deceptive/opaque lapsed spending?  Not very.

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