Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Another Day, Another Scandal; & Debate Night Thoughts

Source: CTV News: Draft Report Questions Conservative G8 Spending
Source: CBC News: Conservatives Apologize in Letter to Fraser
Source: CBC News: Debate a Snooze, Students Say
Source: CBC News: Conservatives Fattened Salaries of Aides: Report
Source: CBC News: Tories Under Fire over Leaked G8 Report
Source: CTV News: AG Office Probing Leak of Draft Reports

I'm still listening to the Debate, so you'll excuse me if I don't spend too much time exploring the ins and outs of what was said during the debate. Though, as we figured, it was the opposition leaders mostly attacking the Harper Government's record, with occasional shots at each other. As for Harper, he continued to duck questions (both from the citizens asking through videos, and the opposition leaders) and rattled off party lines.

Of course, despite the debate, that big issue of the week is revolving around the draft report of the Auditor General's G8/G20 report.

For those not in the know, a draft report came out which suggested that the government 'mislead Parliament' in regards to a $50 million dollar legacy fund for projects within Tony Clement's riding prior and during the G8/G20 summit.

Numerous Conservatives, namely John Baird, have come out and announced that the phrase 'Parliament was mislead' does not exist in the final report (which cannot be released due to the election) and that rather the report is not condemning of the government's spending during the G8/G20.

Despite the problem with this alone, the plot thickened when it was announced that the Conservatives also misquoted Auditor General Shelia Fraser to a commons committee revolving around the G8/G20 spending. The quote applauded the government for their spending, commending them on a job well done in regards to the spending; but it turns out that the quote was actually spoken in regards to government spending in 2001, by the Chretien Government, in regards to security spending after 9/11.

Talk about adding fuel to the fire.

The Conservatives have since, through outgoing Treasury Board President Stockwell Day, issued an apology to Fraser for misquoting her. Furthermore, the Conservatives have also called on Fraser to release the report, along with the leaders of the other opposition parties, despite Parliament not being in session.

Two drafts of the report, one of which does not contain the idea that Parliament was misled, still suggests that the $50 million dollar spending in Clement's riding was of questionable relevance to the G8/G20 summit.

Fraser, of course, is holding her ground on the issue and refusing to release the report because she answers to Parliament, which is not sitting. Furthermore, the AG's Office is looking into the leak of the draft reports. Fraser has said that the draft report should be considered with caution, but has neither confirmed nor denied the accusations that are supposedly within the report.

Whether or not the report gets released, there's a chance that this could be the weight around Harper's neck that sinks his government. I follow comment boards and other news outlets regularly, and the common Conservative defense is that "Well, Remember ADSCAM? At least the Conservatives haven't stolen taxpayer money and given it to friends of their party."

Well, that defense is now out the window as it appears that the Conservatives have taken money from taxpayers and spent it within a Conservative riding; with numerous suggestions that Clement met with the Mayor of Huntsville and a prominent business resort owner before the money was spent.

Of course, all of this is speculation until we get the final report. Which, judging by Fraser's refusal to budge, will not occur until it is tabled in the next sitting of Parliament.

In a previous post on this blog, I talked about how the Harper Government was promising to balance the budget by cutting back on the civil service (they say through 'operations costs' and not rehiring positions where people retire; though I argue this won't be the case) and now another small scandal has come out regarding the payments being given to staffers within the government.

Staffers are to have their salaries tied to the rates paid to civil servants, yet it appears that there are cases where this was not being followed.

Staffers are only to be paid more than this level in the face of extraordinary circumstances, yet it appears that the Harper Government was paying more to staffers regardless. In addition to these enhanced payments to staffers, (ranging as high as $190,000 when standard pay is around $125,000) the Harper Government increased the cap on maximum salaries for staffers and increased the amount of 'separation pay' (effectively, payments made to a staffer who loses their job on top of severance pay) from four months to six.

Let me repeat that: A staffer who loses their job will be paid their wage for six months after losing their job.

Now, I've defended the civil service in the past; and staffers, while separate from the civil service, are an integral part of our government. These people work hard, and they do deserve to be properly reimbursed for their work.

The problem is two-fold:

1.) These payments were not made across the board; a Chief of Staff in one department, despite salary restrictions, made $65,000 more than a Chief of Staff in a different department.

2.) These increases in payments were made during a time of financial austerity, when the government was talking about 'tightening belts' and reigning in spending. Furthermore, these payments were made to effectively partisan workers outside of the civil service, at a time when the rates should have remained tied to the civil service as required.

On top of that, the Treasury Board (in classic Harper Government fashion) was slow to release this information when it was requested. It took seven months, well over the legally mandated time frame for Access to Information requests, and was heavily redacted. Furthermore, of the 51 pages requested, only one page contained any type of information that was not protected under 'Cabinet Privilege'.

At a time when Harper is coming out to talk about 'operational spending shaves', how can he justify these limited increases to certain staffers within his government? The problem is not that the increases occurred, but rather that the increases were not tied to the civil service rates and that the increases were restricted to certain staffers only.

As such, given this information, how can we trust the Conservatives to reduce and defeat the federal deficit without making cuts to programs and services?

At this point in the post, the debate has wrapped up and I'm going to give my thoughts on the points that came across...Sort of.

The main thing I need to come to task with, since it was Harper's battle cry throughout the evening, was the idea of corporate tax cuts as job generators within Canada. I lost count of the times Harper reminded Canadians that the opposition leaders would fund their platforms through raising taxes...

Keep in mind, Harper never once pointed out the difference that tax increases would fall on large corporations NOT individual Canadians. I'm sure this distinction was left out for a reason...

Harper continued to suggest all evening that corporate tax cuts increase jobs in Canada...Yet history and a recent report suggest other wise. A report by the Globe & Mail (link) shows that corporations that receive the most benefit from these tax cuts are simply keeping the increased income they saved within the company as cash reserves.

To put that another way: Companies are sitting on the money they save, NOT investing it into job creation.

Furthermore, in the past couple of weeks news stories have talked about companies that are taking in massive profits while cutting jobs or moving jobs out of Canada. An example of that can be found here in my city of Saskatoon, where Shaw Media closed down a call centre and put 60 people out of work. (link)

Shaw also announced that 500 jobs would be eliminated across Western Canada, in addition to the call centre that was closed down. Shaw currently operates 18 call centres, but they plan to lower than number to 7, putting hundreds out of work.

To put this in perspective, according to Shaw's own report (link) their first quarter results for 2010 were $1.08 billion dollars, 19% higher than the profit they made in the same quarter the year before.

Yet, despite increasing their profits (which the corporate tax rate very much likely helped with), Shaw has turned to laying off employees in favour of their bottom line.

That's strike one against the idea that corporate tax cuts generate jobs for the multi-million dollar companies that receive them.

Effectively, corporate tax cuts do not generate jobs for Canadians. If the recession taught us anything, it's that those who received the most did the least to improve the lives of Canadians. Harper has touted how his government has replaced the jobs lost during the recession; what he doesn't tout is how many of the jobs lost were full time career positions that required specialized training and provided employees with benefits (health coverage, prescription coverage, pension plan, etc.). And that the jobs that took their place were part-time positions in the service industry that offer no benefits to their employees and do not match the level of pay of their former positions.

Furthermore, Statistics Canada has often come out with numbers that challenge the Harper record on job creation. Canadians need to acknowledge this: corporate tax cuts for large businesses do not generate jobs.

That's why, in my opinion, the NDP is dead on with their proposal to extend tax cuts to SMALL businesses, the corporations that actually generate GOOD jobs for average Canadians.

Effectively, Canadians need to wake up to the Stephen Harper message:

Conservatives will not do anything for Canadians, until the books are balanced; but the books won't balance when giant corporations receive tax breaks they don't need for jobs they don't create.

We need a government that is here for the Canadian people; not a government that is here for large, and often non-Canadian, corporations.

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