Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Cut and a Shave...

Source: CBC News: Harper vows 'Modest' cuts but Offers few Details
Source: CTV News: Harper say Tories can cut Costs, Keep Services

As the election continues, it seems that all the party leaders are talking about cuts to the civil service in one way or another. The Liberals have warned that the Conservatives will cut essential services (like health care) in order to pay for their programs in their platform. The NDP has said that neither the Liberals or Conservatives can be trusted to protect essential services and that both parties would make cuts to services.

The Conservatives, on the other hand, haven't spent much time attacking the others over whether they would cut programs and services; instead, Harper has openly admitted that the Conservative Party, if they form government, would make cuts to balance the budget.

Of course, Harper didn't say the word 'cuts' exactly. Much like Jim Flaherty, who called the finding of the government in contempt 'a procedural motion', Harper is telling the truth without telling the truth.

Harper has referred to the cuts as 'shave[ing] five per cent off [the $80 billion in operating costs the government spends]' and as 'operational savings'.

Of course when pressed for details by the press, Harper refused to provide any real details to the plan of his party. The only thing he has gone on the record for mentioning is that there are 80,000 civil servants expected to retire in the next few years, and that not all of them need to be replaced.

Given the Harper Government's long standing inability to see eye-to-eye with the civil service, I can't help but see this as a bad thing. After all, how many civil servants out there have stood up to the government since Harper came to power in 2006? How many have blown whistles over questionable practices, such as the flagging of access to information requests, and directly challenged the power of not only the government but the Prime Minister's Office?

The fact of the matter is, it's probably a higher number than any of us know. So to hear Harper say he's not going to replace a large number of these people makes me concerned.

After all, 80,000 people is a lot of jobs; I find it impossible to believe that you could eliminate even half or a quarter of those jobs and still have those departments deliver services as they do now. A decrease in the civil service means there will be a slow down in the delivery of government services, there's just no other way around it.

If a department goes from having 30 employees to 10, for example, there is going to be a significant diminishing in the productivity and ability of that department to do their jobs in a timely fashion. Even if those 10 workers were the best of the best and worked around the clock, I doubt they could do the work of 20 others.

This is yet another time when Conservatives are attempting to paint the civil service as a 'boogeyman' that is a black hole of taxpayer money. I've said it many times on this blog, if we want services as a nation we have to pay for them. We can't get something for nothing, life simply doesn't work that way.

A decrease in the civil service, regardless of where the decrease occurs, will lead to decreased services. A + B = C, always has and always will. And this is a case where Harper is trying to tell Canadians that A + B = D, and he's crossing his fingers than none of us are paying close enough attention to see the lie we're being fed.

And there's the flip side to this problem. Harper has said that not everyone will be replaced when the 80,000 retire; but some of them will be.

Given that the Conservatives were caught 'considering' the niece of former PC Premier Bernard Lord, upon his recommendation, for a job at Rights & Democracy, I think we all know how the Conservative hiring process is going to work for those who will be replaced.

I'm not saying the Liberals are any better, mind you. The culture of cronyism that exists in Ottawa has existed under Liberal and Conservative governments alike. Yet Canadians always talk about how they want change in government and Ottawa. Yet Canadians always alternate between two parties which have proven that they are undeserving of the public trust.

To borrow a phrase: "the definition of insanity is doing the same thing twice and expecting different results." In that way, it appears we Canadians have been electorally crazy for years.

Until we re-examine why we vote the way we do, and whether or not the status quo is actually the best thing for Canada, we're simply going to get the same results over and over. And it would be insanity not to make a change for the better.

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