Monday, May 23, 2011

Austerity Hypocrisy

Source: CTV News: Cabinet Costs Soar, New Salaries and Perks Total $9M

With the economy still being touted as one of the major issues that emerged from the election, the Conservatives have made some interesting announcements in the weeks building up to the return of Parliament on June 2nd.

Throughout the election the Conservatives talked of balancing the budget, years ahead of their initial expectations, without cutting budgets. Instead there was talks of 'attrition' and 'better budgeting practices'. And yet, newly minted Treasury Board President Tony Clement has refused to rule out cuts as a means of achieving a balanced budget.

Of course, Clement has defended this stance by suggesting that programs that were important 30 or 40 years ago may no longer be important or needed, and that programs like this could be cut or completely removed as a means of plugging budgetary holes.

But what exactly does that mean?

When the Conservatives came to power, payments were stunted to the Status of Women organization; given that pay inequality and other issues still exist in our society, I find it hard to believe that anyone could argue an organization that advances the rights of women is out dated and does not deserve to be funded anymore.

Given that we've seen the Conservatives cut programs that ARE NOT outdated, can we really trust Clement to only take the razor to programs, departments, and expenditures that are no longer needed?

I think the answer, clearly, is we cannot.

And then comes the news of the Cabinet...And the fact that Harper's 'Conservative' cabinet has tied fellow Conservative Brian Mulroney for the largest cabinet in Canadian history with 39 ministers. CTV News reports that the cost of this cabinet amounts to around $9 million dollars; which (also according to CTV) beats Mulroney and is the largest payout amount to minsters in Canadian history.

Those figures include the extra payments that are given to Ministers and Ministers of State; as well as vehicle allotment for Ministers. Add to this to the fact that the Conservatives had changed the payment structure for staffers prior to the election, allowing staffers to circumvent conventions that tied the payment of staffers to that of civil servants; AND the creation of severance packages that rival anything found in the private sector for staffers who lost their job in the wake of the election.

All of this from a government who has tried everything to paint themselves as sound financial managers.

Now, I'm not saying that some of these costs aren't justified. It's well known that staffers, the civil service, and even our Members of Parliament are in cases underpaid for the work that is expected of them. MPs, and their staff, work hard (we hope) and often sacrifice a lot of their personal life and time in order to do their jobs (on a level not found in the private sector.)

As such, I think those who commit themselves to serving in government (whatever capacity) deserve to be properly remunerated for their work and commitment.

But at the same time, I think a government cannot talk about cutting programs and departments while inflating the benefits to themselves. Harper has appointed Canada's largest cabinet, citing provincial representation and other lame excuses for the size of his cabinet, which in turn has increased the paycheques of those Conservative MPs lucky enough to sit in the cabinet.

Now, Canada is a large country...But look at the UK, our fellow parliamentary democracy. Right now, in a coalition government, the UK has only 22 Cabinet members. The UK has a larger population than Canada, yet is able to represent all of these people with fewer cabinet members. The math just doesn't add up when 22 people in the UK are able to do the same jobs as 39 people here in Canada.

Effectively, Canada's cabinet (at a time of financial uncertainty, as the Conservatives would say) should be streamlined to reflect the need to save money throughout the government. How can we expect the Harper Government to truly act within the best interest of Canadians when they eviscerate the civil service in the name of saving money (slashing jobs through 'attrition' and likely other means as well) but at the same time create more cabinet jobs than any other point in Canadian history?

The answer, of course, is we cannot. This is simply yet another move, by Harper and his party, to show to Canadians that the Conservative Party of Canada comes first. That rewarding party cronies, and long time MPs with a larger paycheque, is more important than reeling in spending.

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