Saturday, April 14, 2012

Smaller government? Or just dumber?

I’ve long been a proponent of smaller government. Far too much money and effort goes into regulating my private life as a citizen, to support questionable business practices (inside and outside of the bureaucracy), or to bail out entire industry sectors that were too stupid or lazy to respond to changing market conditions.

But where there is a role for strong government is in the areas of public health and safety, which I would have thought would also be a key consideration of this Con government.

If that is the indeed the case, why then did the recent budget implement the following?

  • Cuts to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, charged with protecting Canada’s domestic and imported food supply.
  • Cuts to front line border control officers responsible for identification and interdiction of drugs, guns, and illegal immigrants, including 25% of the CBSA sniffer dogs used in airports, ports, and border crossings.
  • Cuts to the Environment Canada unit responsible for coordinating the clean up of toxic spills to ensure human health is protected in the event of an accident.
  • Cuts to Defence Research and Development Canada who’s mandate (in part) is to develop new and improved techniques to protect the lives of our military.
  • Cuts to Transport Canada’s air safety inspectors who help ensure Canada’s record of air safety is maintained.

And there are more.

Now the cynic could say that these cuts are being implemented and announced to the media in this way to embarrass the Harper Cons (and there’s likely some merit to that argument), but the fact is these are coming as a result of yet another inept and half-hearted attempt to reduce the cost of government.

The Cons are not unique in this regard; this is one case where they can rightly claim “The Liberals did it too.” Instead of a process of rational debate about the merits, and eventual elimination, of entire programs, it’s easier to just tell every manager to cut their budget by X%. The political calculus is that the general public will view this more positively (“About time they made those lazy civil servants work for their pay like I do!”) than alienate thousands of Canadians (i.e. voters) by deciding to cut special tax incentives for children’s sports, lunch money for truckers, and so on. There are literally billions of dollars to be saved by simply reversing politically expedient tax loopholes and programs that serve no other purpose than to generate votes from an easily (and cheaply) bought populace and kudos from friends in big business (along with the periodic invitations to a hunting or fishing lodge). That’s before even looking at entire government departments and agencies that should be shuttered because they have either outlived their usefulness or cannot demonstrate that they have actually been successful in achieving their stated mandate(s).

Doing more with less in an idiotic turn of phrase; all you can do with less is less. But successive governments (at all levels) persist in the mythology that they can remain all things to all people and it won’t cost the taxpayer a penny more (or, in a few years, a nickel).

To which I say bullshit.

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