Obligatory Budget Post

Today the NDP surpassed the Conservatives in the polls and the Chief Electoral Officer testified to a House of Commons committee about the potential electoral fraud in 200 ridings in the last election, but all of that was overshadowed by Stephen Harper’s first majority government budget, which includes the newsworthy* decision to kill the penny.

Here’s what a majority Harper Conservative budget looks like.

The Good

This budget will finally eliminate the penny. With prices of just about everything over $1, we don’t need 1/100th of this. While UNICEF may fear for their Halloween collections, in all likelihood they can now count on nickels and dimes to instantly increase their revenue by a factor of 5-10.

We are also promised $275 million and new legislation to improve First Nations education. I’m not sure if this is enough, but we definitely need to provide First Nations with the opportunity for a quality education.

There is also a plan to standardize all government emails to one system. Perhaps they’ll do like the University of Alberta and adopt Gmail. Regardless, this is one of those decisions that just makes sense.

Increasing the duty free limits is a simple and popular choice. It risks some harm to Canadian stores near the border but overall will likely be a good thing.

There are several other issues that I’m not informed enough to know if the funding is adequate but are areas I generally support:

  • $205 million over one year for Hiring Credit for Small Business.
  • Give $50 million over two years to Youth Employment Strategy.
  • Give $150 million over two years on Community Infrastructure Improvement fund
  • Give $105 million next year to Via Rail for operational and capital projects.
  • Give $101 million over next five years for Esquimalt Graving Dock.
  • Give $50 million over two years to protect wildlife at risk.
  • Refund $130 million in application and processing fees to skilled foreign workers stuck in immigration limbo.
  • Provide $9.6 million over three years to the RCMP to fight counterfeiting.
  • Give $ 99.2 million over three years to help the provinces create permanent flood mitigation measures.
  • Give $8 million to clean up low-level radioactive waste in Port Hope and Clarington, Ont.
  • Provide $44 million over two years to the Canadian Grain Commission to reform their funding model.
  • Provide $13.5 million over two years to improve pipeline safety.
  • Give $35.7 million over two years to improve tanker safety and inspections, emergency preparedness related to oil spills and updated charts for shipping routes.
  • Cut $2.1 billion from the Department of National Defence over the next three years.
  • Give $5.2 billion over 11 years to the Canadian Coast Guard.
  • Increase employee-contribution levels to pension plans for those working in Canadian Forces, RCMP, Public Service Commission and parliamentarians.

The Bad

While the government talks a good game about creating jobs, they will be destroying nearly 20,000 in three years in the public service. They are also continuing their assault on the public service by raising their retirement age to 65. This, coupled with the much-publicized rising age for Old Age Security to 67, means that there will be far fewer good jobs for my generation and those to come.

Then there’s the red-tape cutting gone mad. For every regulation they remove, we should be asking: Why was that procedure created in the first place? Many may be legitimately over-bureaucratic, but when it comes to sensitive ecosystems and public health, should we not be more cautious rather than less?

The Ugly

Finally, there are the things that really piss me off.

First, we have the attempt to kill our wildly successful fundamental research culture in Canada, replacing it with “business-led, industry-relevant research.” This means more projects like my masters that contribute little to the scientific community but may result in a minor efficiency improvement for mega-corporations like Honeywell, and fewer projects like my wife’s that seek to better understand the fundamental nature of superconductivity in exotic materials (which may have industrial relevance 10-20 years from now). This policy is horribly short-sighted and flies in the face of the long history of fundamental science producing technological breakthroughs.

Then there’s the decision to stop policing health claims on food labels. I’ll need to look more into this decision, but this could be another strike to the skeptic community. Just as the organized skeptic movement is getting ready for a dramatic shift forward, we see the federal government wash its hands of ensuring public health claims are based on evidence. We may soon see Cheerios promising to cure cancer or toxic cleaning solutions falsely labelled as child-friendly, with consumers being expected to make decisions without any independent verification of the claims. It’s a libertarian’s wet dream and a pragmatist’s nightmare.

They also want charities to provide more information about their political activities and their funding from foreign sources (source). While I would say this would be a positive thing in exposing questionably charitable organizations like the Fraser Institute, in all likelihood it’s targeted at those “foreign-funded radical environmental groups” like the David Suzuki Foundation and Pembina Institute who have been at the forefront of opposing the unsustainable development agenda of the Harper Conservatives. At very least this will make filing taxes more painful for organizations already struggling with lower donations due to the recession.

Then there’s the stupid ideological positions (as though the last two weren’t) that make no real sense. Like the firm commitment to no new taxes or tax increases. There’s the plan to make the Governor General pay income tax in 2013, which sounds reasonable until you realize their salary is paid by taxes. Or the decision to sell $80 million worth of foreign residences – which like pawning your CD collection is not a long term solution to revenue issues. Or the shutting down of Assisted Human Reproduction Canada when our birth rate is already bottoming out. Or the scrapping of the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, because why should we aim for sustainable development when we can just have good old development? Or cutting the CBC budget by 10% out of spite.

But at least Harper’s finally killing the Public Appointments Commission that was created in 2006 as part of his faux-accountability reforms, only to be scrapped when the opposition refused his partisan appointments to the commission, leaving a million dollar bureaucracy behind.

The Rest

Of course there’s a few remaining tidbits that I’m just not sure about.

I feel $450 million for sports facilities in the GTA is unnecessary, but it’s likely more political than ideological and likely any party in power would give something to them. I only hope the facilities add to the local community.

I’m not informed enough about the EI premium rate or its deficit to know if its increases need to be capped at 5 cents a year. And I also don’t know what the $5.2 billion in savings the Citizen is reporting includes.

Conclusions

It’s a Conservative budget. Ideological, harsh, and out of touch. There’s nothing in it to really be excited about as a progressive. I’d definitely deal with pennies in my pocket if it meant science would get the respect it deserves in this country.

*Newsworthy meaning devoid of real content but sure to generate water cooler gossip that overshadows real events.

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2 thoughts on “Obligatory Budget Post”

  1. Nice post. I completely share your feelings on this one. Gutting the NRC’s fundamental science division puts me in a state of anger about the government I never experienced before. I like to throws this document around:

    http://www.caut.ca/uploads/2012_CAUT_FinanceBrief.pdf

    because I think it shows pretty well that the next step from the Harper Conservatives might be since they don’t listen the the academic community at all. The tri-council doesn’t appear to be hurt this round, but it’s still interesting that the humanities are begin gutted faster than health of natural sciences and engineering. Also, I’ve read somewhere that the Discovery grants are taking a hit, bit I’m still looking for a source on this one. I may just have to look at the budget itself, but I’m afraid I’m gonna puke on my keyboard when I reach the science section…

  2. Nice – economized rendition of the 550 page budget. What did you think of the Veterans part of the budget? The Opposition says that 150 mil is cut are jobs, while Conservatives say it accounts for dying Vets?

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