April 4, 2012
By: Dr. Irwin Cotler, Liberal MP for Mount Royal
A budget is not only a financial statement — it is a statement of values. It is not only a balance sheet — it is a set of priorities. Regrettably, as Parliament’s debate on the budget comes to a close, it is increasingly clear that the Conservative budget fails to address what should be the key priorities of the government, while otherwise reflecting values that are out-of-step with those of many Canadians.
The budget speech itself is quite telling — it’s a 3500+ word window into the Government’s agenda and its stated preferences. It is perhaps not surprising — though disconcerting — therefore, that nowhere in the speech did we hear the words “social justice,” nowhere did we hear “humanitarian,” indeed, the speech makes no reference to even “fairness” or “equality.”
While the majority of immediate post-budget media coverage focused on the elimination of the penny, one cannot ignore the prejudicial impact on the lives of people of cuts at agencies such as Veterans Affairs Canada (budget reduced by 66.7 million), the CBC (10 per cent budget cut), the RCMP (200 million slashed), or the cancellation entirely of programs like Katimavik, a youth program that teaches valuable, transferable employment skills to youth — at a time when youth unemployment is a compelling concern — while promoting community service and fostering an appreciation for Canada’s rich regional and cultural diversity.
Moreover, nowhere are foreign affairs present in the budget speech. Every reference to “global” deals with the economy, and the word “international” is nowhere to be found. Contrast this with the Liberal budget from 2005, for example, where not only was “promoting international peace” mentioned, but specific mention was made of the need for assistance in Africa, speaking to both AIDS and malaria, as well as the need for debt relief. Similarly, budget 2004 spoke of the desire “to double our international assistance budget by 2010-11″; whereas the current budget does not even use the word “assistance” once — problematic enough with respect to other countries, but even more so with respect to assisting Canadians most in need.
Beyond the speech is the nearly 500-page budget document itself wherein, for example, “human rights,” appears but three times, twice with respect to the Canadian Human Rights Museum. Indeed, “justice” is limited to departmental funding numbers and support for victims of crime, yet no costing appears for the omnibus crime bill, C-10 — or any of its composite nine bills — a standing contempt of Parliament and the obligation of Parliamentarians to oversee the spending of the public purse.
Perhaps most problematic, the budget document makes no reference to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, whose 30th anniversary we are celebrating this month. Indeed, no less telling, is that the only reference to any sort of “charter” in its nearly 500 pages is one quote from a chartered accountant.
While I have thus far focused on what is not in the budget, two express mentions in the budget are particularly problematic and warrant discussion. First, the government proposes to close the files of many immigration applicants who have waited years to come to Canada as skilled workers, without these applicants even being given a chance to make their case. Rather, the Government has summarily and pre-emptively decided that they are unwelcome in a move utterly devoid of procedural fairness. In addition, cuts are being made to the food inspection agencies, departments that keep Canadians safe and secure, ensuring that the food chain is not contaminated — cuts clearly prejudicial to the health of Canadians — without any justifications offered for how food safety will be maintained in the absence of said funds.
Whether it’s marginalizing low-income seniors by increasing the qualifying age for OAS, or cutting funds to regional development programs that create jobs, or not announcing any new funding for affordable housing — when the existing program funds are set to expire soon — this budget is simply wrongheaded, misguided, prejudicial, and disconnected from the needs of Canadians.
Indeed, while the Minister of Finance opened his remarks by stating that “Canadians have every reason to be confident”, the budget leaves little room for confidence in the values and priorities of the current Government.