OTTAWA – LEADERS LEDGER – Is it possible for a government to cut $10 billion in spending and more than 19,000 jobs without affecting the quality of the services delivered to the public? No. In fact, no one would even argue it was possible except for the Harper government. Let’s take a look at some of those spending and job cuts in this year’s budget to see whether the Conservatives are to be believed.
As part of the service review ordered by the Treasury Board last year each government department was asked to suggest budget cuts at both the 5% and 10% level. From there, the Conservatives would decide which cuts to enact. Details of the service cuts are still trickling out, but we are finally starting to learn where the cuts will take place. Here are five areas where the Conservatives have decided to cut that will have a direct impact upon people living in Thunder Bay – Rainy River.
With three border crossings in our riding and already long wait times during peak seasons further service reductions are to come. The Canada Border Services Agency has been told to cut its budget by $143 million over the next three years and more than 1,000 employees, including 325 front line officers, have been given notice that their jobs are now on the line. The head of the union representing CBSA agents, J.P. Fortin has said it is likely that, “more weapons, illegal drugs and child pornography will pass through our borders, not to mention terrorists and sexual predators and hardened criminals.” I am sure that at the very least we will see longer wait times at the border crossings in our riding, but it is also hard to argue that major offences such as those cited by the union will not increase at our newly underequipped and understaffed crossings as well.
We aren’t far removed from the Listeriosis crisis of a few years back, but the Conservatives have decided to cut the 100 additional inspectors that were added as a result of that incident. Ensuring that our food is safe and our drinking water is clean are two of the most basic responsibilities of our governments. Fewer inspections will necessarily mean more risk to Canadians and our food supply. These cuts are really not well thought out, but then again many of the prominent Cabinet Ministers in the Harper Government also served in the Harris Government when Walkerton residents fell victim to an E-Coli contamination of their drinking water supply. A subsequent public inquiry found that the privatization of water quality monitoring by the Harris Government and cuts to the number of monitors was partly to blame for the crisis. One would have hoped that Ministers Flaherty, Clement, and Baird would have learned something from the Walkerton tragedy, but it appears that they have not.
Though mining activity has seen some resurgence of late, it’s not exactly as if the Northern Ontario economy is going gangbusters. With 60,000 forestry job losses since the Conservatives came to power in 2006 and a tourism sector hurt by the sagging US economy and high Canadian dollar our region needs more investment in economic development. That is what FedNor, the Federal Economic Development Agency for Northern Ontario, is supposed to help with. However, instead of injecting more money into economic development during a “fragile” economic recovery the Harper Government has cut $5 million in grants, another $1.5 million in operations, and at least 25 jobs in this small but very important agency in our region. Cutting economic development during a recession or recovery makes zero economic sense, but especially so when that region is struggling to adapt to the new reality as Northern Ontario clearly is.
As you can tell, I don’t believe that the Harper Government can be trusted on fiscal and economic matters. It is simply irrational to argue that you can cut any government’s spending by 5 to 10% without affecting the quality of services that are delivered to the public. For our country and Northern Ontario in particular the stakes are simply too high to be cutting our border services, food inspectors, and economic development initiatives. New Democrats will continue to try to convince the Harper Conservatives to change their mind about these particular cuts and instead scrap their $25 billion F-35 boondoggle to help balance our books. It’s the more responsible thing to do.
John Rafferty MP
Thunder Bay Rainy River