Last month, I noted that many of the provinces and territories would likely ask for funds to cover the costs related to the federal Conservative Government's punishment agenda (see 29 April 2010 post). Since that time, officials from jurisdictions such as Ontario, Manitoba (see 1 May 2010 post) and Nunavut (see 4 May 2010 post) have noted that they will face significant challenges should rapid increases in their prison populations occur as a result of legislation which seeks to put more people behind bars for longer periods of time.
In a story published in the Globe and Mail this week (read here), reporter Gloria Galloway noted that "[s]ix out of the 10 provinces surveyed... said they are worried that new tough-on-crime laws will impose a major financial burden. The remaining four said they simply do not have enough information to determine the costs they are facing".
One of the primary reasons that the provinces and territories do not know what the potential impact that the federal punishment bills will have on their prison systems is because the minority Government of Canada - which was elected on a platform of accountability and transparency - refuses to disclose the figures. As noted by Galloway, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has said that he would "rather not share" these numbers with Canadians.
While such comments have not been readily challenged in the past, a wave of recent editorials and stories in the media have been putting pressure on the Conservatives to release the costs associated with their ideological addiction to incarceration. In the Ottawa Citizen, the headline reads "Watchdogs, critics decry lack of financial information from Tories" (read 9 May 2010 story). In the Globe and Mail it is argued that it is "[t]ime for Mr. Toews to share" (read 19 May 2010 editorial). The Vancouver Sun has asked Canadians "Can you spare $10 billion?" (read 5 May 2010 editorial), in response to preliminary figures emerging from the forthcoming Parliamentary Budget Officer's report on the implementation of Bill C-25.
At some point the Conservatives are going to have to disclose the costs of their punishment bills, figures that need to be provided so that Canadians can have all the information needed to decide whether or not they want to support their penal policy agenda. It is time for Harper and his flock to show some courage and to stop hiding behind certain victims who are only listened to when they are willing to be used as stalking horses for state repression. The fact that this Government is projected to spend $2.46 billion on prisons versus $16.3 million for victims in the year ahead is an illustration of the Conservative Party's so-called commitment to victims (read 6 April 2010 post). This is just one example among many which reveal that the Conservatives aren't in it for victims or safety in our communities, they're in it for themselves.