On Tuesday, it was revealed by Liberal Status of Women Critic Anita Neville and Winnipeg North Liberal Candidate Kevin Lamoureux that $6 million is being spent on ads promoting the federal government's Victims Matter website (read press release). According to the Liberals, this funding is more than the $4.8 million that was spent on initiatives aimed at directly aiding victims of 'crime' in 2009-2010. An article by Sun Media reporter Laura Payton later clarified that $4.9 million was spent as part of the Victims of Crime Initiative (read here).
It should be noted that the Liberals appear to have selected one aspect of funding for victims in the 2009-2010 federal budget while ignoring that a total of $13 million had been allocated to this area of government programming. That aside, it is important to note that while the government increased its victims budget to $16.3 million this year, it made just over $3 million in cuts to both the grants and contributions to the Victims of Crime Initiative (read 6 April 2010 post) - the money for the $6 million for ads and a website had to come from somewhere after all.
While government officials will likely defend this spending as a means to promote the services offered to put "victims first", much of the 'action' touted in the commercial (watch here) are the legislative initiatives initiated by the minority Conservative Government of Canada that were passed in Parliament including:
- "Limiting Pardons for Serious Crimes"
- "Cracking Down on Street Racing"
- "Toughening Sentences for Gun Crimes"
- "Tackling Drive-By Shootings"
- "Protecting Youth from Sexual Predators"
- "Fighting Impaired Driving"
The laundry list of "government action" for victims is then expanded on the Victims Matter website where legislation currently before the House of Commons and the Senate is listed, all in the name of victims and the protection of the public.
Beyond the fact that there is no evidence that longer sentences enhances public safety in the long-term, what is omitted from this narrative concerning the trajectory of penal policy in this country is that the first Ombudsman for Victims of Crime has criticized the Conservative government's focus on longer sentences and prison construction that are leading to soaring 'correctional' budgets - priorities that leave little money to address the complex needs of victims (read partial transcript and commentary from 6 April 2010 CBC's Power & Politics interview).
Given the funding disparity between the $16.3 million budget for victims (up $3.3 million from 2009-2010) and the $2.46 billion budget for the federal penitentiary system (up $193 million from 2009-2010) to be spent this fiscal year, I would suggest that the latest government advertisement is indicative of a government whose agenda has little to do with putting "victims first" and more about putting politics first in a climate where the prospect of an election is always looming.