Yesterday, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty delivered Budget 2011. Touted as "the Next Phase of Canada's Economic Action Plan [that] will focus on supporting job creation, supporting families and communities, investing in innovation, education and training, and preserving Canada's fiscal advantage", the sales pitch by the minority Conservative Government of Canada is that there will be no major new expenditures in this year's edition of the federal budget. And if one were to read the document from cover-to-cover they would likely arrive at this conclusion.
From my vantage point, there was no major new expenditures in the federal budget, but that does not mean that the Government of Canada will not be incurring major expenditures in the years to come. What I found most striking about this document was the fact the funds for the new federal prison units that the Conservatives announced this past fiscal year - many of which are located on the grounds of aging and outmoded penitentiaries that the 2007 CSC Review Panel and newly-minted prison construction 'experts' have said need to be replaced - were not included in this year's budget (read 14 February post). Also missing from the budget was any mention of Correctional Service of Canada's (CSC) Long-Term Accommodation Strategy, which was to be submitted for consideration this month, as confirmed by Public Safety Minister Vic Toews in his December 2010 response to Order of Paper Question 471 (read 17 March post).
With a punishment agenda as one of their flagship initiatives and the recent finding of contempt from the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs for not providing a full accounting of the costs of their 'tough on crime' bills (read 21 March post), one has to wonder if the ruling non-fiscal Conservatives have learned anything about transparency since they've taken office, and particularly in the last few weeks.
One also has to wonder if the opposition parties have learned how to be effective at driving the point home on this issue. With the budget tabled, the opposition parties had the opportunity to point out that the full costs of the Conservatives punishment agenda, now acknowledged to be in the billions of dollars over the next five years (read 17 February article by David Akin), were not in the Finance Minister's Budget Plan, Budget In Brief or Budget Speech.
Instead, the Liberals and other opposition parties ran to the microphones to announce that they would not support the budget, with investments in new federal penal infrastructure - expenditures that were not even mentioned in these budget documents - being a primary justification to take down the sitting government. While some of these costs were outlined in the 2011-2012 Main Estimates (read 1 March post) and will likely be detailed in CSC's 2011-2012 Report on Plans and Priorities which is not yet available, those aspiring to govern missed an easy opportunity to point out another example of why Canadians cannot trust the numbers put (or not put) forward by the non-fiscal Conservatives.
If the inability of the opposition parties to capitalize on the moment yesterday was any indication of how their campaigns will be executed, those dissatisfied with the "Harper government" may need to hold their breath for a few more years before a leadership change occurs in the highest office of the nation.