While this funding does appear to have been included in Budget 2010 (read p. 73), I do want to commend the federal government for having invested this money and invested in our youth. In a climate of austerity - at least discursive austerity - I would encourage the non-fiscal Conservatives to divert their attention and our money away from new ways of putting more Canadians behind bars towards programs such as these that will likely prove to steer them away from being in conflict with the law.
Now for a word of advice to the federal government. Yesterday, I presented excerpts from a report I submitted to Parliament earlier this week entitled "Canada at a Crossroads: A Brief on Prison Expansion" (read 3 March post). On page 9 of the brief I note the following concerning the various budget projections for the Truth in Sentencing Act (2009):
"Following the release of the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer’s report that projected the implementation costs of the Truth in Sentencing Act (2009) to be approximately $5 billion for the federal government and another $5 billion to $8 billion for the provinces and territories over 5 years (read here), CSC Commissioner Don Head wrote an op- ed – published without supplementary documents – that pegged the cost of this one piece of legislation to be $2 billion over this period (read here). This figure was the same one used by Minister Toews since he revised his cost estimate for the law from “not more than $90 million” (read 27 April 2010 article by the Canadian Press) to $2 billion in April 2010 (read 28 April 2010 article by Janice Tibbetts)".
The inclusion of this narrative - which has been widely circulating in the media and political sphere since that time - in my brief prompted the following exchange between myself and Conservative MP Ben Lobb:
Lobb: "Mr. Piché, my first for you is, from your document on page 9, at the very bottom, you footnote a cost here. It was quoted from Mr. Minister Toews, footnote 78, from the Canadian Press from your brief. In this quote you're stating that this cost is $90 million. That is what you originally said. In actual fact, that's the supplementary estimates for the additional cost to the Truth and Sentencing Act for 2009-10, and 2010-11. Do you feel that this is a little out of context the way you put that in your document?"
Piché: "Mr. Toews was asked how much the Truth and Sentencing Act was going to cost by a member of the Canadian Press. I have the article here which I can table. He answered: "We're not exactly sure how much it will cost us. There are some low estimates and some that would see more money spent, not more than $90 million". That was his quote on the twenty-seventh. The next day his quote was $2 billion. That's my interpretation. The numbers changed. You can explain it if you'd like".
Lobb: "That's right. I just did explain it. The $90 million was for the"
Piché: "But that's not what he said".
Lobb: "The fiscal year and the balance moving forward".
Piché: "I think that's not what he said".
Lobb: "I think that's pretty straightforward. Thank you very much".
While I could criticize Mr. Lobb for defending what I have reason to believe was a budgeting error by the Minister of Public Safety (read 7 February post with ATI data), I'd rather focus my attention on how this whole disagreement could have been avoided in the first place.
Had the minority Government of Canada provided the “analysis, key assumptions, drivers, and methodologies behind the figures presented... basic statistics such as headcounts, annual inflows, unit costs per inmate, per full-time equivalent (FTE) employee, and per new cell construction" (read p. 2 of the 25 February 2011 PBO report here), this entire discussion around the costs of the Conservative punishment agenda would not also be a debate about government transparency. Just think about the amount of political points scored - or not scored depending on how you count such things - on this issue based on the fact that the federal government refuses to provide some 'truth in budgeting' along with their sentencing measures (read 22 June 2010 editorial in the Globe and Mail).
Had they put up the numbers with accompanying documents, sure they could have been subject to scrutiny from the Parliamentary Budget Officer and other experts, but so what? That's how deliberative democracy works and how good policy decisions are made. And isn't that what we should aspire to?
Politically, such an approach would have been advantageous for the federal government as well, because at least then they could legitimately claim they did their best to cost out their punishment agenda with the best available information at the time and would be in a stronger position to defend what they appear to view as the right thing to do.
But because this was and continues to be the road not taken, presumably because they would prefer that their critics and opponents discursively box with a shadow instead of a tangible punching bag, what they've failed to realize is that the only shadow many Canadians are concerned with is the one they've cast upon themselves (view Rick Mercer's 23 February rant).