The Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives published a study November 12th on the extent and effects of cumulative federal budget cuts. Given fairly recent stories in the media, you may not be surprised at the three most affected areas. From the Executive Summary:
"Federal cuts have not been small. Canada did not announce large cuts all at once but instituted them on top of each other, over successive budgets, and pushed into the future. The cumulative effect of these cuts by 2015–16 will be $14.5 billion a year.• Federal cuts will not stop at the end of 2014. Just because the budget is bal- anced it does not mean the cuts have stopped. In fact, cuts will continue for another two years after the budget is balanced. Furthermore, there is no plan to reverse the cuts now that the budget is balanced. The cuts to government services are permanent.• Federal cuts have not left frontline services untouched. Despite promises the cuts would be concentrated on the “back office,1” there has been a definite effect on services. The three program areas examined in detail in this report are cuts to Veterans Affairs, the Employment Insurance helpline, and food inspection, but the impacts of austerity are broader."
The decisions as to balancing a budget and when are political, not economic. In fact, this study is worth reading for its analysis of budget cuts on economic performance. In broad terms, the Harperites are endangering a fragile recovery by this political decision. However, it should be remembered that these cuts of the current era exist within a broader context: smaller government, lower personal & corporate taxes and lower total revenues for government. By the time that we enter the 2015 campaign, according to a story published Nov. 18, 2013 by the Globe & Mail, "Conservatives will have shrunk the federal government to its smallest size in over 50 years." This larger context of ever-shrinking government revenues has obvious implications for how we, as Canadians see our government and what we can expect from it. Smaller social transfers to the provinces (read health care) are an inevitable result as are all of the other services and areas of involvement we expect from our government and which, frankly, make us qualitatively different from the Americans. This is the legacy of Harper: a much larger corporate role in the community, a shrunken social safety net, a government which is smaller, removed from daily life, and which is much more opaque. In addition, we have little respect for science and research, and the public organs which help define us - such as the CBC - are failing through deliberate policy. In short, one could debate the question of whether Canada is still Canada.