Top News

'Cuts by stealth'


It's traditional for government departments around this time of year to behave a little like gambling addicts at a casino. 

Rather than holding onto money they've won, they just keep feeding the machine until it's all gone.

As fiscal years come to a close, offices that haven't exhausted their budgets often find ways to spend it anyway. It's an extremely wasteful practice nicknamed "March madness."

Why do they do it? Because if they don't prove they needed the money, they might find themselves with less in the next budget.

These days, such spending sprees are not as common, as finance ministers perpetually scrounge for every nickel they can find under the sofa cushions.

And lately, the federal government has taken a new approach. Rather than formally announce departmental cutbacks, they simply don't spend money they said they'd spend. Last year, all told, federal departments handed back $7.2 billion to the treasury.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has vowed his government is still on track for a balanced budget this year. And it's increasingly evident how he's going to achieve it.

Last year, veterans who've had to lobby relentlessly for fair benefits were incensed to discover more than $1 billion had been left unspent by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Former minister Julian Fantino had to be reassigned largely because of his poor handling of the controversy.

And Wednesday, residents of Change Islands were surprised to learn that from 2006-2013, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has let almost $1 billion in promised spending lapse.

These are people living along the shores near where the paper carrier Manolis L sank in 1985. Fuel leaking from that ship now poses a major threat to the environment, but Ottawa has so far refused to remove an estimated 500 tonnes of fuel from the vessel.

It's not only the Manolis L, of course.

Newfoundland Liberal MP Gerry Byrne points to other areas where DFO has apparently feigned a lack of funds. That includes Small Craft Harbours, the coast guard and fisheries science.

Byrne calls it "cuts by stealth."

Austerity in hard times is one thing. But at least when most governments make major cuts, they announce them and take the hit. Former premier Kathy Dunderdale certainly felt the blow in 2013, when her government laid off hundreds of civil servants and made deep cuts across the board.

But promising funds that quietly go undelivered is, well, a promise broken.

That has a familiar ring, doesn't it?

Reprinted from The Telegram

Recent Stories