Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Chopping Block

When you've got a little extra money in the bank you weren't expecting, it's usually better to check over your bills and expenses and see what you can get rid of instead of splurging with it. You can't rely on the surprise bonus every year and expect to stay afloat.

So it's no surprise that the Tory government is going to cut a little fat it could otherwise afford:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government tightened federal purse strings by $2-billion yesterday -- slashing spending hated by many Conservatives, such as medicinal marijuana research -- even as Ottawa disclosed that its coffers are bulging with another near-record budget surplus.

Last year's surplus was $13.2-billion, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced yesterday -- the third highest in recent years. He said it will all go to reduce the national debt, signing an oversized cheque to that end at a press conference that resembled an election campaign event.


Spending on the chopping block includes funding for the Medicinal Marijuana Research program, as well as the Court Challenges Program, which funded litigation in the name of equal rights -- an initiative that partisan Conservatives have always derided.

"I just don't think it made sense for the government to subsidize lawyers to challenge the government's own laws in court," Treasury Board president John Baird said.

The Court Challenges Program was one of the Court Party's most blatantly manipulative devices for rigging the interpretation of the Charter and getting its will made law.

On the one hand, the feds got to look like magnanimous and disinterested champions of human rights by paying for the challenge to its own laws.

On the other hand, the program was stacked to make sure that only the favoured groups got their challenges funded.

Despite claims that the program was necessary to grant the poor and disenfranchised access to justice, most of the applicants were interest groups that could afford their own lawyers, or people who had enough of a connection to one to get a lawyer through one.

One special interest group is seeing its funding cut significantly, much to SUZANNE's joy: Status of Women is losing $5 million out of its $23 million a year. Women's studies professors and lesbian performance art collectives weep hysterically for the loss of their grants.

And potheads are like, bummed, dude, that the Medical Marijuana Research Program is being snuffed out. The cannabis cult will have to keep up the fight for their holy weed in another forum.

But perhaps most notable is this announcement:

Much of the surplus was built up under the previous Liberal government, Mr. Flaherty charged, serving notice that the Tories plan to make such windfalls a thing of the past.

"We're going to budget much closer to line . . . No more so-called surprise surpluses at the end of the fiscal year," Mr. Flaherty said.

It's always a temptation for governments to overbudget and then claim a huge surplus of money that was never going to be spent. It's like taking out a loan to buy a mansion in Rosedale and then buying a shoebox condo in Mississauga, and claiming a huge savings when you had no intention of buying anything other than the shoebox condo.

Flaherty is essentially taking a powerful election-time trick out of play, all in the interests of prudent budget practice. And at the risk of being seen as a less competent manager of the fisc and treasury.

Now that, in light of usual government practice in Canada, is daring indeed.

Source: Globe and Mail

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