23 December 2009

Is the recession Harper's ally?

For many Canadians, perhaps most, the recession has been a bad thing. But for the Harper government, maybe not so much. Indeed it may offer an opportunity for Mr. Harper to realize his vision for the country.

Stephen Harper is a small government man. Of that, there is no doubt. The problem that he had when he first assumed power was that times were good and it's difficult to reduce government in good times. But then toward the end of 2008, capitalism crashed and times turned sour. The Harper administration was taken by surprise but soon got into the swing of things and joined other governments around the world by funding massive economic stimuli while plunging the country deeply into debt. Suddenly we were into big government, very big indeed, with a deficit this year of $56-billion.

This might look bad for a small government man, but not necessarily. We now have to climb out of deficit and the Prime Minister and his finance minister are making it clear how that will be done. It will be done by economic growth and by shrinking government. Taxes will not be raised, not even to correct the mistake of cutting the GST. Transfers to provinces will not be reduced. Apparently, we are to climb back to balanced budgets largely by allowing the public service to shrink by attrition. Economists and former Finance Department officials have suggested this strategy won't be enough but their views have fallen on deaf ears.

Gary Corbett, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, warns Mr. Harper, "I hope he realizes that when you cut public servants, you cut public service." Mr. Harper is no doubt fully aware of that.

The only question is what public services are to be cut. Some departments are safe. With their fondness for the military and their punitive approach to crime, the government won't be cutting in those areas. Indeed the top two departments in terms of hiring recently are National Defence and Correctional Service. Public services less favoured by conservative philosophy can be expected to be in shorter supply. And that I imagine is what Mr. Harper has had in mind all along.


  1. This isn't just a small government issue, let me tell you. You can bet that the first programs on the chopping block will be those that help those "left-wing fringe groups", and they'll use the opportunity to open up universal healthcare to universal profit-taking. Those Alliance church members have been praying for this...

  2. Yup. All part of Stevie's not-so-hidden agenda. Here's hoping that 2010 will see a change in the PMO to someone who's interests, goals and objectives mirror what most Canadians want rather than parroting the failed Bush years.