Sunday, May 22, 2011

Trimming the Fat in Canada

The Canadian government is looking to 'trim the fat'; no, this is not Canada's version of the Biggest Loser. It's a Conservative government exercise that seeks to cut out the excess expenditures by government in the interest of balancing the budget and practicing fiscal responsibility. Which is precisely why the Conservatives have decided to create the largest cabinet in Canadian history with 39 ministers and junior ministers for a whopping total bill of $9 million dollars. Wow. That's showing some restraint.

Yes, it takes work to run the country and you need competent people who should be well-compensated for the task. But the other facet of the trimming the fat exercise doesn't apply to the Cabinet- it applies to the public service, where the government intends to slash $4 billion dollars. The federal public service is the world of the lowly bureaucrat, which in case you're wondering, are the people who are paid to do the work that the Cabinet dreams up and sends down. While Cabinet argues, debates and thinks big thoughts to themselves, the public service are the people who run the programs, monitor them, and delivers services to people.

It is not a fun job. The work is often uninspiring even in the best of times and the population writ large has no love for the public service, and in most cases, actually despises them in the same way that people despise tobacco lobbyists and hotel heiresses. They seem them as lazy, overprivileged, safe and secure in their little jobs and taking home big fat cheques for no reason in particular.

Which is exactly the kind of image that Prime Minister Stephen Harper would be happy for the country to keep. Because while he slashes and dashes via his Minister Tony Clement, he wants people to remember that they hate the public service. He wants people to think of them as wasteful and lazy, unnecessary costs that can be carved like fat off a Thanksgiving turkey.

It also helpfully keeps everyone's attention diverted away from the perks that he and his own Cabinet members are keeping for themselves. While the rest of the population watches the fat get trimmed off one side of the big bird that is our federal budget, they don't pay attention to the opposite side where the white meat is getting sliced off and delivered onto the plates of Cabinet Ministers.

It's not the salaries that are truly questionable, but the perks. Car allowances, expense allowances, particularly generous top offs for those who live outside of Ottawa (which, in case you're wondering, is probably 90% of the Cabinet) and then the pension contributions. Where the government gives a modest pension contribution to its federal public servants, it provides $4 for every $1 that is contributed by a Cabinet Minister. That's making your dollar go far.

In a country where the average combined income of a family with two working adults is $63,900 and the average Cabinet Minister salary is $157,731 for one Minister, does it not seem plain mean that the government wants to target the federal public service for its primary cuts while giving nothing up for itself and then claiming that they're fiscally responsible?

It seems like the Conservative government may be suffering a 'Let them eat cake' mentality, which would not be surprising to most people, given the state of affairs in the world today. How many years can this go on without a peasants revolt? With the increase of taxes, fuel prices, inflation, wage freezes and the very dim possibility of ever owning one's own home, it's going to be time for the population at large to say that enough is enough.

I don't have either a torch or a pitchfork, but when the time comes, I'll be ready. I have all the indignation I need to join in. And the Conservatives are doing a good job of keeping that feeling alive.

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