"My own view is that the Tories would take us back to the recession, Reform to the Depression and the NDP, well, they'd take us back to Gilligan's Island. "
Finance Minister Paul Martin
A CASE OF DUBIOUS FIGURES
THE POLICY: Both the Reform party and the Conservatives have promised to cut taxes, pare government and balance the budget. The Tories offer quicker relief—an immediate 10-per-cent cut in personal income taxes with their first budget. They will fund that tax break with so-called cost savings of $12 billion over three years. Reform promises to balance the budget by March 31,1999—and then to provide tax relief of $12 billion. Those tax breaks will be funded by “projected economic growth,” and by program cuts that will save $15 billion per year by the end of the party’s first mandate. Both parties promise that, despite their cuts, they will spend more money on health and education.
THE REALITY: The Tories and Reform may talk soothingly about fat, duplication and red tape. But there is simply not that much red tape still entwined in the system. In both cases, the actual proposed cuts to program spending add up to less than the total figure that the two parties proclaim.
And in both cases, the savings will still be difficult to find— and painful to implement.
The Conservative platform,
“Let the future begin,” is distressingly haphazard. Although the party’s proposed spending cuts total $6.6 billion, the Tories provide details for only $4.86 billion in their appendix. So where do they find the rest of their “cost savings?” Most of the difference comes from their novel use of Ottawa’s annual contingency reserve—$3 billion in 1997-1998—which Finance Minister Paul Martin puts aside to ensure that his deficit targets are met. If he meets the targets, the fund is not touched. The Tories would put aside annual reserves into a so-called restructur-
ing fund until it eventually reaches $7.4 billion. They claim that the fund, coupled with $3 billion from the sale of government lands and small annual additions, will somehow cover any revenue shortfalls. In other words, they have renamed surplus funds as cost savings.
That still leaves a whopping $6.6 billion in promised cuts. They include $1.4 billion from the elimination of the public works department; $450 million from cuts to regional development agencies; $650 million from defence cuts. And the Tories optimistically expect that huge savings will flow from combining departments, despite the short-term restructuring costs: for example, $1.1 billion from tossing together Fisheries, Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environment.
The Reformers are more open about their determination to cut deeply—but equally blithe about their ability to find savings. Although their platform, “Afresh start for Canadians,” does not provide
dollar amounts for specific savings, they intend to eliminate the regional development agencies and all secretaries of state. They will downsize Canadian Heritage, Indian Affairs, foreign aid and Transport.
Reform stipulates that program spending will decline by $15 billion—to $94 billion—by the end of its mandate. But under the Liberals, program spending is already slated to decline to $105.8 billion in 1997-1998—and to $103.5 billion in 1998-1999. (The Tories’ cuts are largely additions to 1 those cuts.) That means Reformers would only have to slash, at most, about $9.5 billion—because the Liberals have already accomplished a large portion of Reform’s promise.
Cutting, though, will be tough slogging for both parties. Between 1994-1995 and 1997-1998, the Liberals slashed almost $9 billion from spending—and then spent more than $2 billion of the savings. But those were real cuts that removed much of the fat that Reform and the Tories now identify as a target. Further cuts can only mean significant, wrenching changes in Ottawa’s role in the Canadian federation. Neither party can pretend otherwise.
CONFRONTING THE FACES OF THE PAST
Trying to escape the long shadow of Brian Mulroney hasn’t been easy for Jean Charest. Stepping from his campaign bus for a noon-hour speech to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce last week, the Tory leader came face-to-face with not one but two Brian Mulroneys.
Standing on the sidewalk waving to passing motorists were a pair of pranksters wearing Mulroney masks. The two would not identify themselves, or say who if anyone put them up to the stunt, but members of Charest’s campaign team blamed the Reform party,
which rode a tide of anti-Mulroney anger to 52 seats in the 1993 election.
Nowhere was the bitterness stronger than in Alberta, a traditional Tory stronghold. But Reform officials deny any knowledge of those behind the masks. “I have no idea who they are, but I do know that people in Mulroney masks have been popping up at various places around the country,” says Reform press secretary Larry Welsh. The first phony Mulroney sighting, he says, was in Toronto on March 18 when Charest released the Tories’ election platform. With signs that the Tory vote may now be growing at Reform’s expense, Charest, a former member of the Mulroney cabinet, wants to put those years behind him. “This election,” he says at almost every campaign stop, “is about the future.” Not if the mystery Mulroneys can help it.
"Can any Canadian today support Preston Manning when he says to Canadians, Tm willing to negotiate the breakup of the country'? I would never accept that. "
Conservative Leader Jean Charest
"It is not a referendum campaign but it is a campaign that we have to win to then win a referendum."
Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe
"We're all left wondering what the truth of this situation is. "
NDP Leader Alexa McDonough on Jacques Parizeau’s denial
TRACKING THE OPINION POLLS
AN INDEPENDENT BRITISH COLUMBIA?
Was he muzzled? Gordon Wilson says no.
Last week, the constitutional adviser to British Columbia’s NDP government denied that he had been ordered to delay the release of three controversial constitutional studies until after the June 2 election. Wilson, the former provincial Liberal leader and now the sole sitting member of the Progressive Democratic Alliance in the provincial legislature, insists that the timetable for the release of the papers—which concentrate on British Columbia’s constitutional future—has always been late June or early July. In that case, fireworks are expected—just in time for Canada Day. Wilson confirmed to Maclean’s that while the papers will still promote national unity, they will also focus on how British Columbia should respond when, rather than if, Quebec separates.
“It is safe to say all evidence to date points toward an independent Quebec if Prime Minister Jean Chrétien is returned with a majority and that majority continues the policy of inaction,” said Wilson, who serves as a special adviser to B.C. intergovernmental affairs and finance minister Andrew Petter. The studies, he added, will give serious consideration to whether his province should follow Quebec out of the federal fold. “One of the options we will look at,” Wilson said, “not as the number 1 option, not as an option we are pushing, but as an option, is an independent British Columbia.”
STANDOFF AT BULL ARM
About 400 unemployed fisheries workers threw a wrench into Prime Minister Jean Chrétien’s planned visit to the $5.3-billion Hibernia offshore oil platform when they stopped a bus carrying 36 journalists and Liberal aides at Bull Arm, Nfld., and prevented it from moving for three hours. Chrétien, who was travelling behind the media bus, had to rearrange his schedule but still managed a shorter visit by helicopter to the platform. The incident occurred as Statistics Canada released new figures showing that the jobless rate has risen to 9.6 per cent from 9.3 per cent in March.
Tory Leader Jean Charest took a hardline stance on crime, but critics claimed it had more to do with appealing to right-ofcentre voters than it did with personal beliefs. Standing outside the Prince Albert, Sask., prison housing serial killer Clifford Olson, Charest said that the Tories would repeal the faint hope clause, which allows some murderers to seek parole after serving 15 years of their 25-year sentence. When questioned about his conviction, Charest retorted: “Look me in the eyes if you have any doubts.”
‘BLOOD ON THEIR HANDS’
Voters should blame the Liberals and not the provinces for cuts to health care,
NDP Leader Alexa McDonough said. McDonough added that the Liberals are trying to deflect attention from the fact that it was Ottawa that drastically cut transfer payments to the provinces. “They think they can run the campaign on the basis of saying, ‘If you don’t like what’s happening, then go to those nasty premiers.’ As if [the Liberals] don’t have blood on their hands,” McDonough said.
Liberal ministers struck out into Quebec to try to dissuade voters from casting ballots for the Bloc Québécois, while driving home the point that Quebecers would be better off with an MP in cabinet than with one in opposition. In one community on Montreal’s South Shore, Justice Minister Allan Rock met with six senior citizens. “I think just making ourselves available locally is important,” Rock said.
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