COLUMN

Slashing the deficit-in just two hours

I found $12 billion worth of duplication and frills to cut without touching social spending or hurting the economy

DIANE FRANCIS June 13 1994
COLUMN

Slashing the deficit-in just two hours

I found $12 billion worth of duplication and frills to cut without touching social spending or hurting the economy

DIANE FRANCIS June 13 1994

Slashing the deficit-in just two hours

COLUMN

I found $12 billion worth of duplication and frills to cut without touching social spending or hurting the economy

DIANE FRANCIS

A nasty recession due to a global restructuring has so far gripped the industrialized world in the 1990s. The result is that companies and individuals in Canada and elsewhere have had to curtail their expenditures. But this restraint has not applied to all governments, and certainly not to Canada, where politicians deliver nothing but excuses as to why they cannot stop the piling up of deficits. While other countries are wrestling with debts, Canada’s Liberals are making it worse by wasting time running around studying ways to save money. As long as they can keep borrowing to overspend, they can behave like this, but it’s a matter of time until they simply won’t be able to borrow any more. So I decided to put the lie to excuses that spending cuts were complicated. I spent two hours with the 1993 public accounts and found $12 billion worth of duplication and frills to cut, without touching social spending or hurting the economy. Here’s what two hours yielded:

• The End-the-Duplication Axe: more than $3.4 billion.

Ottawa should not duplicate what the provinces are already doing reasonably well. So we should eliminate completely the federal departments of fisheries ($966 million), environment ($1 billion), energy mines and resources ($936 million), forestry ($234 million) and labor ($272 million). There’s also the Canadian Human Rights Commission ($18.7 million) and others.

• The Privatization Axe: $8.2 billion.

The 1991-1992 shortfall among Crown corporations was $6.8 billion. The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. alone loses $1 billion a year and should be sold. Inefficiency is why it loses so much money, not because it must serve some higher purpose or fulfil a special mandate. The government can control Canadian content without such costs by making it a condition of holding a licence.

• The End-the-Frills Axe: about $422 million.

Ottawa forked out money to promote our official languages, promote “dead” aboriginal tongues and then promote foreign languages. This foolishness should be axed. Instead, we spent: $119 million on multiculturalism; $12.5 million on the commissioner of official languages as well as $243.3 million on secretary of state “contributions” for official language help to independent schools; $2 million in “contributions in respect of programs in relation to the use of official languages in areas of territorial responsibility”; $23.27 million in contributions to institutions, associations and organizations for the compilation and dissemination of information and the development of teaching techniques related to official languages in education; and, lastly, $15.9 million in promotion of official languages.

If I spent 40 hours with these accounts I would have found twice as many questionable costs, but here are a few more: a $5.5million grant to the Museum of Humor Cultural Complex, which closed in early February; $5 million to something called the International Telecommunications Union in obscenely expensive Geneva, Switzerland; $39 million to the gorgeous, but usually emp-

ty, Museum of Civilization in Hull, Que.; $101 million to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council; $117 million to something called the International Development Research Centre; $3.33 million to the Advisory Council on the Status of Women, even though women already have full rights; another $9.4 million to the Status of Women Office of the Co-ordinator; and some $9.3 million for Investment Canada, which retards the foreign investment we need.

Another questionable $2-million grant went to the Canadian Institute for International Peace and Security, which closed in 1993, even though we have both peace and security; $1 million for services, awareness and assistance to the Canadian archival community; $1.197 million to the archival community in support of the development of a national network of archives, holdings and activities; and $22 million to the National Arts Centre Corp., which should just be handed over to Toronto entertainment entrepreneur Garth Drabinsky, who could make it profitable in no time.

Stranger still was $16.7 million allocated as “grants to further participation in Canadian society” and $9.36 million in “grants to nongovernment organizations to promote a better understanding amongst Canadians.” Another $20.8 million was given to “friendship centres, aboriginal associations, aboriginal women’s groups, native community groups and native community societies,” as if Canadian taxpayers do not hand over enough money already to aboriginals.

Another $41 million was wasted in the Senate and $231 million by the House of Commons on high salaries, excessive expenses and other frills. Then there is the $4 billion spent by External Affairs, which has too many embassies, too many experts and too many diplomats hosting too many cocktail parties in too many countries. There are also the obvious annoyances such as the Can-cult grants handed out by the Canada Council, Canadian Film Development Corp. and National Film Board—all for art that the average person does not like. And worst of all is the waste from the annoying pork-barrel organizations such as the Western Economic Diversification fund ($196.9 million) or the Cape Breton Development Corp. ($31 million), Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency ($268 million) and another one called Enterprise Cape Breton Corp. ($10 million), to name just a few.

That’s just my two-hour list, and many people may disagree with my suggested cuts. But spend some time yourself with these documents and you’ll come up with billions in savings, too. The point of all this is that in just two hours I sliced the 19921993 $40.5 billion deficit by 30 per cent, without touching the social-safety net, while the Liberals run around for months spending millions studying what to do about reducing spending. All that’s needed is a sharp pencil. Canada’s deficits are not insurmountable problems, but symptoms of inept, cowardly leadership.