COLUMN

A David Letterman Top 10 for Canada

Appear serious about cuts—without actually making any—by unleashing a yearlong study of Canada’s social safety net

DIANE FRANCIS January 16 1995
COLUMN

A David Letterman Top 10 for Canada

Appear serious about cuts—without actually making any—by unleashing a yearlong study of Canada’s social safety net

DIANE FRANCIS January 16 1995

A David Letterman Top 10 for Canada

Appear serious about cuts—without actually making any—by unleashing a yearlong study of Canada’s social safety net

DIANE FRANCIS

COLUMN

David Letterman and his spectacularly successful late night TV show are a sign of the times. Glib and singularly unimpressed with famous people or important events of the day, Letterman has a slouched and laid-back wit that reflects the cynicism of his viewers. He takes on superstar Madonna for her arrogance and bad language. He pokes fun at politicians, industrialists and the news. He stages crazy stunts such as dropping objects from tall heights to see how they break on the pavement, or chewing out overweight patrons while posing as an employee at a McDonald’s drive-through.

But the most popular of his routines is his acerbic ‘Top 10 list,” delivered in mock seriousness every night. Lists can be public policy commentary or just silly send-ups. Letterman’s lists range from the “Top 10 Rejected Titles for Reagan’s Memoirs” to “Top 10 Banking Tips from Neil Bush” or Top 10 Things that Will Get You Audited by the Taxman.”

Unfortunately, Letterman has little Canadian content on his show, except for Paul Shaffer, his bandleader from Thunder Bay, Ont. So in the interest of making a public policy point, and adding a little Canadian content to Letterman’s menu, what follows is a Letterman-style list for Canada. Here, “From the home office in Sioux City, Iowa, are the Top 10 Techniques Used by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and his Liberals Last Year to Avoid Deficit Reduction”:

10. Cast off the prime ministerial limousine and drive around in a Chevrolet instead. Close the parliamentary barber shop. (That way the public thinks you are serious about cutting the deficit. Then, in your first year of government, project a budget deficit of $39.7 billion, by refusing to make any meaningful cuts in government spending.)

9. Make your government appear even more serious about cuts without actually making any by unleashing Lloyd Axworthy on a yearlong journey costing millions of dollars to study Canada’s social safety net. His mandate includes whether or not, and if so how, to repair, trim or enlarge social-spending programs. (A slow learner, Lloyd, months later, still grapples with the issues and the possibilities and begins most sentences with “on the one hand” and “on the other.” A loyal Liberal, Lloyd proves that by electing 176 Liberals in Parliament we can count on them never to reach a conclusion.)

8. Make government appear serious about cuts without doing any by unleashing a second in-depth examination—by former civil servant Marcel Massé—of Canada’s bloated bureaucracies, including whether or not, and if so how, to repair or trim costs. (Another slow learner, Massé is still grappling with the possibilities, even after spending a career in Ottawa’s bureaucracy. More important, Massé has also decided to tackle this important task by asking the very civil servants who created the bloat to propose how to fix it.)

7. Lead a delegation of hundreds of businessmen and provincial hangers-on to China. Then announce billions of dollars’ worth of “new” trade deals that were mostly negotiated months before. (This hoopla has the added benefit of allowing the country to sell nuclear reactors to a country that buys and sells more arms than most and to allow Canada to do business with China despite its human rights violations, even though Canadian taxpayers are being asked to spend millions sending peacekeepers to defend human rights elsewhere.)

6. Be totally preoccupied with Quebec, the Quebec election last September and now the looming referendum promised by Premier Jacques Parizeau. (This can also justify spending millions on French-language programs in English Canada in the interests of pandering to Quebec.)

5. Through artful bookkeeping, add $6 billion or so to 1994-1995’s federal budget deficit figure to make the Tories look worse than they already were. (Added advantage here is that by padding $6 billion or so to the budget you can announce $6 billion in cuts this winter without doing any cutting.)

4. Employ an earnest finance minister who talks tough about the importance to the nation of tackling the debt crisis. Then don’t let him make any serious cuts in spending in his first budget. (Martin has been crisscrossing the country to talk tough about deficits even though he is totally hobbled by virtue of being forced to stick to the script in the Liberal Red Book, which is the wisdom gathered from ages in the Opposition wilderness. This calls for deficit reduction to $25 billion in three years, which will be too little, too late.) 3. Retain Sheila Copps as the deputy prime minister. Then unleash her on a study of Canada’s environmental issues, including whether or not, and if so how, to repair or trim or increase environmental regulations, or “greentape.” (Another slow learner, Copps is still grappling with the issues of what to do, when, where and why. It is amazing to note that Chrétien and his crew—all professional politicians—now find themselves having to study virtually every aspect of government about which they had definite opinions while in Opposition.)

2. Avoid deficit reduction by simply putting more on the tab, requiring future instalment payments. Use the billions of dollars in credit extended to Canada by Wall Street and Bay Street. Then encourage lower levels of government to borrow billions more to participate in job-creation schemes to build infrastructure projects that nobody needs and taxpayers cannot afford. (Pluses here include the fact that the projects benefit mostly unionized construction workers to build infrastructure projects, which takes away support from New Democrats. Infrastructure cost-sharing also curries the favor of provinces, notably Quebec, which must be satisfied at any price.)

1. Continue to see no evil, hear no evil, do no evil. Tell Canadians in end-of-year televised interviews that they are happy and that the country has no problems. Deliver the Straigh t from the Heart, I-love-Canada speech whenever and wherever possible. Above all else, do as little as possible to reduce the deficit until absolutely necessary.