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Political situation in Canada

Why it's not easy for governments to cut the federal budget

Political situation in Canada, satisfied 27%

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The first time they get to Parliament, MPs take one look at the massive amount of money the federal government spends every year and decide it ought to be an easy thing to find the fat to trim.

"Every single minister of finance and every single president of the Treasury Board comes in with that exact statement and every single one of them has left with their tail between their legs when they finally realize that almost all the money is assigned to some program," said Don Drummond, the chief economist at TD Bank.

Before joining TD Bank, Drummond was one of the top bureaucrats at the federal Finance Department and played a key role in crafting the historic budget of 1996. That budget, introduced by then-finance minister Paul Martin as Canada's debt was ballooning out of control, contained a massive $11.7 billion worth of spending cuts. No government has ever come close to that kind of cut.

Martin would deliver another round of spending cuts in the 1998 budget and is one of just three finance ministers since 1960 to have wrangled in a budget that actually cut Ottawa's spending. The others were Progressive Conservative Don Mazankowski in 1993 and Liberal Ralph Goodale in 2005.

Bureaucrats and politicians agree: the list of finance ministers who cut spending is a short one because cutting spending is one of the toughest things a politician can do.

There is perhaps no better indication of the political peril of spending cuts than what happened in the last general election. The Conservatives, heading into that vote, had just ended funding for some programs that helped the cultural sector produce and export its work. Those arts cuts totalled about $50 million, a tiny amount compared to the overall budget, and yet, the Conservatives themselves concede that the backlash to those cuts, particularly in Quebec, likely cost. Prime Minister Stephen Harper his chance at a majority government.



Source: The Gazette (February 27,2010)

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