Budget charade

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The news release makes it look like a wonder of inclusion: there’s a federal cabinet minister coming to your town, to listen carefully and take your advice about what should be in the federal budget in March.

This is from the release, issued Friday: “This week, Minister Peter Penashue held economic consultations and meetings with community and business leaders in St. John’s, Labrador West, Natuashish, Hopedale, Postville, Rigolet, Black Tickle, Makkovik and Nain.

“‘I had a number of constructive meetings and consultations with town councils, business leaders and constituents this week across Labrador,’ said Minister Penashue, minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, president of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada and regional minister for Newfoundland and Labrador.

“‘I was glad to hear the concerns and ideas that were raised, and they have helped me to get a clearer idea of the priorities of Labradorians for our government’s next budget and the year ahead.’ …

“Cabinet ministers will be visiting communities across the country to hear from Canadians on their priorities for Budget 2013, and how the government can use taxpayer dollars most effectively, find savings and boost economic growth.”

It’s wonderful that the federal government wants to hear from Canadians on their priorities, but the fact is that the whole thing — much like this province’s regularly scheduled “prebudget consultations” — is really only a public relations exercise. Or, if you’re being a little less charitable, a sham.

Why?

Because, as we’ve pointed out here before, if the consultations were really meant to incorporate the ideas and thoughts of average Canadians in the budgetary process, they would have been held months ago.

By now, federal departments have received their marching orders for the budget and have completed and submitted their detailed plans for the upcoming fiscal year. Those plans have been reviewed by the Finance Department, sent back to the respective departments, and final changes in departmental spending plans have been made.

Not only have the broad strokes of the 2013-14 budget been completed, so has almost all of the fine-tuning. Chances are, the inclusive images needed for web pages are already being selected and printing schedules are being figured out for the budget itself.

Yet, federal cabinet ministers, on your dime, are spreading out across the country to listen to your ideas — and subsequently, at least as far as this year is concerned, ignore them.

Can you change the federal government’s budgetary direction by making your opinions known? Perhaps you can for a budget somewhere down the line — so there’s no reason you shouldn’t try, just like we should all continue to email and petition our government, however fruitless those efforts appear. There’s no reason to not make a presentation, just as long as you realize your effort is like a gnat trying to shift an elephant from the direction it’s already decided to walk in.

But do you stand the slightest chance of modifying the direction of a budget that’s already virtually complete?

No. And shame on governments that spend tax dollars pretending to give you a voice. By claiming inclusion and offering nothing, they’re simply adding more reasons for citizens to become disaffected and walk away from the process.

Organizations: Intergovernmental Affairs, Privy Council for Canada, Finance Department

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador

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