Undercutting the cuts

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There’s an interesting message in two announcements made Monday: the provincial government, still stinging from the fallout of last year’s budget, is trying hard to cast itself as something new.
Monday, the government announced it would be putting $13.5 million back into the Legal Aid system and into an expanded Sheriff’s Office.

The spending is prompted by reviews of the two systems — reviews that came even though the justice minister of the day staunchly defended cuts to both areas during the last budget.

The reviews certainly back up what people in the justice system said at the time: that the system was already taxed and that additional cuts could not be supported.

Both are good decisions, but something about them is worth keeping in mind: the government that now giveth is the same government that took away in the first place. There would not be a review, nor returned money, if there hadn’t been budget cuts to the courts in the first place.

What’s also worth keeping in mind is that there’s more to this conversion than a sudden recognition that mistakes were made.

Stop and consider what Premier Tom Marshall said about other recent decisions by the provincial government to review unpopular government actions, like the passing of Bill 29.

“We feel that we’ll do a better job than the alternatives that are out there. But we have to regain and renew the confidence of the people of the province, and we’re trying,” Marshall said. “Where we’ve gone wrong, let’s fix it and let’s try to regain the goodwill of the people of the province.”

A cynic might ask: are principles only as deep as polling? How much of a bye should a new administration get for backing down on a former administration’s unpopular policies?

After all, the decisions that  Marshall is now overturning are decisions that he and his fellow cabinet ministers supported when they were made. There is a certain amount of baggage

that can be left with former premier Kathy Dunderdale, but no one should believe that she was solely responsible for her government’s direction, nor that anyone else in government was simply forced to do something they neither believed in nor supported.

The right decision is the right decision, regardless of who makes it. When it comes to the justice system, public money must be invested to ensure that everyone has a chance for fair treatment in the courts. Likewise, those who are forced to attend or serve in the courts need confidence in the safety and security of their workplaces.

But sometimes, the right decisions are made for the wrong reasons. If this is merely an effort to find public support before facing the electorate, then it’s not worth the same kind of praise.

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