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Where are Tory tax promises?

By John Williamson
web posted February 12, 2007

Wasn't Ottawa budgeting supposed to change for the better under Conservative rule? This was the pledge Stephen Harper made to Canadians, but it hasn't come to pass. During last winter's election campaign, his candidates vowed
to end wasteful programs and control government spending, which increased dramatically under the old Liberal regime. Opposition Conservatives told Canadians that if elected they would prioritize spending and govern responsibly. Certainly, no scandals have erupted under Prime Minister Harper, but that does not mean all is well in Ottawa. The federal government is growing as fast as ever and this puts the prospect of meaningful tax relief in jeopardy.

Prime Minister Harper was applauded last year for limiting the size of his cabinet to 26 members. His streamlined executive was down significantly from 37 under former Prime Minister Paul Martin. Taxpayers were told this smaller cabinet would save them $48-million.

Yet just last month, Mr. Harper decided bigger is better by adding six secretaries of state to his team. These junior ministers are paid an additional $53,000 on top of an already generous MP pay package of $147,700. When a government spokesman was asked what additional expenses might crop up, he responded there wouldn't be any, "They do in fact get a car and driver, but there's no added cost to the taxpayer because the costs are being absorbed within the departments through reallocation." Oh boy, if the Conservatives believe their own spin, taxpayers are in big trouble.

Additional limos, chauffeurs, and pay are the tip of the iceberg. Junior ministers do not attend Cabinet meetings, but each is nonetheless entitled to additional political staff. And what is Ottawa's starting salary for a
"senior" twenty-something staffer fresh out of school, who reports to a junior minister, who in turn reports to a minister, who reports to the Prime Minister? Try $85,000, up to a maximum of $110,700. Throw in benefits, travel and suddenly taxpayers are shelling out real money. It might not be $48-million, but it's closer to that figure than zero - notwithstanding the government's absurd denial.

Forget cutting the size of the state; the Conservative government is unwilling to even abide by its own commitment to hold the line on spending or change the pork-barrel culture. The party's 2006 election manifesto stated spending had grown to an unacceptable level: "Far too much taxpayers' money is absorbed by the Ottawa bureaucracy or spent on ineffective or inefficient programs." To fix this problem Mr. Harper's team said it would begin by limiting future growth of government to the inflation plus population growth rate.

But it hasn't happened. Instead Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay tells voters in Atlantic Canada that electing a provincial Tory candidate will open regional development taps, "He's going to come knocking and we're going to deliver," he said. In Quebec, Public Works Minister Michael Fortier demands military contracts be directed to his province. In December, Senator Fortier announces industrial giant Pratt & Whitney will receive a $350-million subsidy. Bombardier has also been informed it will receive a similar sized corporate welfare handout - courtesy of taxpayers - should the aerospace firm build a new regional jet. On top of this, the government recently resurrected goofy environment programs it cancelled after assuming office last year. What's next, Rick Mercer plugging the Two-Tonne Challenge?

Remember the days when opposition Tory MPs lampooned the government for boosting annual government spending by an average 8.2% each year during the Liberals' final five years in office? This expansion meant the state was increasingly interfering in the lives of Canadians, at work and at home.

The federal government continues to meddle by imposing regulations on businesses, over-taxing families and adopting the vote-buying policies perfected by the Grits. According to the finance department, Ottawa will grow by another $12.4-billion this fiscal year. That increase works out to 7.1% - well above inflation and population growth. Spending is budgeted to grow by another 4.5% in 2007/08. Taxpayers have no reason to believe this lower figure any more than the previous commitment to reduce spending.

When a government uses a fire hose for spending, they are left with only an eyedropper for tax relief. The Conservatives obviously find it easier to spend the rising surplus rather than control expenditures and cut taxes -
just as the Liberals did. But can they really believe re-election efforts will be any easier when taxpayers cannot see a significant difference between Conservative and Liberal spending levels or their records on lowering taxes? ESR

John Williamson is the Federal Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.


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