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NEWS: Harper government hints about March 29 federal budget

The Canadian Press reports, “The Tories tempted their party faithful this weekend with tidbits of the upcoming federal budget… Six federal cabinet ministers gave keynote speeches at a two-day Manning Centre conference, providing a broad-brush look at the March 29 budget that will include billions in budget cuts but also set forth a longer-term government strategy. …Ahead of the coming budget, Clement created a high-level cabinet committee and charged it with overseeing as much as $8 billion in cuts to annual government spending. A report from a progressive think-tank has estimated as many as 68,000 public sector jobs could be on the line.”

Changing the ‘culture’ of Ottawa?
“Part of the plan is to change the attitude of government entirely, Treasury Board President Tony Clement said. …Clement mused that once-a-year exercises like the budget or strategic reviews need to be refashioned as ongoing spending oversight exercises. …’The real job that we have to accomplish is change the culture of official Ottawa from one of being spending enablers to one of being cost containers,’ Clement said in an early-morning speech Saturday.”

Big Society?
“Incentives are also key to possible changes to the way the government handles social programs, Human Resources Minister Diane Finley said. She suggested the government is looking at creating ‘social impact bonds’, which are contracts between government and private investors to fund social programs. Payment from the government is tied to program outcomes.”

Last October, the Globe and Mail reported on this scheme inspired by UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ program. “While the first steps will be small, the government’s ultimate goal is a shift in public expectations as to the role of government in assisting social causes. …As a concrete example of social-investment partnerships (that would be encouraged with this initiative), Ms. Finley points to Habitat for Humanity. By working with private-sector companies like Home Depot, the low-income housing charity and its volunteers can achieve far more social good than they could otherwise.”

More on Finley and her ‘Big Society’ agenda can be found at http://canadians.org/blog/?p=11538.

The Council of Canadians
Days prior to the federal budget, the Alternative Federal Budget will be released. As in past years, we have a chapter in the AFB with an alternative budget for federal spending on water services that are consistent with the UN-recognized right to water and sanitation. To see our 2011 water budget, go to http://canadians.org/blog/?p=5986.

We will be commenting on the federal budget – with a media release, Tweets, blogs and more – on budget day, March 29. For our commentary on the last federal budget, see http://canadians.org/blog/?p=6146 (Great Lakes), http://canadians.org/blog/?p=9696 (Great Lakes, water, First Nations), http://canadians.org/blog/?p=8511 (health care), and http://canadians.org/blog/?p=8898 (energy, climate).

We will also be participating in the Tax Fairness Summit, March 29-30 in Ottawa, http://www.taxfairness.ca/civicrm/event/info?id=1&reset=1&lcMessages=en_US.

For more Council of Canadians commentary on Harper and his austerity agenda, please see http://canadians.org/austerity.