Assertion, unsupported by fact, is nugatory. Surmise and general abuse, in however elegant language, ought not to pass for truth. Junius

2006/09/27

Too Clever by Half

It isn't very often that a government gets to throw a sop to its hardcore supporters while blowing raspberries at it opponents. Cutting the Court Challenges Program as part of its broader economizing scheme, Canada's New Improved Government has done exactly that. The government is blowing hugs and kisses to the usual suspects --- REAL Women of Canada, the Christian Right, the Fraser Institute --- while poking its finger in the eyes of the whinging rabble, excuse me, minority groups and civil rights advocates.

Score one for the government? Maybe.

The government correctly strategized that the Left and the press would whip itself into a froth over the cuts to this particular program --- which is has, of course --- essentially depriving oxygen to discussion of the other announced cuts. It's lovely, classic example of political sleight of hand --- Machiavellian, to be exact --- to distract the citizenry with an inflammatory, divisive policy, while implementing more draconian policies. By the time discussion of the controversial policy is fizzled out, the draconian is a fait accompli.

Except the proposed cuts elsewhere aren't exactly earth-shattering. Confederation will still stand, and yes the sun will rise tomorrow. As Thomas Walkom of the Toronto Star correctly points out, the cuts are "an exercise in alleged fiscal restraint that, on the face of it at least, is much less than it seems." In fact the government has given us not so much a coherent plan for fiscal restraint, than a laundry list of cuts made to specific departments. Looking at the list, one gets the impression deputy ministers were instructed to sacrifice one or two programs for the political agenda of the new lords of the manor. And some of these "cuts" aren't in fact funding reductions at all, but "streamlining" and taking back unused funding --- the real sleight of hand.

If cutting the Court Challenges Program was intended to be diversionary, it's a large hammer to crack so worthless a nut.

The Left can take heart, though. The government seems to have made a strategic error. In the normal course of events discussion and memory of this controversy would fade as the media and punditry focussed their attention on other more substantive aspects of the government's fiscal policy. In this case, there doesn't seem to be any. Who cares if the government saved $5 million on "Consolidating Retail Debt Program Administration"? Nickel and dime stuff, especially on budget surplus of a gazillion dollars, approximately. Instead, we'll all remember these cuts as the attack on minority groups --- those gays and lesbians and aboriginals --- so loathed by the Tory party base.

For a government facing an election, and ongoing suspicion about its social conservative agenda, cutting the Court Challenges Program is a curious choice to make.

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