…undercutting this fair-to-strong record on the policy side is Mr. Flaherty’s general approach to the budget process, which could only be more opaque if it were one of Frank Underwood’s schemes on “House of Cards.” As the finance minister has tackled the budget deficit with across-the-board spending cuts, it has been impossible to get reliable information on what was being cut. Compounding the problem has been the use of omnibus budget implementation bills, which have included a host of things not directly related to the budget, such as changes to environmental regulations and policies affecting First Nations.
Not even the parliamentary budget officer, a position created as part of broader “accountability” reforms, could obtain the information needed to see what programs were being affected by the government’s austerity measures. Rather than operating on the basic democratic principles of transparency, Mr. Flaherty attacked the PBO, Kevin Page, as exceeding his proper mandate.
This is a pronounced stain on a legacy that is otherwise up for legitimate debate. Whether the GST or corporate tax cuts were inappropriate or whether one ideologically favours or disapproves of the government’s efforts to reduce the size of government, we should all agree that Canadians deserve to know, with clarity, what the government is doing. While much of the focus on Flaherty has been his ability to return the budget to balance, the climate of obfuscation surrounding his budgets is a significant and lamentable background to everything else he accomplished.
- Emmett Macfarlane, “Flaherty’s policy brilliance overshadowed by darker politics”
What will be most damning is if, whenever another party is elected to govern the country, they merely change policy positions without also ending the current practices of omnibus legislation and budgetary obfuscation. Fiscal policies are something that Canadians can legitimately debate the merits of. There should be little to no debate that legislation, regulations, and budgets should be accessible to citizens who just want to understand what these things mean, how they are implemented, and the implications of their implementation. A representative democracy is farcical when citizens and their representatives alike cannot discern the actions of the day’s government; as it stands today, much of Canadian democracy is little more than a bad farce.