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A reporter files a story on the federal budget during the media lock-up prior to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's speech in the House of Commons on June 6, 2011. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
A reporter files a story on the federal budget during the media lock-up prior to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's speech in the House of Commons on June 6, 2011. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Alberta Tory hopes Tea Party speech brings 'balance' to budget debate Add to ...

Accordingly, the government will conduct a one-year government-wide strategic and operating review as part of our three-point plan to balance the budget. Perhaps one of the first areas we should focus our attention on is the duplication of federal and provincial departments and programs. Theoretically, it is estimated that the federal government could reduce its operating budget by $44 billion a year and therefore eliminate the deficit by spending only in areas that fall under the federal government's exclusive jurisdiction, and I mention that theoretically. I am certainly not advocating leaving the provinces entirely to their own devices. However, one must seriously question the efficiency of parallel bureaucratic structures administering essentially the same programs. After all, there is only one taxpayer.

Some observers believe we may be facing a long-term structural deficit problem that would not be resolved by simply trimming a mere $4 billion of so-called government fat. A study for the Canadian Centre for Policy Studies asked why we have never considered "whether government can be restructured in any significant way as to deliver essentially the same level of service to the public at a significantly reduced cost and size".

In this phase of our fiscal reality, all areas of government must fall under the microscope. A first and important step in this process is the elimination of the $2 per-vote subsidy to all political parties. Although not mentioned in budget 2011, greater savings will be realized by the imminent elimination of the wasteful and ineffective long-gun registry.

Eliminating unnecessary services and programs is easy. However, to effectively find our way back to balanced budgets, we must also seriously examine the cost of providing services deemed necessary. This examination will inevitably turn to the government's own human resources. We cannot continue to sustain a public sector whose growth outpaces every other category in size and compensation.

Between 1999 and 2009, the Canadian population increased by 11% but the federal government's civilian workforce grew by 35% and public-sector compensation grew by 59% compared to 30% in the private sector. Canada is fortunate to have an outstanding civil service. However, if balanced budgets are to be achieved, all unsustainable trends must be addressed. Perhaps we should view the predicted rise in attrition as an opportunity and not as a threat. The result would be a significantly less-expensive public sector.

Based on the facts before us, some economists believe we are fast approaching a tipping point in our nation's finances. If we do not reduce government expenditures from 43% to 38% of GDP over the next decade, as recommended by the International Monetary Fund, invariably the result will be higher taxes, dangerous debt loads or both. As the experience of European countries such as Greece, Ireland and Portugal have demonstrated, this path must be avoided at all costs.

Canadians are increasingly demanding tax relief, balanced budget and smaller governments. It is always easier to borrow money when someone else will have to repay it than to cut spending. Similarly, it is always easier to say "yes" and cut a cheque than to say "no". Saying "no" takes courage and resolve.

However, on May 2, Canadians gave this government a mandate to deliver on the promises it has made. A majority government is also an opportunity to set Canada on a permanent course toward greater fiscal responsibility. The budget before this House is an important first step in this pivotal journey.

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