Programs aimed at keeping Canadians safe are facing spending cuts as part of the Conservative government’s push to erase the deficit, according to a long-awaited accounting of Ottawa’s spending plans.
Detailed program budgets show Transport Canada is planning cuts to several programs focused on aviation, marine and rail safety and security. The reports also show reduced spending on food safety at Agriculture Canada.
Opposition MPs pounced Tuesday on several details in Ottawa’s spending plan for the fiscal year that begins April 1, which provides a program-by-program breakdown of how cuts from the March, 2012, budget will play out in federal departments.
While the March budget gave a high-level overview of plans to cut more than $5-billion a year in spending, main estimates tabled this week provide the first breakdown of how every program in every federal department will be affected.
At Transport, several programs related to safety are facing cuts. A comparison of the 2013-14 and 2012-13 main estimates shows: aviation safety spending will drop from $231.7-million to $214.7-million (7.3 per cent); marine safety drops from $61.8-million to $57.8-million (6.5 per cent); aviation security drops from $46.6-million to $33.8-million (27.5 per cent) and marine security drops from $20.7-million to $14.9-million (28 per cent).
Transport spokesperson Kelly James said the department “is moving forward with planned reductions in spending” and that it “will continue to be capable of implementing the vision of a Canadian transportation system that is recognized worldwide as safe and secure, efficient and environmentally responsible.”
Opposition MPs contrasted the various spending cuts with the government’s stated plans to boost spending on advertising by more than $10-million.
“Why is it a Conservative priority to waste tax dollars on Conservative propaganda instead of investing in vital programs like food safety for Canadians?” asked Liberal finance critic Scott Brison.
Treasury Board President Tony Clement, who heads a cabinet sub-committee aimed at finding savings, said Ottawa’s $83.3-million advertising budget is less than what the Liberals spent when they were in office.
He said the government has an “obligation to communicate with Canadians about programs and services that are available to them.”
This week’s estimates show a 32-per-cent cut at Agriculture Canada for a program called “Food Safety and Biosecurity Risk Management.” A government website says the program focuses on the various checks that occur throughout Canada’s food safety system and pays for the government’s ability to trace food products in the event of a crisis.
Department spokesman Patrick Girard said the program will receive additional money later in the year through “supplementary estimates,” but he could not immediately say how much.
The main estimates show the program’s budget will drop from $94.3-million to $64.4-million.
Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz oversees the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, which conducts direct food safety inspections. The CFIA is receiving a small increase in the 2013-14 main estimates to $687.9-million, from $685.5-million the year before. CFIA’s food safety program will receive $312.2-million in the main estimates, up 2 per cent from $304.8-million in the 2012-13 main estimates.
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, who has long dismissed opposition accusations that Conservative tough-on-crime bills will boost incarceration rates and costs, claimed vindication in this week’s spending numbers.
“Since the forecasted growth in the prison population did not materialize, our Government will recoup close to $1.48-billion in funding previously allocated to the Correctional Service of Canada,” he said in a statement to the media that estimates savings over five years.