Thursday, June 9, 2011

User Fees part of Ottawa's debt and deficit reduction program

By Bill Curry, Globe and Mail, June 8, 2011
In a closed-door speech Wednesday afternoon to federal public service executives, Treasury Board President Tony Clement gave his first outline of the government’s strategic and operating review that he will lead this year to find “at least” $4-billion a year in ongoing savings.

The process is a central feature in the government’s plans to erase the deficit by 2015.
He said departments are being asked to develop two proposals for cabinet to consider: one that involves a 5-per-cent cut and another for a 10-per-cent cut. The focus of the cuts can encompass all operating expenses, including wages, salaries, contracts and grants.
“We are encouraging departments to develop a full range of options in areas such as administrative and program efficiencies, business consolidation and user fees,” he said, according to a prepared text of the speech.
At least one branch of government is already preparing the groundwork for new legislation that would hike user fees in the agriculture sector. The Canadian Grain Commission recently completed consultations that will pave the way for a doubling of user fees to certify the quality, safety and weight of Canadian grain.
An association primarily made up of Prairie farmers, called the Inland Terminal Association, is opposing the hike as a “massive” new price increase on grain producers.
“Even though we would like to see the fees not increase, I have to admit that it’s probably something [the Conservatives] have the political capital to do without changing their popularity very much,” said Kevin Hursh, the association’s executive director.
If the practice of "user fees" can apply to assocations, there is little doubt that it can also apply to individuals, for example, who might be needing the health care system. User fees are one way for governments to off-set some of the skyrocketing costs of health care and while Harper has said he will not cut the provincial grants for health care, everyone knows that he favours a two-tier system, one for those who can pay and one for those who cannot afford the 'cadillac version' of  the health care system.
While working together with First Nations to develop better conditions for opportunities is an initiative that needs attention, the federal responsibilty is unimpeded by provincial jurisdiction. However, with health care, the provinces hold responsbility for delivery and so 'user fees' may will be coming in that area as well.
It does seem, however, more than a little ironic and tragic to watch a government commit to billions for Fighter Jets that we don't need and billions to prison construction that we don't need, while blowing the horn on balancing the budget on the backs of government programs that impact individuals. Is there something wrong with this picture? Duh!

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