Associate News Editor
Governor General MichaÃ«lle Jean’s March 3 Speech from the Throne left many questions unanswered. Luckily, the federal budget was released the next day to answer some of them.
Jean spoke mostly about the economy, an important subject the world over as countries like Greece and Spain struggle to recover from shockingly severe recessions and as Canada itself continues to see negative effects from the financial meltdown of the last two years. It was also a timely subject as the federal budget was released the next day. What Jean’s speech hinted at or vaguely addressed, the federal budget set out in far more concrete terms.
University of Saskatchewan political studies professor David McGrane says this is generally the way such speeches are structured.
“What’s interesting,” he said, “is the way it attempted to set up the budget and frame the federal government’s action.”
Jean’s claim that there will be a smaller, leaner government was then displayed in the budget, where foreign aid is set to finish expanding in the coming years and there will be no new stimulus funding after last year’s $30 billion is fully apportioned and spent. McGrane says that if there actually is a move toward a smaller government, it “could be seen as a historical turning point.”
Keeping the Canadian economy functioning and making it stronger will require, Jean said, “a return to fiscal balance.” However, she said this will be possible without making drastic cuts to existing services.
“Balancing the nation’s books will not come at the expense of pensioners. It will not come by cutting transfer payments for health care and education or by raising taxes on hard-working Canadians.”
In addition to not providing any more stimulus spending, Jean said balancing the budget will require the government to restrict program spending in general, including freezing the wages of Members of Parliament and the prime minister. And while she reiterated Canada’s dedication to sending aid to Haiti, her message of fiscal conservatism is at odds with increasing aid obligations. This has led some political commentators to speculate about whether aid programs garnering less publicity will suffer as a result.
Probably because the speech was focused on how the government would cut back on spending and balance its budget, Jean devoted almost no time to talking about students. McGrane says he thinks this is because students cost governments millions of dollars in loans and often do not vote, especially Conservative.
“Why would the government make promises to them?” he asked.
However, McGrane says the government does deserve credit for pouring money into construction on campuses across Canada.
“It doesn’t really help (students) out with loans or tuition, but it’s something,” he said.