Canadians appear to want their cake and eat it too as far as government is concerned.
For decades we seem to have been fixated on balanced budgets and tax cuts, but at the same time we want to maintain or even improve public services and infrastructure. For many years we told ourselves this would be possible by “fat-trimming” in the public sector and by improving efficiencies and eliminating waste.
After decades of this approach all we have managed to do is demoralize public servants and frustrate the taxpaying public with reduced services and user fees. Effective public services and infrastructure have to be paid for either through taxation or borrowing. Since neither of these options appears acceptable to today’s voters, the complete or partial abandonment of roads, schools, hospitals, the military and so on is about the only option left to our elected officials.
But to openly underfund or jettison public sector institutions invites almost as much ire as would the raising of taxes or the public debt. Harper’s budget sleight-of-hand with the estimated $8.7 billion various federal ministries left “unspent” last year should come as no surprise in such a political climate. Individual Canadians need to address their own conflicting expectations regarding what they want from government and how this is to be paid for. Very few of us set the same standards for our own personal finances that we expect from government. If we did, mortgages, car loans and lines of credit (deficit financing all) would certainly be taboo. Politicians playing shell games with the public purse is a logical consequence of our own inconsistencies.