Almost a week ago, the Canadian Federal Government tabled its 2012 budget (1). Between the advance warnings of major cuts, the theorizing of expanding Old Age Security (OAS) to 67 (2), and the extensive shaking in the boots of non-profits and the NDP, Liberal & Green pundits, everyone was expecting a major unrolling of a new direction for a Conservative Government finally in possession of a majority to steer the country in its chosen direction. Given the distance between this budget and the next election in 2015, it would have been the ideal time to unravel a gamechanger, a major move or project to advance/unite/anger/divide/alter the country. Instead, we received another incremental budget containing few surprises.
The only semi-shock is the elimination of the penny. Rumour has circulated about its demise for years, with the cost to produce increasing as its real-world worth decreased. Naturally, this has been picked up by every news agency across Canada and has even peaked the interest of some in the US. The only reason this one, tiny change has attracted any attention, stems from a lack of anything in the budget to say much about. Also, for those that missed it, loonies and toonies will be made from steel instead of nickle, thereby decreasing their cost to manufacture.
The Conservatives trimmed the CBC, but only a small amount. The miniscule cut may herald larger cuts down the line, but we didn’t see the complete dismantling we were expecting. The trim should prompt the CBC to seek additional funding sources and supplement its revenue stream so it can become a viable business in its own right. Broadcasting is done very well by the private sector and the eventual movement toward spinning the CBC off into its own autonomous company is a natural progression.
At the same time as the cut comes to the CBC, they’re also giving a bit to VIA Rail to expand its infrastructure and improve safety on the rail line. As another crown corporation, like the CBC, the railway is another currently money-losing company that exists on taxpayer funds in order to connect Canadians with (somewhat) affordable transportation. VIA is in the process to selling off some of its unprofitable tracks, which are slowly being picked up by small private enterprises. VIA needs to become profitable in order to continue to survive, and by spinning off segments it’s failing to meet its mandate of connecting Canadians. The cash infusion is needed for it to restructure and move forward, and once again, is not a surprise from this government.
Another non-surprise is the streamlining of project assessments. The Conservatives have been announcing and moving forward on their “one project, one review” promise for quite some time. It makes sense in every aspect for it to continue along these lines. It is a hindrance to economic growth and diversification of production and workforce types for multiple reviews to be conducted at municipal, provincial and federal levels. A single system for reviewing environmental, construction, job-creation benefits, etc should be utilized. This will save money at all levels of governance (and thus tax-payers), speed up timetables for construction, and push the economy forward. Again, not a surprise.
OAS/GIS was changed in almost exactly the way theorized. The bumped the age to 67, but only for people currently under the age of 54. They also provided a 5-year window where you can choose not to accept OAS, and instead receive a slightly larger amount afterward. Will this leave some people in the wind? Probably, but they would be short on cash whether they retired at 65 or not because they haven’t been saving up for retirement. The government has also chosen to extend any benefits that ended at 65 to the age of 67, and is implementing a pooled pension program for self-employed and small-businesses. As such, the dance around retirement has pretty much gone exactly the way it was rumoured, with a couple beneficial twists thrown in.
The 2012 Canadian Federal Budget was laid down, with lots of pre-budget hand-wringing by the opposition parties, charities, crown corporations, and media. But upon its examination, just about everyone has shrugged and moved on. After it fell, it became apparent it wasn’t as bad as anticipated. It wasn’t as life-changing for Canada as we expected. It didn’t even really say anything that hadn’t already been announced. Except for confirming the elimination of the penny, of course.
Even so, the budget will still hurt a lot of people, with thousands of public servants getting the axe. But all-in-all, it isn’t nearly as bad as expected. I’d offer a penny for your thoughts, but apparently they don’t exist anymore.
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