Canadian govt begins budget cuts, starts laying off federal employees

11:10, June 07, 2011      

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Canada's leader of the official opposition Jack Layton makes comments about the federal budget in the Foyer of the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, on June 6, 2011. Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty brought down a national budget Monday that promised to balance the books by 2014-2015, as government ministries began firing employees. (Xinhua/Christopher Pike)

by Mark Bourrie

Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty brought down a national budget Monday that promised to balance the books by 2014-2015, as government ministries began firing employees.

Flaherty promised a government-wide operating review that aims to find 4 billion Canadian dollars (about 4.08 billion U.S. dollars) in savings annually by 2014-2015. A special committee of the national cabinet will examine all of the government's programs to find savings.

"There will be some programs that will not continue. There's no question about that," Flaherty told the media just hours before he released the national budget in the House of Commons." Already we've seen some instances of programs that have outlived their usefulness, quite frankly. Governments are very good at creating programs. They're not so good at ending them. Not every program is designed to go on forever."

Flaherty promised spending cuts during a news conference before he tabled his budget, which is very similar to the budget he released on March 22, just before the Conservative government fell in a non-confidence vote.

The government was re-elected May 2 with a strong majority.

"No, I would be presumptuous if I did that," Flaherty said when he was asked for details about spending cuts.

He did, however, assure media reporters that the savings will be found. "I'm sure it can get done," he said.

"In good times and tough times, this government has made responsible choices. With the next phase of Canada's Economic Action Plan, we will help keep our economy growing," Flaherty said.

Layoffs and employment contract cuts began in the public service last week. Employees of the federal Fisheries Department were told their budget is being cut by 53 million Canadian dollars and some staff were fired.

Cuts have also taken place at the departments of Environment and the Bank of Canada. The Department of National Defense is poised to chop at least 2,100 positions over three years, according to media reports.

Layoffs have also begun at several of the country's national museums and art galleries.

The union that represents most of the country's federal civil servants came out Sunday in opposition of the cuts."Cutting public services and jobs is the wrong priority at the wrong time," said John Gordon, National President of the Public Service Alliance of Canada. "A majority in Parliament does not give ( Prime Minister Stephen) Harper the license to ignore the Canadian public."

But Harper argued during the election campaign that the Canadian government had become bloated.

"Anybody who says you can't find money in Ottawa without cutting vital services to people simply is living in a fantasy world," Harper pledged on the campaign trail. "That's not how government works. There are inefficiencies and it is your job to constantly find them," Harper said.

The Conservatives have scrapped a subsidy that gives the major political party 2 Canadian dollars per year for each vote they received in the previous election. It will be phased out over the next four years. Political parties will now have to raise all of their money from individual donors, as gifts from corporations and trade unions continue to be banned.

The budget contains new payments to the elderly. It also gives small tax breaks to small businesses, volunteer firefighters, and people looking after the aged and infirm.

The government will also share gasoline taxes with cities and towns to help them maintain roads and other infrastructure.

Opposition leader Jack Layton said his party will not support the budget when it comes to a vote in Parliament, but the Conservatives have enough MPs to easily pass the bill.

John Manley, president of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives and a former finance minister in the Liberal government of Jean Chretien, said he supports the budget. Manley said the Conservatives will face hostility from groups that are affected by budget cuts.

"They will find that every government program has a constituency that will complain when their pet program is cut," Manley said.

The budget predicts economic growth of 2.9 percent.

In his news conference, Flaherty said Canada's economic health is the "envy" of other countries, but "too many Canadians are still looking for work and the global economic recovery remains fragile."

"In the still-uncertain global climate, many businesses may remain hesitant to hire and expand," Flaherty said. (1 U.S. dollars = 0.9808 Canadian dollars)

Source: Xinhua

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