Mr. Flaherty has just announced a new round of budget consultations. Basically, Mr. Flaherty is looking for suggestions on how to “strengthen our economy in the face of global economic threats”; with “cost-neutral or low cost measures”, focusing on “more efficient and effective spending” that builds on the “government’s belief of respecting taxpayers’ dollars” and “encourages private sector growth and leadership”.  These are pretty much the same questions that he raised in last year’s budget consultations.

In other words, if you think like us, contact us; otherwise don’t bother. . And by the way, keep your recommendations to less than 200 words.

Since the recession, the Government has had a number of expenditure review exercises focusing on eliminating waste and inefficiencies.  Now Canadians are being asked to identify even more.  Were these previous expenditure review exercises a failure? How often can the government go to the “efficiency/effectiveness” well before one finds it is bone dry? 

Also, what is the real purpose of these budget consultations, except for photo ops, quotes, and conditioning for the upcoming budget? Rarely do these “public” consultations ever lead to any policy actions. In fact most major fiscal actions have been taken without consultation.

Did Mr. Flaherty consult with his provincial counterparts before announcing the change to the Canada Health Transfer escalator? No, it wasn’t even an item at the federal/provincial finance ministers’ meeting when he caught them all by surprise.

Did the Prime Minister consult with Canadians before announcing that the elderly benefit system was financially unsustainable and the age of eligibility had to be raised? No he didn’t, even though the Department of Finance had concluded in its own analysis that the system did not threaten the long-term sustainability of the federal fiscal situation.

Did the Government accept any of the recommendations of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates regarding the alignment of the budget and the Main Estimates?  The answer again is no it didn’t, even though its recommendations would have contributed to a more effective budget process.

What about the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance? It has been conducting pre-budget consultations with many different groups since the middle of the summer. Its recommendations will likely be tabled before Parliament breaks for the Christmas holidays.

In its 2011 pre-budget report the Finance Committee recommended that the government take action to simplify the tax system. So far nothing has happened notwithstanding that tax simplification would meet all the criteria set out by Mr. Flaherty.

In 2012 the Committee recommended major changes to the Scientific Research and Experimental tax credit. The 2012 budget included only small tinkering that had no positive affect.

It is doubtful the upcoming Finance Committee report will have much of an influence on the 2013 budget either. 

It may make people feel good to meet with the Minister but they shouldn’t be deluded onto thinking that these consultations matter.

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