Globe and Mail Update
Monday, December 10 Online Edition, Posted at 6:57 PM EST
Ottawa Those searching for political winners and losers in this budget are going to be disappointed — most of the high-profile initiatives in yesterday's tableau were forced on the Jean Chrétien government by circumstances rather than being the product of savvy, advantage-seeking politicians.
In that sense the terrorists are the winners in that they have forced the government of Canada to shift many of its spending priorities. But the flip side is that scientists, new technology investments and bigger government won. Although Sept. 11 was a horrible catalyst, the threat represented by those attacks coupled with recession-driven fears of economic stagnation have forced the government to make expenditures and expand its departments and agencies in a way that it should have been doing anyway.
This extends to the so-called perimeter initiative: a combination of new technology and additional customs, immigration and security personnel with an incremental expenditure of $1.2-billion over several years. Technology to support enhanced clearance procedures for just-in-time deliveries across the Canada-U.S. border was already under development and will pay for itself in new efficiencies. Similarly, negotiations are already under way for additional crossings, and there was already $600-million committed.
Taken in isolation, the additional $1.2-billion in the budget for the Department of National Defence and its agencies may seem like a lot of money, even spread over five years, beginning with a $500-million increase in the current fiscal year. The latter includes $210-million for the war on terrorism and $300-million for capital.
But it will do very little to improve the overall capacity of a manpower-starved and equipment-poor military. The $500-million is approximately equal to the annual cost of the quality-of-life improvements for DND personnel announced a couple of years ago. Military pay and accommodation had been allowed to decline to the point where there were reports of enlisted men supplementing their income by using food banks.
It would be hard to say the increases in the budget were a credit to Defence Minister Art Eggleton, who has been particularly inept at procuring new equipment. Even though, with some fanfare, we put 1,000 service personnel on 48-hour standby to go to Afghanistan, the dirty little secret is that we would not have been able to get their equipment, such as their light armoured vehicles and other transport, there for six weeks to two months because DND has no heavy airlift capacity.
Many of the other security expenditures, such as the $287-million over five years to create fraud-resistant documentation for new immigrants, refugee claimants and non-citizen residents, are moves to rectify long-standing problems that were only highlighted by the Sept. 11 aftermath.
Increased funding for the existing laboratory infrastructure to enhance capacity to deal with chemical, biological and nuclear threats was also a needed expenditure before Sept. 11, but needed political support to make happen. The same could be said for additional personnel and resources for the RCMP and CSIS.
Whether all of the new expenditures on aviation security are necessary is a debatable question in isolation. The bottom line here, however, is that if we wish to continue living in an integrated North American society, with our traditional access to the United States, Canada had no choice, as distasteful as the idea of armed air marshals may be.
In the areas where the government had discretion — Finance Minister Paul Martin and his colleagues opted for the knowledge industries and research, such as the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, which got a 15-per-cent increase. The engineering and social sciences granting agencies and the National Research Council also got a boost.
There was a lot of prebudget speculation about the fate of a proposal to extend broadband Internet coverage to rural and remote areas, and the $105-million in the budget may seem like a face-saving token for Industry Minister Brian Tobin. But a similar amount to build a new generation of Internet architecture to link all research-intensive institutions (the original purpose for the Internet) plus maintenance of the School Net and Community Access Program (the dream children of Mr. Martin's deputy minister, Kevin Lynch, when he was at industry) are not expenditures to be sniffed at.
In sum, no surprises but no egregious goofs either.