Funding priorities lost on Liberals
Surprise, surprise. Finance Minister Wes Sheridan now says his promise to balance the books by 2015 will only happen by cutting another $30 million in spending. In an apparent attempt at royal benevolence the minister is offering to delay cuts for a year in hopes of digging PEI out of deficit by 2016.
Thanks for nothing Wes.
It was just two months ago the minister assured us his budget plan was only slightly off course. In late November he blamed increased farm insurance costs for adding $5 million to a deficit that had swollen to $80 million.
One of two things happened between then and today. Either the minister intentionally deceived Islanders or his department is incompetent. Both are a condemnation of Sheridan’s abilities as minister.
Fudging the books for short-term political gain is a long Island tradition that both Tories and Liberal regimes have exploited for decades with the result that our province is headed down a one-way road toward fiscal oblivion. We are $2.4 billion in debt with no capacity to repay. We are losing the ability to provide basic services. Fiscal pressures will only intensify as the federal government pinches pennies at our expense.
According to the minister, if Islanders want balance by 2015 he will deliver $30 million in immediate spending cuts. Sort of makes budget consultations irrelevant. Slashing $30 million will result in deep and arbitrary cuts and we know from history that the Ghiz Liberals will slash anywhere but in areas of political sensitivity.
We will still dump $600,000 annually into the MLA pension plan to prop it up.
We will still keep cabinet ministers and deputies secure in taxpayer-funded automobiles.
We will fund a cabinet that is at least 40 per cent larger than needed including all the unnecessary extras like political hacks hired as executive assistants.
This came to mind last week when Attorney General Janice Sherry mused about expanding the freedom of information and protection of privacy act to cover municipalities. On paper it is a good idea but not until significant changes are made both to the act and how it is administered.
Sherry clearly has no understanding of the basic issues at play. Nor does she recognize that the act is a national embarrassment because it is the most restrictive freedom of information act in the country.
Next to the significant shortcomings of the act itself, the single greatest impediment to reasonable access is the office of the commissioner that oversees the act and acts as an arbiter of what can and cannot be released.
To put it bluntly molasses runs faster uphill than it takes to get a decision from the commissioner’s office. This is largely due to chronic under-funding both by Conservative and Liberal governments.
FOIPP is built on the premise of timely access to government documents yet there are appeals before the commissioner that date back five years. It is a massive roadblock to basic government transparency.
While some departments have improved, there are still many that use this fact as a bureaucratic obstacle to releasing valid information. The commissioner is to blame for allowing her office to be handcuffed. She should be screaming for more resources.
But also Minister Sherry should know what the true priorities are. Taxpayers would get a far better bang for our buck if we fired Sherry’s patronage executive assistant, made the minister drive her own car to work and diverted those funds to the FOIPP office.
The minister isn’t capable of that type of leadership.
Nor it seems is our finance minister.
What Sheridan and Sherry are both avoiding is a discussion about what our true provincial priorities are. They would rather play political games today than seek solutions for tomorrow.
Paul MacNeill is Publisher of Island Press Limited. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org