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The Harper Government Has Failed to Walk the Talk on Public Safety

04/10/2015 12:41 EDT | Updated 06/10/2015 05:59 EDT
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As Stephen Harper's government fills the airwaves with messages of fear, war and terror -- talking about anything but the faltering Canadian economy -- it's important to ask if Conservatives are putting their money where their mouth is.

Given all of Harper's heated rhetoric, you would think that agencies responsible for public safety -- like the RCMP, for example -- would be at the top of the government's priority list. But think again.

Since 2010, annual funding for the Mounties has declined in every year except one. The cuts add up to $598 million, or 18 per cent. After five years of inflation are taken into account, the real effect is a budget reduction of 26 per cent. The amount allocated by the government specifically for the RCMP's key anti-terrorism unit (known as "INSET") has been frozen ever since the Harper government came to power, even though the actual costs of that unit have more than tripled.

But that's not all. In addition to overt cuts and long-term freezes, there is also the sometimes insidious practice of "lapsing." That's when the funding for an agency (like the RCMP) gets announced by the government, voted by Parliament, and then a big chunk goes unused. It "lapses" and reverts to the government's central treasury.

This is what happened to about $10 million that had been ear-marked for the fight against child pornography. It was never utilized. Overall, over the past five years, more than a billion dollars in funding commitments to the RCMP have "lapsed." Is the loss of that huge amount of money just bad management, or budget-cutting in disguise?

And what are the consequences? The policing and security work of the RCMP become compromised.

After the terrible events in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, at the National War Memorial and on Parliament Hill last October, more police officers were required for national security. RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson testified to Parliamentary Committees that as many as 600 personnel had to be reassigned to that type of duty -- taken away from the fight against organized crime, white collar crime, drugs and gangs.

Given their inadequate resources, the Mounties have been forced to rob Peter to pay Paul.

In addition, forensic labs in Regina, Winnipeg and Halifax have been closed. And the national criminal records database has been allowed to deteriorate under a serious backlog.

This is what you get when the Harper government fails to "walk the talk" on public safety. The Conservatives claim they need to put new powers in the law, but police forces and security officers cannot fully utilize the laws already there when their budgets don't give them the necessary resources. And new laws will be meaningless without the funding to make them work.

And it's not just the RCMP. Failures to properly support public safety agencies are riddled throughout the Harper regime: Maritime search and rescue. The border agency. The Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the Security Intelligence Review Committee. National Defence and Veterans Affairs. The prison system. Canada's emergency planning and response programs. Transportation safety -- rail, air, marine and surface. Not to mention environmental protection and food safety.

The well-being of Canadians is put at risk when these things are undermined. So why is this happening?

It all goes back to Harper's promise to a wealthy fraction of Canadians to provide them with a multi-billion-dollar tax break called "Income Splitting," just as soon as he could declare a balanced budget. So honest or not, dangerous or not, Harper has been prepared to compromise even public safety to concoct the claim of a balanced budget before the 2015 election.

A great many things have been sacrificed on that altar.

And for what? So a small number of folks with incomes above $233,000 can get the biggest tax breaks.

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