By Robert Washburn
As the euphoria of the New Year’s celebration subsides, it is time for Northumberland County residents to brace themselves for the next few months as winter not only descends, but the budget-slashing rhetoric is about to blast its way into everyone’s life like a February storm.
Like a bloated belly after Christmas dinner, those in charge of charting our economy will be tightening their budget belts rather than letting them out.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper already delivered the message early in December when he promised to focus on deficit reduction in 2012. The forecast for the federal deficit is $31 billion for the upcoming year. But he will not be alone.
Expect Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan to be spouting the same song, especially after Moody’s downgraded the province’s ratings to negative from stable as it tries to tackle its estimated $16 billion shortfall.
But, don’t forget the local municipal budgets will also be announced shortly. Listen carefully as various leaders will try to explain the cuts and efficiencies, all presented in the context of greater economic threats beyond the region’s borders.
No one can doubt the importance of fiscal responsibility; yet, it is how that responsibility is exercised that makes all the difference.
If it is the federal government, then be prepared for massive cutbacks as the Conservatives hack and slash to create smaller government. But smaller is not always better.
The declining middle class, the widening income gap and the all out war on unionized workers will be the hallmark of these cuts, despite all the public relations spin doctoring the politicians can muster. Forget universal health care, safety nets, regulations, the environment and anything else that does not fit into the Conservative ideology. It is a Darwinian economic policy where the financially strong survive and the weak perish.
Don’t expect Duncan to be any less ruthless as seniors, the poor and disabled will be the groups who ultimately pays the price for whatever cuts and service reductions that will take place.
But, it will be the municipal hack and slash where Northumberland County residents will feel it most, whether it is in the areas of policing, roads, recreational activities or heritage preservation, where residents will need to be paying careful attention in the months to come. Watch closely as the way is paved for greater and greater development to ensure property taxes keep pouring in.
What can never be forgotten is these policies are about choices. And, while each level of government will make its case, it will be important to watch how they will make each decision appear to be inevitable. With a shrug of the shoulders, politicians will turn to the public and argue there are far greater forces at work. There is nothing else but the path being laid out.
This is absolutely not true. If the current governments were run on a pragmatic approach, then decisions would be made in the best interest of all people. Instead, modern politics is driven by deeply held positions that are both entrenched and immovable.
It is up to all citizens to pay close attention in the weeks and months ahead. Everyone remembers how the former Ontario Tories gutted crucial services during the Harris era 20 years ago, which led to tainted water in Walkerton and a listeria outbreak at Maple Leaf foods.
Northumberland County residents don’t need any fad economic diets after the holidays, but a regime of sensible and modest change may do the fiscal trick.
First appeared: January 4, 2012