Flaherty's pricey budget flight irks critics
Published Friday, March 5, 2010 10:25PM EST
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is facing the ire of opposition critics who say the minister isn't leading by example, after it was revealed that he used a private jet to sell his belt-tightening budget Friday.
The day after he unveiled the government's new budget, the finance minister flew from Ottawa to London, Ont., on a Challenger jet so he could do media interviews at a Tim Horton's coffee shop.
The opposition says the flight cost taxpayers $9,000, compared to a commercial flight, which runs about $800.
Liberal MP David McGuinty said that Flaherty is asking that Canadians cut back while he travels on a private plane.
"He can't say he wants Canadians and the government and public services to be reined in, while he spends so flagrantly."
Flaherty's office told CTV Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife that the private flight was necessary because of scheduling. The office said that Flaherty would be returning to Ottawa on a commercial flight.
However, it costs another $9,000 just for the jet to return, Fife added.
Meanwhile, Flaherty used the stop to sell his budget as a good news document.
Responding to criticisms about Ottawa's massive deficits over two fiscal years, Flaherty said that large spending has been necessary to keep the Canadian economy relatively strong during a time of extraordinary instability.
"It's easy to forget where we were not too long ago. We had to run a deficit in order to help people in Canada during a recession that came from outside," Flaherty told a business crowd Friday in London, Ont.
"We're doing that, we'll finish that, and then we'll move back to (a) balanced budget -- that's what Conservatives do."
Over the next fiscal year, Ottawa is projected to spend $280.5 billion, which includes the money it will spend on debt charges. That's an increase of nearly $13 billion over the current fiscal year which ends March 31.
But Flaherty is confident that the government can eventually move towards a balanced budget as long as it is judicious in its long-term spending choices.
"Three years from now, our deficit will be cut by two-thirds," he said.
In addition, the finance minister said the government expects to see moderate economic growth that will help lift up the country's bottom line.
When he announced the budget in the House of Commons Thursday, Flaherty described it as a "very tough budget" that saw the government turn down "most" new requests for funding.
Still, Flaherty has maintained that Canada is in good shape compared to the U.S. and many European countries because spending was in the black leading up to last year's crisis.
"It's difficult to run deficits -- don't want to run deficits," Flaherty said.
"But we were faced with the reality that we were seeing a precipitous decline in the Canadian economy."
Among other measures introduced in the budget, Ottawa will close a series of tax loopholes related to stock options, which will put $270 million in the government's hands in 2010-2011.
The government will also impose wage freezes for MPs and senators, as well as departmental operating budgets. More savings will come through the military, which won't see any new funding increases after Canada pulls out of Afghanistan next year.
Dealing with debt
On Friday, Flaherty said the budget had also addressed any concerns about how Ottawa will manage the country's debt, by plotting out how it would balance the budget over time.
This is another area where Canada is currently faring better than the U.S., he said.
However, a plan to freeze salaries for the public service has raised some concern ahead of a new collective bargaining agreement for some 145,000 workers.
Stockwell Day, who is president of the Treasury Board, said that civil servants will simply be asked to "manage" over the next three or four years without a raise.
"We think we'll be able to deliver our programs, like unemployment insurance," Day told CTV's Power Play on Friday afternoon.
Still, under the Conservatives, the public service has grown by about 11 per cent, and there is some worry that the unions representing the workers could push back against the government's spending restraint.
Day said that the managers could use "innovative" ways to manage the cutbacks. He also hinted that the government may not replace the roughly 13,000 positions which are vacated through attrition in the public service each year.