As the Conservatives announced cuts and user fees to come to public services and new austerity measures, Stephen Harper used his business jet to go to Game 4 of the Cup finals in Boston. Due to security reasons, Harper, his daughter Rachel, and Heritage Minister James Moore used a government Challenger Jet to get to the TD Garden for the game which cost $3,285 per hour to operate on the tax payers’ tab.
Opposition leaders pounced on Harper’s decision to use tax funded transport to go to the game.
“I do think that if it is a private visit and he is going to watch a hockey game, that’s not something that the taxpayers should be picking up,” Liberal Leader Bob Rae told reporters.
“It seems to me that’s something one has to look at in a slightly different way than one would look at an official visit. I have got nothing against people going to watch a hockey game, but you know, I don’t think you can hardly say that’s an official visit by the Prime Minister of Canada to the United States,” Rae said.
NDP Leader Jack Layton said, “He’ll have to defend that, won’t he? I won’t be on the plane.”
Layton added that he’d be watching the game on television.
Andrew MacDougall, a PMO spokesperson, said that Harper paid $500 for his and Rachel’s tickets at face value. He said that Harper is the first prime minister to reimburse the government with the equivalent of a commercial fare ($1,000) for the use of the Challenger.
This comes shortly after he asked Canada to vote for the name of his new cat which ended up being named Stanley.
All the while, it won’t be all fun and games in the finance department where Treasury Board President Tony Clement announced that he is open to introducing user fees as part of the biggest program review in 15 years.
Clement said that there are questions for 67 departments that will be getting slashed by 5-10%.
"Should we still be doing this — and doing it in this way? Does this have to be delivered by this organization? Why does it cost as much as it does? Can we find savings? Is it achieving the expected results efficiently? Is this a government priority, and is it affordable during a period of fiscal restraint? Are we achieving value for money?" he said.
The spending review is part of the Conservative plan to rebalance the books after it fell into deficit before the recession.
In October 2008, Paul Martin, former Prime Minister and the man who cleaned up Mulroney’s deficit and created the $13 billion surplus that was left to the Conservatives to squander said:
"Our deficit has not been gutted, not been eviscerated because of the financial crisis, but because the government cut the GST and then embarked on the biggest spending spree in government history."
A left-wing think tank estimated that the cost of cutting the GST by one percentage point, which is the equivalence of a saving of 1 cent per dollar spent by tax payers, or $1 dollar per $100 spent, was $34 billion.
As of yet there is no indication as to which programs will be targeted by the Conservatives in the coming year, but like in the 1990s, Canadians can expect to feel a pinch in their pocketbooks.
However, Clement did say that he would be looking at operating expenses, including wages, salaries, and professional services contracts along with grants and contributions, capital and payment to Crown Corporations.
"But I do want to make one thing very clear: this review will not touch major transfers to provinces, territories and individuals. Nor will it look at public debt charges," Clement added.
It is also worth mentioning that Harper’s cabinet is the biggest and most expensive in history as well costing over $9 million.
All the while, Harper borrowed money and military equipment from the taxpayers to take a friend and his daughter to a hockey game for their personal pleasure.