At budget time there are no surprises anymore.
Take, for example, Premier Dennis Fentie.
Tuesday, he revealed details of his forthcoming budget to “the people.”
Those people happened to be Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce members willing to fork over $25 for bacon and eggs at the High Country Inn. That’s an expensive breakfast.
Of course, they were also paying to hear Fentie’s budget leak.
Even in this age of lax budget rules, Fentie’s approach is unusually crass.
Throughout Canada, budget leaks are often a little more low key, with briefings and little announcements made prior to the public address in the legislature.
Then, afterwards, the finance minister will meet with business owners over breakfast or lunch to go over the details.
But Fentie does budget leaks whole hog.
Tuesday, he released most of the budget highlights to people willing to pay to hear him talk, allowing himself to be used as a business fundraiser.
On Thursday, he’ll tell everyone else.
Now, admittedly, secrecy surrounding government budgets has become passe in the last 20 years, or so.
Once, a minister would be forced to resign if the budget was leaked prior to its release.
Canadian journalists have been arrested for revealing budget details prior to their release.
And, on Thursday, media outlets will have to sign an oath of silence before they are handed the documents Fentie openly discussed with business leaders on Tuesday, an odd holdover from a bygone age.
Politicians use these “leaks” (or, in Fentie’s case, wholesale breaches) because they allow them to make their pitch before a friendly audience without any challenge from opposition politicians.
And, after the news is out, politicians can stage media events before smiling nonprofit groups. Of course, any groups denied funding don’t show up in the budget document, but that takes research impossible before the release of the actual budget. The bad news is delayed, the good gets a photo.
So, Fentie has revealed this year’s budget will be $1.07 billion, $67 million larger than last year’s monster.
That’s almost exactly the amount of the loan the Yukon Hospital Corp. will take out to pay for the new residence and hospitals in Watson Lake and Dawson City.
“We can either build them here in Whitehorse and pay the cost of travel, or we can put them out in the communities, like Dawson and Watson Lake, and avert that cost of travel,” Fentie told the chamber members.
Of course, that logic is undermined by news the latest five-year medevac contract will cost the territory 25 per cent more than it did in the past, largely because the territory is adding another full-time plane to the roster. Why? Officials have not said. But the size of the new contract doesn’t suggest officials believe the new hospitals will reduce the cost of transportation.
However, by making his case outside the legislature, Fentie could present this argument without challenge, which is precisely why he did it.
He could also reveal that seniors will get housing, youth groups will be better funded, vehicles will be bought, the film industry will be better subsidized and roads will be built, among other things.
And Fentie delivered all this good news over a plate of pork, which somehow seems appropriate.(Richard Mostyn)