Tough on crime, soft on subsidies

Stephen Harper's Conservative government has embarked on a massive prison-building project to allow it to lock up more criminals. t's part of the government's "tough on crime" agenda, buttressed by criminal bills that would impose mandatory minimum sentences.

Stephen Harper’s Conservative government has embarked on a massive prison-building project to allow it to lock up more criminals.

It’s part of the government’s “tough on crime” agenda, buttressed by criminal bills that would impose mandatory minimum sentences to keep convicts behind bars for longer.

When Stockwell Day visited Whitehorse on Friday on behalf of Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, he insisted he wasn’t here to talk about any of this. Instead, he was here to explain how the government helps prevent people from becoming criminals in the first place.

To that end, he announced more money to help at-risk girls.

The program is called SNAP. It stands for Stop Now and Plan.

It was devised in the late 1970s in Toronto as a strategy to help angry, young children control their impulses. It’s already been used to help at-risk boys in the Yukon. Now it’s being expanded to help troubled girls.

Ottawa will provide slightly more than $1 million over four years. That’s expected to be enough money to help between 40 to 60 young Yukon girls, between the ages of six and 12.

The program will be offered through the Youth Achievement Centre on Taylor Street in Whitehorse.

But before Day mentioned any of this, he explained that his government would only get tough on “serious, violent, repeat” offenders.

He recalled how one home invader who “grievously assaulted” a senior citizen ended up receiving a sentence “to play video games from home.”

Day also warned of the perils of gangsters and “pedophiles who are preying on our children.”

Apparently, “serious, violent, repeat” offenders also include people who grow small amounts of marijuana in their homes. Day never talked about them. But, under a new Conservative crime bill, such people would be sentenced to a minimum of six months in prison.

Just how much the Conservatives’ tough-on-crime plans will cost remains a mystery to the public. If anybody knows, it ought to be Day, who, as president of the treasury board, guards the government’s purse strings.

Prison upgrades will cost $2 billion over five years, Day told reporters. But the Conservatives’ tough-on-crime plans will cost far more than that, according to Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page.

He’s estimated that the government’s plans to end giving two-for-one credit for time served before sentencing would cost between $10 billion to $13 billion. The government insists it will cost far less.

And the cost of Bill S-10, which would lock-up small-time marijuana growers, remains a complete mystery. But if the measure became law, it’s expected to result in many more people being imprisoned.

Big questions also surround the government’s stated goal to trim nearly $20 billion from government spending over five years. We’re now one year into that project and Ottawa has little to show, although Day insists these plans are “on track.”

Page has grumbled that he and Members of Parliament have seen few details on the government’s internal budget freezes. Much of the material he wants has been denied on the grounds that it’s protected by cabinet confidentiality. Page told the Globe and Mail that explanation was “a huge fallacy.”

Day preferred to note that the International Monetary Fund has deemed Canada’s deficit-slaying plan to be good, at least in the “medium-term.” He didn’t mention how the fund worries that Canada’s health spending is unsustainable, and that transfers to provinces and territories probably need to slow down.

As Ottawa’s chief cost-cutter, was Day on the hunt for fat to trim while in Whitehorse? Nope.

Instead, he met with small business owners and families, to learn what government “could be doing better.”

How things have changed. When Day served as Ralph Klein’s Labour Minister, he sacked Albertan bureaucrats to save money. Now he seems more preoccupied with giving away money than saving it.

The News informed Day that his government was propping-up one construction company in town with $213,000 in federal subsidies to help expand Kilrich Construction’s truss-making factory.

Conveniently, Kilrich is partly owned by Dana Naye Ventures, the organization that administered the subsidy. Meanwhile, other construction companies cut trusses in the Yukon without federal support.

Isn’t this meddling with the market – something that ought to be anathema to a free-market man like Day?

Apparently not.

“There are ways in which all businesses can have some of their pressures alleviated by government – for instance, the apprenticeship program. Some businesses apply for these programs, some don’t,” said Day.

“We don’t pick winners or losers. We let the market place decide.”

That’s clearly not true. But Day asserted that’s simply an opinion.

“That may be a perspective you have. You can’t make all the people happy all the time.”

On that note, he proceeded to change the subject.

“There has been tremendous growth in aboriginal employment in the North. It’s very exciting to see aboriginal youth getting involved in training programs, aboriginal youth being hired by businesses.

“When we look at the increased rates of employment by young aboriginals and decreased rates of social problems, we think that’s a great investment.”

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