Jean Chretien

Liberal Party

Pierre Trudeau

Canadian Alliance

HRDC Scandal Is the Norm, Not the Exception

Date: FEB14-00
Source: Edmonton Journal
Keywords: HRDC, mismanagement
Comment: This scandal is a demonstration of the Liberal government's consistent disregard for tax payer's money.
Posted: JUL14-00
Jean Chretien Index

By Lorne Gunter

The Liberals' infamous spin doctors are master conjurors. Their principal talent is always getting ahead of a story, which is why it has been so shocking to watch them give reporters and opposition MPs a nearly two-week head start on the scandal in the Human Resource Development department's job funds.

The dogged work of Reform MP Diane Ablonczy cannot be underplayed in all this. Without her repeated efforts to make this scandal public it might have died in its sleep.

Still, the Liberals' necromancers have been able to smother similar issues in the crib by dismissing them as just more Reform grumpiness.

However, until Wednesday, when they began to get "on point," the Liberals played bunny-in-the-headlights while the press, the opposition and the public hammered them.

How come?

For one, this is not the most stellar group of Liberals ever sent to Ottawa, and they have grown especially flaccid because they have faced uneven opposition from Reform and enjoyed a largely free ride from a press gallery in which most members are easily satiated and only a few are not Liberal-friendly.

The government was already reeling from the lambasting it took on its NHL-subsidy offer, and cabinet is hopelessly divided between tax-and-spend, 70s-style Liberals and more fiscally prudent members. When this sort of issue comes up, it doesn't know whether to defend the spending as worthy or join the public in outrage.

And the government may have underestimated the depths of tax rage in the land. Being Canadians, we may be unprepared to demand tax cuts instead of programs for the needy. But scatter a billion into the wind at the same time as charging us the highest personal taxes in the western world, and look out.

The press outrage on the HRDC scandal is intriguing, too. Last year, when the Canadian Taxpayers Federation revealed even greater sums had been frittered away by Industry Canada on corporate welfare, there was hardly a nibble.

Perhaps the difference has do to with the advent of the National Post, which has increased competition among national media outlets and broken up the one-hand-washes-the-other relationship that used to exist between the government and the gallery. Perhaps the difference is attributable to the source of the information: an internal government audit versus the investigations of an interest group.

But I think the real reason the Liberals had no clue which way to jump can be seen in an eerily innocuous remark the prime minister made when he rescued his Human Resource Minister, Jane "Little Lady" Stewart, after she crumbled at a scrum last Tuesday.

A billion dollars is not lost, he assured. There are no allegations of big fraud here. "We always have problems of this nature."

Precisely. The Liberals didn't automatically know how to handle this scandal because they could not see what was so scandalous. They could not understand why this program stuck out among the hundreds of other money-squandering ventures on-going in this and every other government.

The HRDC schemes are not remarkable because they are sloppier, or more corrupt or inept than other government programs. They are remarkable because they are typically messy, rotten and incompetent.

If you want reliable cost accounting, don't give money to government - any government, regardless of its political stripe. If you desire your money be directed only to worthy initiatives and truly needy individuals, don't give it to government.

At Indian Affairs, at Sheila Copps's Heritage Canada, the Canadian Firearms Centre and the transportation department (where they are contemplating spending $750 million on VIA Rail just because Minister David Collenette is self-described "train buff"), at Multiculturalism and at Status of Women and at a dozen other departments and agencies, the profligacy of the HRDC job grants is repeated daily.

Anyone who wants money spent wisely for useful ends should heed this one piece of advice: Don't give it to government.

The flaw is not only with the Liberals. Their total lack of concern for taxpayers money and their arrogant self-delusion that they have a moral right to an unending supply of your earnings, place them among the worst offenders. The flaw, however, is with the perversity of unlimited, big governments.

The post-Depression, post-war nanny state has set government to work solving problems it could not solve in a thousand years with a thousand, trillion dollars. The HRDC schemes are but a tiny example that proves that rule.

Stewart should resign for her gross mishandling of this affair. But so long as we continue to believe government can solve all social ills, such waste will be the norm, not the exception.

Lorne Gunter, Columnist
The Edmonton Journal
P.O. Box 2421
Edmonton AB CANADA
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