Editorial: Government’s priorities misplaced

If people were wondering what the federal government’s priorities are, it left no doubt about them last week with its actions on crime, the environment, and labour relations.

Last week, of course, the omnibus crime bill received Royal assent. While the legislation will crack down on criminal wrongdoers with stiffer penalties, a report from Postmedia last week indicated the government is considering changes to environmental rules that would prohibit activity causing an “adverse effect” on fish. Currently, Postmedia reported, the law targets activity causing “harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat.”

The report stemmed from a leak to a retired fisheries biologist. But while Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield said the government hasn’t made any decisions on the issue, he didn’t deny the biologist’s claims.

The passing of Bill C-10 into law also came the same week the government rushed to enact legislation preventing Air Canada workers from going on strike.

In turn, the workers’ fate will be subject to an arbitration process to select either the employer or the union’s final offer. Unions, of course, have decried the move.

It’s ironic that the government would crack down on criminals while doing the opposite with environmental protection. But, of course, it has long been fairly forthright about its views on crime, the environment, and labour.

The problem, however, is the effects of the changes. While preventing strikes may have some benefits to an employer like Air Canada, there’s no evidence that the arbitration option will do anything to make the airline more competitive.

At the same time, beyond the concerns about the societal implications of cracking down on crime, there’s also the cost.

Only recently, the parliamentary budget officer released a report on the cost of eliminating conditional sentences for certain crimes.

The report, taking into account trial, corrections, and parole costs, concluded the federal government, despite its assertions that that portion of the law would be free, would face an $8-million burden.

The provinces, meanwhile, would be on the hook for $137 million in added costs. That’s because 4,500 offenders would no longer be eligible for conditional sentences and therefore would face the threat of jail time.

While the courts would acquit some people at trial, many would end up in jail at a cost of $41,000 per offender rather than $2,600 under a conditional sentence.
The report considered the fiscal impact of changing the law had the bill been in place in 2008-09.

So while the variables would change in future years, it’s clear that the crime crackdown will be expensive, a fact reinforced by the Ontario government’s recent calculation that Bill C-10 would cost it about $1 billion.

The federal government, of course, is free to implement the mandate it received from Canadians. But during a time of fiscal pressures on all governments, it’s hard to imagine Canadians really want changes that leave society harsher, poorer, and less healthy and competitive.

It’s more likely they’d rather see a results-based approach to public policy.
— Glenn Kauth

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