The dummies of small things

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Let’s face it, no government drops a budget without engaging in a substantial amount of tortuous explanation and twisted logic.

The problem, of course, is that elected officials are notoriously poor spin doctors; voters, more often than not, easily penetrate their veils of assurances and, worse, never forget the degree to which political prevarication undermines everyone’s faith in public institutions.

Still, two measures in the New Brunswick government’s most recent budget, announced last week, are precious, to the point of being almost adorable, for their utter lack of perspicacity.

It’s almost as if communications personnel at Freddy Beach downloaded a page from some apocryphal version of “Public Relations for Dummies” and attached it to their media emails.

In the first instance, provincial brain trusts thought they could explain a palpable drop in the personal income-tax rate (to about 20 from 21 per cent) for the highest earners in New Brunswick (those netting $150,000 or more a year) by emphasizing that the feds are planning to raise levies on these putative one-percenters anyway: a kind of glass-half-full-empty sort of argument.

In the second, the Gallant government justified its $400,000-a-year cut to the New Brunswick Arts Board – a move that would effectively render the arms-length organization extinct – by absorbing its staff into the civil service, which would then prosecute the defunct group’s mandate. This is despite the fact that the Province intends to eliminate as many as 1,300 public employees before its reigning Libs head to the polls again.

Uh, huh. . .What, pray tell, is credible about any of this?

If we were, for example, to accept the Gallant government’s contention that fat cats in this province will still wind up paying their fair share in taxes, we must also perceive that a substantial amount of these levies will now travel to Ottawa’s coffers, leaving New Brunswick with an unfunded shortfall (based on original expectations) of close to $10 million a year.

That’s ten million bucks that won’t be available to offset the cost of the HST hike here, which affects pretty much all but the poorest. It’s certainly not going to defray the price of higher education or health care.

It is, purely and simply, a political giveaway to a higher level of government pursuing its own agenda, but which wears the same-colored jersey on the political football pitch.

Again, if we were to accept, in principle, the evisceration of the province’s arts board, what assurances do we have that the new ‘civil service’ to cultural workers will be fair and politically unmotivated. How do we know that it will even survive the next round of budget cuts?

As Akoulina Collins, the Arts Board’s executive director, lamented to the CBC last week, “We were informed that the (government) wished to respect the arm’s length nature of (the organization), yet in the same breath (they) informed us that they would be making contact with our employees to move them over to become employees of the government. . .It’s problematic.”

You bet it is. Political interference is always a danger in arts funding.

To be sure, these two, juvenile adventures in budget butt covering are minor; given New Brunswick’s enormous fiscal challenges, they amount to nothing but chump change.

Still, they are troubling for a government (in fact, all governments in recent years) that fails to appreciate the effect even its littlest decisions have on its ability to govern.

It is, after all, the small thing voters remember.

Remembering that might save the next government from torturing its explanations to justify its logic.

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