Local MP Brent Rathgeber is calling for a much more disciplined approach to spending than he expects his own government will be offering to Canadians in the spring budget.
In an editorial board meeting with the Gazette, Rathgeber said he is hearing strongly from many people that the government has to rein in spending and bring the deficit under control.
“I am hearing it from the business community that we have to get our deficit under control, I am hearing it from my constituents, in fact, I am not hearing anything other than that.”
Rathgeber said the last time a government in Ottawa went on a serious austerity drive the opposition benches were crowded with Reform MPs who were pushing the government to cut even further.
When Finance Minister Jim Flaherty introduces his budget in March, Rathgeber predicts the current NDP opposition will not be calling for deeper budget cuts and that argument has to be heard.
“If that type of message is going to be transmitted to the finance minster and the prime minister and probably more importantly enter the public discourse, it is going to come from the government’s back benches.”
Rathgeber, who spoke out against funding the Royal Alberta Museum and has suggested the CBC could be moved off a public subsidy, said he is not alone in wanting to see more fiscal restraint.
“I am not the only small-c conservative in our caucus and I am not the only member that is beating this drum.”
Rathgeber said Canada’s finances need to be brought in line so the country can avoid a debt crisis like many European countries face today and America could face in the not-too-distant future.
He said he expects the spring budget will be a movement in the right direction, but he intends to continue to push for more.
“I have no doubt that you are going to see, not an austerity budget, but a budget that pays much more than lip service to the concepts of balanced budgets, living within one’s means and fiscal conservatism.”
Every department of the federal government has been asked to present plans for five and ten per cent cuts to their operations, but Rathgeber argues that some departments should be asked for more, while others probably can’t reach five per cent without hurting important core services.
The proposed cuts come at time where, while Alberta is prospering, some parts of the country are struggling economically.
Rathgeber said even with that in mind, for long term economic health the government has to gets its fiscal house in order quickly.
“If the government cuts 10 per cent out of its operating budget there are going to be pink slips issued, I am not going to sugar-coat that. That being said, I believe the long-term economic viability generally depends on returning to fiscal discipline and returning to reduced deficits,” he said.
One area of federal spending Rathgeber has taken a particular interest in over the last few months has been the CBC. Rathgeber argues the time when Canada needed a publicly funded national broadcaster may have passed given the advance of satellite television and the Internet.
“I continue to question for the need, in 2012, for a $1.16 billion subsidy to a crown corporation media giant like the CBC.”
As part of his interest in the broadcaster’s finances, Rathgeber put questions on the House of Commons order paper in December asking for the salaries of several prominent figures.
Rathgeber said he sincerely believes the information should be public and he isn’t leading this crusade as a trial balloon to test public opinion for the Conservatives.
In the case of his order paper questions, the prime minister’s office (PMO) was unimpressed. After he submitted his questions, an NDP MP responded to his request by asking for salary information on key staff within the PMO, but Rathgeber said ultimately he thinks that is fair.
“As a taxpayer, not only are you entitled to know what public servants like Peter Mansbridge and Rick Mercer’s production company earn from your tax dollars, but I think you are entitled to the same information with respect to the chief advisers to the PMO.”
Rathgeber said the fiscal focus he has taken is about ensuring the country has good finances in the future.
“You can take a little bit of hurt now or it is going to be a lot of pain five or 10 years down the road.”