It is budget crunching time at just about every level of government in Canada, with the exception of Ottawa where Joe Oliver was last seen visiting a numerologist to see if April is still likely to work.
Everywhere, but particularly at the municipal level, there are strange rituals taking place between administrators and the elected folks. My story deals with Winnipeg, but it’s a game that’s practiced in most Canadian cities.
A low level administrator quietly lets the local councilor know that in order to balance the budget, or keep a tax increase to no more than 3%, those wading pools that poor kids enjoy in the innercity in the summer, won’t be able to open this year. It’s an effort to get everyone on the same page, and it works for a day or two.
The mayor, in this case Brian Bowman if he isn’t busy sending out a thousand tweets, reaches out to assure the councilor and the local citizens that the story is simply not true. The wading pools won’t be cut, nor will branch libraries be closed. That’s another threat that is trotted out every other winter at budget time.
It’s what Hitchcock called the McGuffin. While the elected people are scrambling to put out the fire, the administration is burying what they really want in the fine print.
Decades ago, Slaw Rebchuk chaired the finance committee in Winnipeg. The head of public works came to committee at budget time pleading.. “We absolutely must have 12 new trucks to replace the units that are falling apart on the road”. Councilor Rebchuk would ponder for a moment, then declare.. “Sorry, we can only give you six trucks this year.” It was pure amateur theatre. The public works guy wanted six trucks from the get go, but he had to give the councilor a chance to show that he was a prudent manager of the city’s finances.
It was ever thus, and ever more will be, and they call it democracy.
I’m Roger Currie