Cuts in Canada – the real story


I’m in Toronto as a guest of Social Planning Toronto – the real Big Society! I spoke at their annual conference yesterday, and at Ryerson university the day before.

Interestingly, in Ontario the big debate – which they asked me over to talk about – was not the “cull of the quangos” but why provincial government was creating more ABCs (agencies, boards and commissions) as they call them.

But today at the University of Toronto I attended a session with Paul Martin, the former Canadian finance and prime minister who orchestrated the famous cuts programme in the 1990s.

Martin has an interesting career trajectory in that he went from managing in the private sector into politics and now in “retirement” working with NGOs, especially on  ‘First Nations’ issues.

Two things lodged with me from Martin’s views.

First, asked by a student where she should pursue her career – in public service or in the NGO sector, Martin was absolutely clear. He said that neither the private nor the NGO sectors could have the same effect on peoples lives as public service. Not quite a “Big Society” message.

Second, when he talked about the 1990s cuts he emphasised how much time and care they had taken to win over people to the need for the cuts. He claimed they had spent a whole year convincing people before they went ahead with cuts that, by the way, were substantially smaller than currently proposed in the UK. Fascinating stuff, given how much the “Canadian example” has been claimed in aid for the Coalitions policies.

PICTURES from University of Toronto session

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About Colin Talbot

Professor of Government at the University of Manchester, England.
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