Update: Andrew has suggested to me that it is unfair to judge the column by the title, since he didn’t write it, which is true, although it strikes me that such a complaint would be better directed to the people who write the headlines than to the people who read them. So: sorry, Andrew, for that. In any event, the astronomy pictures are not out of place. Coyne moves from the objection that government should be based on purpose instead of inertia, which (as you’ll note) I agree with, to a second objection that these sorts of sensational stories are inevitable because government is too big and spends money “on everything under the Sun.” I could have printed a list demonstrating the silliness of such hyerbole, but in some cases, pictures really are worth a thousand words.
Yesterday, I pointed out the three things that I thought the media was missing about the Auditor-General’s report on how the federal government has mysteriously “lost” $3.1 billion in anti-terrorism spending, with no idea where the money went. First, it must be obvious which departments “lost” the money, and when. Second, the government has actually lost much more than $3.1 billion, because that’s only the amount as of 2009; in 2010, the Conservatives mysteriously closed down the reporting system that tracked counter-terrorism spending altogether, which means all expenses since then are unaccounted for. Third, both the Treasury Board and, by extension, the Auditor General must know the answers to the first two points, at least in rough terms, yet neither Minister Tony Clement nor Auditor-General Michael Ferguson have deigned to tell us, the tax-paying public.
But that was yesterday. The media has swung into fine form, I can assure you, and they’re asking the Big Questions for a change. For instance, National Post columnist Andrew Coyne has alerted us to the fact that nowhere in the Auditor-General’s assessment of the missing $3 billion in counter-terrorism funding is — you’ll love this — an explanation for why Via, Canada Post, and the CBC receive government subsidies.
This is a bizarre leap, and it’s hardly worth bothering with, except to point out that even if this were a valid question to ask, it wouldn’t be the Auditor-General’s job to ask it. (Even though, according to Coyne, it’s “the real question that the AG report raises but nobody will ask”). The Auditor General’s job is to ensure that money was spent efficiently and responsibly. Whether public subsidies and Crown corporations are good things to have is a question for Parliament — you know, that other essential democratic institution which Coyne’s employer has been energetically flinging feces at for years by endorsing a government convicted of contempt of Parliament. Coyne may be right that we should ask these questions, but the AG’s report is hardly an appropriate opportunity to do so.
His broader point is a valid one — we should want a government driven by purpose, rather than by inertia — and yet the overriding theme here still appears to be the notion that government is too big. It’s not a matter of asking what additional tasks should be handled by government. It’s merely a question of what tasks government is currently handling but shouldn’t be. Yawn.
Still, since he asks, it is obviously the case that the Canadian government is not extraordinarily large. For that matter, no government on Earth is extraordinarily large. For illustrative purposes, some time ago I placed a graphic on the top right of this blog some time ago. The size of the largest government on the planet is indicated by the bright pink area on the big blue and green dot on the top left of the image. I’ve reproduced the image below so you can appreciate the magnitude of the problem:
Here, I’ll zoom in:
Yes, big government is indeed a travesty, an abomination, a hideous grostesquerie. The sooner we can get back to smaller and simpler things, the better off we’ll be.
Peace be with you.Tweet