Lethbridge Herald, The (Newspaper) - March 6, 1973, Lethbridge, Alberta
Fog blankets federal bookkeeping March 1973 THS LRHMIOCC 5 By Anthony Weslall, Toronto Star commentator OTTAWA Every year when the government' publishes Hie famous Blue Book of estimates, which sets out In meticulous detail the spending plans of every department, tlie press md-Uie politicians rush fo com- pare the total with that of the previous year. Usually there is a large in- crease, a banner of headlines and much disapproving com- ment. It's part of the parliamentary and political process made the calculations the comments myself on many oc- casions but I'm coming to the conclusion that tne whole exercise is more misleading than illuminating. The Blue Book is useful in showing de- tails of spending programs, but not much help as a guide to total federal financial opera- tions. In the first place, (he Blue Book appears in Febru- ary to forecast spending in the coming fiscal year which will close some 13 months later. So far in advance of actual spend- ing, tiie figures are sometimes guesstimates rather than esti- mates. As the months go by, there will be underspending in come areas, overspending else- where, changes in policy and in- troduction of new programs. When the accounts close for tlie year, the final totals are likely to be far removed from the original forecasts. Second, most of the press and public commentary focuses on the budgetary estimates in tha book. But the budget is much less than a complete record of federal financing. There is, a great deal of spending on pensions and housing loans, (or example outside Hie regular budgetary accounts. Third, the Blue Book usually appears well before the budget is presented. In preparing his budget, the finance minister looks at the book's forecast of spending, calculates what sup- plementary spending may be- come necessary later in the year, estimates his fax revenue and then decides what he ought to do in the best interests of the economy. He may well decide to pump up the economy by spending more than the forecast in the Blue Book and- therefore intro- duce new programs. He may want to squeeze demand and try therefore to cut back some spending programs. The result is that when the minister delivers his budget to the Commons, he gives a new version of the government's spending program, and it is often quiet different from the main estimates in the Blue Book. This is why it is always wise fo view with; skepticism many of the news reports on the totals in the Blue Book and the com- mentary based upon them. Cau- tion is more than ever neces- sary this year because of an oddity in the accounting. The Blue Book, published to present the main estimates for the coming fiscal year, ending March 31, 1974, reported total budgetary expenditures at billion. This compared with billion estimated last Feb- ruary for the current year just ending. There appears, therefore, to be a huge increase of 17 per cent in federal spending. But it's not that simple. As ye noted, not all spending is includ- ed in the budget. One item which has not been included in the current year is the loan of million which the government has made to the Unemployment Insurance Com- mission (UIC) to cover payments made under the new plan. The money has actually been spent this year, but it shows up in the budgetary esti- mates lor next year. Deducting the million from the new estimates for the coming year leaves bil- iion. That's an increase of about billion over the main esti- mates last February about 11 per cent. Allow 5 per cent for inflation which pushes up the cost of government as it does the costs of businesses and families, and knock off another point or two for growth of popu- lation receiving federal ser- vices. Now the increase in spending looks quite modest. But it's not as simple as that either. Because, although the loan to the UIC did not fi- gure in the budgetary accounts for the current year, it does show up in non-budgetary items. And if one were going to try 'to get a clear picture of how federal spending this year com- pares with the estimates for next year, one would have to add budgetary items to non- budgetary items to get mean- ingful totals. It's hardly worth the ex- ercise, however, because the fact is that the Blue Book was out of date before it was tabled in the Commons by C. M. Dniry, president of the Treas- ury Board. The previous night in the Commons, Finance Minister John Turner presented his budget a very early bud- get, Ibis year and updated the figures in the Blue Book. While Turner is forecasting a rise in budgetary spending, he expects a sharp reduction in non-budgetary transactions. Ob- viously he hopes he will not have to lend another or 5900 million to the Unemploy- ment Insurance Commission. He forecasts, in [act, that lie will have to find only about billion for all non-budgetary items in the coming year about hall what they are cost- .ing in the year just ending. Taking budgetary and non- budgetary requirements togeth- er, Turner estimates they will total exactly billion in the coming year. He says that com- pares with billion in the year just ending. That's an in- crease of 9 per cent not bad in an age of inflation in a grow- ing country, and perhaps it jus- tifies Turner's claim in his bud- get speech that he is holding down federal spending to set an example to the country. Tlie country won't, unfortu- nately, profit from the example because the fact is that federal finances and accounting have become BO complicated th a t even the civil service experts have difficulty sorting out th'e facts from the bookkeeping fic- tion. If it is true that democracy depends upon an informed pub- lic opinion and that Parliament must be able to scrutinize the spending estimates to control the cabinet and the bureau- cracy, then we urgently need a new and simpler form of ac- counting. A billion-a-year operation is never going fo be that easy to analyze, but there has to be a better "way of pre- senting the essential facts than we now use. Easy-to-read forecasts are not much help of course when a minister gets his sums wrong .and writes in inaccurate fig- ures. I came across a civil ser- Book Reviews expert who believes that is what is happening Uus year, He privately calculates ill at Turner has underestimated non- fa u d g e t ary requirements by about billion, or 100 per cent. A better system of financial re- porting would at least make the mistake very clear at year's end. Humor is important "Laughter and Liberation" by Harvey Mtadct! Publishing, SI0.95, M7 Most of us take ourselves too seriously. This would be bad enough if the only consequence was the undermining of person- al peace of mind but inasmuch as it is a threat to the security of others it is calamitous. Our world Is in danger of be- ing blown up because ordinary human beings who attain posi- tions of power refuse to recog- nize that they are subject to limitations and prone to err. There is a temptation to make a god out of oneself and with the assurance of the Tightness of a cause to wreak destruction on the earth. None is so dan- gerous as the individual who suffers from the messianic de- lusion. A sense of humor, which gives true perspective on the self and its pretensions, is the antifote to a dangerous seri- ousness. Harvey Mlndess, in his exploration of the signifi- cance of a sense of humor, stops short of such a consider- ation. Perhaps he was prevent- ed from doing so by his own feelings of proportionality; hs may have thought he was pushing the importance of hu- mor too far as it was. Dr. Hindess, a clinical psy- chologist and teacher at UCLA, expounds the thesis illus- trated with jokes and cartoons that laughter is liberating. It results in freedom: from con- formity, inferiority, morality, reason, language, naivete, re- dundancy, seriousness and ego- tism. I expect Dr. Mindess would concur with the consensus reached by the editorial page editors and writers at the Am- erican Press Institute seminar I attended in New York. There was a general feeling editorial pages need the pres- ence of cartoonists and the writing of Art Buchwald, Eric Nicol and others who take the lighter look. They provide both relief and balance to the som- breness of the affairs of men and the solemnity with which they are discussed. Humor is an important sub- ject, worthy of the attention of a clinical psychologist and of anyone who can be induced to read his conclusions about it. There Is enjoyment and profit in store for reader? who pos- sess, at least a modicum of a semse of humor. DOUG WALKER Books in brief The headline over a column by Ken- neth Bagnell in the Toronto Globe and Mail read: "Bad Time for Trent." That was only the beginning. According to columnist's first sentence Trent University is "in the midst of a crisis so serious it threatens the future of the smal univer- sity." Serious, indeed. Clearly, small universi- ties should net be tta'eatened; neither should large universities for that matter. Scholars and citizens to the ramparts to defend learning from the barbaric hordes! But read on. What is this serious threat? Ah, yes, now it comes: Trent like every other university in Ontario is having a difficult time balancing its budget. The uni- versily president is faced with cutting half a million dollars from the budget to live within his university's means. It could mean trimming staff if other economics are not found. Trimming staff, fancy Dial! That is "crisis" which has caused Mr. Bagneil to bleed. Well, he bleeds too easily. The universities to Ontario are merely be- ing shaken down. They are doing some ne- cessary and overdue pruning. But crisis there is not. The real crisis would bs within the provincial government if spend- ing on post-secondary education is not brought quickly under control. 11 there are not enough students to jus- tify the size of university staffs then the staffs should be reduced. It is that simple, Does Mr. Bagnell or anyone else believe that society has some moral obligation to support all those who want to be teachers or scholars whether or not universities have a need for them or can afford them? The wliolc lough exercise of paring down faculties ghould have Ihe salutary function of opening up for fresh examination the whole unnecessary sacrosanct matter of academic tenure. Academic freedom and protection from intellectual harassment, yes. But in the name of academic free- dom why should a university and tax- payers be required to support profes- sors who haven't had an original since they received tenure? Why should promising young scholars be cut off while incompetents bask in security? Years ago subsidizing tenured profes- sors who were merely going through the motions until retirement could be indulged. Professors after all were bsing underpaid. Tenure, like titles was in part a compensa- tion for an indecent wage. But at and more a year, it has become far too expensive to allow universities to get slack- ed up with deadwood. Most private busi- nesses wouldn't tolerate such extrava- gance. Neither should our universities. "Mary Queen ol Scots" By Roy Strong and Julia Trevcl- yan Oman (Seeker and War- burg, 80 pBges, The reigning beauty and Queen of two countries, Mary Stuart sadly ended hsr days in imprisonment. Captured in this book are sketches of her daily life during those 17 ban- ished years. Her portraits, jewels, and embroideries pro- duced during her capivity are beautifully reproduced. A letter by Robert Wyngfield fo Lord Burghely describing an eye witness account of her death still mantains its poig- nancy after almost 400 years. The sensitivity of writing and illustrating truly make this a book worth reading. E. M. "Coster's Gold" by Ken- neth Wyalt (Collins, 25S pag- es, Custer's Gold combines the facts from history books with a weU written, exciting account of the last great war between the Indian population and the encroaching white man. The book Is very easy to read and can maintain Interest well. It blends well with Southern Al- berta as much of the explained terrain can be imagined as be- ing here. The actual battle took place just south of Alberta, near Billings, Montana. This book will appeal to all ages. R. S. "Zach" by John Craig. (Longman Canada Ltd. 254 pages. This uncluttered, easy-read- ing tale of a boy in search of his people makes for an enjoy- able experience. Aimed at the young reader, the story re- vo'ves around Zach, a young Indian boy, and his travels tliroughout the United States and Canada. The book combines the old iiniiar. ways and the wander- lust of youth today in a pleas- ant, reaBable manner. You won't learn too much about the history of Canadian Indians from the book, but you, or your son, fcill have an evening of relaxed, uninvolved reading. O.A. "One Woman's Arctic" by Sheila Burnforrt (McClelland and Ste.wart Limited, 222 pages, One Woman's Arctic is a de- lightful book, written witji a frank appraisal of the quality of Eskimo life at Pond Inlet. Sheila Burnford skillf u 11 y combines the harsh, wild land of snow and glacier with a real contact of a gentle, good-natur- ed people in a highly descrip- tive narrative. Concurrently, she brings to light the fact that tliese people are mi as backward as one would think; the power of the almighty dollar has had a far reaching impact even in their simple lives. The white man created the problems of civiliz- ation and the Eskimo will have to deal with liwm. A. S. The smell of oil From Montreal Henry Kissinger Is thinking about oil. Certainly, when he's travelling through China he thinks about the Chinese, but Mr. Kissinger also is interested in lire oil file. This proves at least one tiling: The oil shortage is not tlie product of some- one's crazy imagination or an artificial preoccupation. However, this shortage is not as dram- alic as we might be tempted to assume. Some forecasts set 1935 as tlie year for a return to stability. What seems to stand out after analysis of the situation in the United States is that the illness is not incurable. It could have been foreseen by more rigorous planning. The United States still has oil resources at home and numerous sources of supply outside its borders. In fact, most of the large international oil companies are Am- erican. The lack of a real energy policy, the wastage, the slowdown of development imposed by protectors o! the environment and the belated use ol nuclear energy can best explain the current worries. The crisis has had repercussions on Canadian-American relations. With the an- La Presse nounced intention to guarantee its domes- tic supply before providing for needs of its neighbor, Ottawa has decided to con- trol the rate of crude oil exports. Did the situation warrant such a harsh measure? The question is extremely diffi- cult to answer. What can be easily ascertained is that the decision by the Canadian energy de- partment was met with skepticism in cer- tain circles. There are skeptics in Can- ada; there are even more in American ad- ministration circles where the Canadian decision was met with obvious displea- sure. It can be seen that the smell of oil leads rapidly to political dens, small and large. Under the circumstances Alberta, an oil producing province jealous o f its prerogatives, has not concealed the fact that the controls imposed from the top were a source of annoyance. Do not nat- ural resources belong to the provinces? On the other hand, the circumstances favor the push of Western oil to the Mon- treal market, already supplied by Venez- uela. But at what cost? This is the question those aspiring to provide Quebec with an energy policy undoubtedly want to ask. Report io readers Doug Walker Competition for space Only one of the papers represented by members of the American Press Institute Seminar for editorial page editors and writers, which I attended last fall, carried 'poetry on its opinion pages. That paper, The Fort Smith (Arkansas) Southwest Times Record, ran a two-column strip ol poetry once a week. The rarity of such an outlet for poets was attested by the fact that the page we examined in the seminar had drawn contributions from widely separat- ed points, including Vancouver, B.C. The Herald has not published poetry since a section known as Lights and Shad- ows terminated several years ago be- fore my arrival. Yet poetry is still submit- ted by area residents who either have not noticed the absence of that genre or who think their production is so significant it will force its way into print. Unfortunately for them, our rule is inflexible: no poetry. I have mixed feelings about the rule. On the one hand am very grateful for it. The displaying of poetry would present some problems because of the extreme diversity of composition employed by auth- ors; a daunting editorial task would also be involved in judging what merits publi- cation and what to do about questions of style. On the other hand, I am troubled by this rejection of a form of expression which many people find profoundly mean- ingful. Lying behind my unease is another fac- tor. I am disposed to want to please peo- ple; I believe that in rejecting what a person has written there may be a rejec- tion of the person. This hampers me some- what as an editor. I am inclined to accept too many prose submissions for publication, My Boss has gently suggested this on occasions but hasn't pressed the issue because he's soft-hearted too. The Herald publishes far more material by local writers than most newspapers with which f am familiar. This is hard to justi- fy in terms of cold economics because even the small honorariums paid are additional Io the outlay for contract material which goes to waste for want of space. Also the space used by free-lancers might legiii- mately be expected by management to ba litied by the salaried writers on slaff. But there is something more important to be said for giving outside access to the columns of the comment pages. There are people in every community with special ex- perience and expertise who can bring a good deal of enlightenment and enrichment to tlie readers of a newspaper. Even from a self-interest of view a newspaper ought Io retain some openness to oo'.sids writers since the encouragement of writing ability is essential for the future of the en- terprise. Thirty-five outside persons articles published in The Herald in 1972. Some of these writters had their work appear on a fairly regular basis, namely Andy Russell, Eva Brewsfer, Fraser Hodgson, Marian Virtue and Jim Fishbourne (who became a staff member in A weekly slot was made available fo people writing on education; those who took most advantage of this were: Lo'.iis Burke, Terry Morris, Peter Hunt and Greg Hales. Another slot was set aside for the university; this was utilized by Mike Sutherland lor part of tlie year and in the fall ths opportunity of writ- ing for it began to be passed around among the professors. In total there were 250 ar- ticles by non-staff people published. At !he same time as outsider contribu- tions to the comment pages have Increased so have signed articles by slaff members. There were 38 of them in 1972 and the pace has quickened in 1973. Accommodation for all this material was made possible partly through having an extra page every week and by virtually eliminating the practice of reproducing editorials from other papers. The chances are that it will become tougher for free-lancers fo get into print, not because of a tightening in policy but because competition staffers may be- come more pronouncad. City editor, Terry McDonald, has decided to end a long tra- dition of letting reporters write opinion pieces for his news pages under the title, If you ask me. When reporters express their views now they will submit them to me for inclusion on the editorial pages. Although longer pieces, then, may have a harder time gaining acceptance, non- people need not be entirely fnistrat-. ed in their literary aspirations space will continue to be provided for letters. There will be the compensation of know- ing that what is written U more likely to, be better read readership increases in proportion to the brevity of what is pub- lished.