Federal Pre-Budget Consultations – Is There Any Point?

As part of the usual budget development process, the federal government launched pre-budget consultations June 6, 2014. The public has until August 6, 2014 to submit written submissions on what they would like to see in the budget. As the press release says, “Suggestions made by Canadians and the pre-budget report compiled by the Committee will be considered by the Minister of Finance in the development of the 2015 federal budget”.

After several years of a majority Conservative government, I believe that a few stakeholders, particularly those in the cultural industries, may be wondering if there is any point in participating in this process. Does the government listen to suggestions from the public or just do their own thing? Is there any point in going to the effort of writing a submission and trying to get on the witness list for the Finance Committee hearings?

I think so. Here’s the thing. The government may not listen. In fact, it probably won’t. I think that the government is looking to the 2015 election now and the upcoming budget will have that in mind. It will be about votes and I do not think that this government sees many votes for them in this sector. In film, television and digital media we got copyright reform (whether we are happy with it or not) and the Canada Media Fund made permanent. I do not think that we can expect anything else in the coming year. So what’s the point?

First, parliamentary committees are always a good way to raise the profile of an issue for government bureaucrats and provide them with data and resources. When the parliamentary committee system is dysfunctional, as it can be argued it is today, this can be the greatest value in participating in a committee process. Many issues take years to work their way through government departments, regardless of who is in power. Annual pre-budget consultations are a good way to keep publicly saying that an issue needs to be resolved and providing up to date data.

Second, there will be an election at some point in 2015 and now is a good time to let all political parties know what your top issues are. You can directly lobby them to try to get in to the party platform but a well-reasoned submission followed by an articulate presentation and well-answered questions will be noticed. There is no guarantee that your issues will fit within any party agenda but in my opinion attempting to influence party platforms in your favour is better than sitting back and complaining afterwards that you were ignored.

Besides, the Finance Committee has limited submissions to 2000 words so this really will not be a big effort on your part. Come up with the top 2 or 3 budget issues, describe them briefly and submit away. Hearings will be over the fall in Halifax, Montréal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Yellowknife and Vancouver as well as in Ottawa. What do you have to lose?

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