If you read only one long-form piece of journalism this week, let it be this Toronto Star article, which explores the many, many spending cuts made by Stephen Harper’s Conservative party and how those cuts have turned Canada in a “leaner but meaner” country.
In addition to really crunching, and showing the numbers, the piece includes examples of how the cuts are changing the way Canadians live. There’s also an interactive graphic that breaks the cuts down by group/topic. While I would have designed it a little differently, it is a great tool to find out specific information.
Overall, the piece is clear, well written and packed with facts. Okay, it’s not unbiased; Harper’s cuts are presented as bad, with the flip side never really explored but I honestly don’t think that hurts the article. After all, it’s not like a steady diet of cuts have resulted in reduced poverty rates, record low unemployed and years of deficit-free budgets.
Also, while the tone of the article does sound concerned at certain points, it’s never alarmist. At times, it’s actually downright naïve. An example: “In 2006, in their first year as a minority government, the Conservatives unexpectedly began chiselling away at programs and spending on the same day Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced a $13-billion budget surplus from the previous fiscal year.” “Unexpectedly?” Oh hell no. The Conservatives could forever be sitting on $13-billion surpluses and would still be wielding their axe since dismantling government programs, well, those not related to security, is to its ideology what air is to everyone else.
The article doesn’t get into the “why” too much. At first this annoyed me but after thinking about it, it actually makes sense. For one thing, getting into the motivations of Harper’s Conservative party would have consumed a lot of words. Also, without any direct quotes from him or a select number of other key players, probing too deep into the “why” can easily, and inadvertently, veer into what I think of as “conspiracy territory.” That then becomes a distraction and can lead to the whole point of the article being missed.
And what is the point? Well, I think these quotes sum it up nicely, “’It is changing Canada,’ former Saskatchewan premier Roy Romanow says of the current federal approach to social and economic policy.
‘Unchecked, if we continue down this path, the big danger is a more regionalized and more unequal nation,’ Romanow, who headed a royal commission on the future of health care in 2002, told the Star.”
At one point the article mentions that one in seven Canadian children live in poverty. This fact immediately brought to mind this New York Times story, also published on Monday, which follows a poor, 10-year-old girl named Dasani. In the US, one out of every five kids live in poverty.
The Times piece does look a bit into the “why” of Dasani’s situation. While it doesn’t shy away from how her parents are part of the problem, it also looks at how cutbacks and government policy have significantly shaped the little girl’s world, mostly, if not completely, for the negative.
The Times piece is very much a documentation of New York of the now; it’s also a look into what life in Canada will likely be like in a decade or so, if Harper-style cuts continue. And while the Star piece is concerning, the Times one is downright depressing.