Conservative ad overspending vs. refugee healthcare: A comparison

(A version of this post can be seen on the Canada Council of Refugees blog.)

When the Conservatives announced massive cuts to refugee healthcare under the IFH program, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenney boasted that the cuts would save Canadian taxpayers $20 million a year—or, as he put it, $100 million over five years.

Kenney has complained that the full costs of the IFH program are $84.6 million a year. Let’s put this in perspective. This figure is from 2010, and that same year the Conservatives spent roughly the same amount—$83.3 million—on government ads, arguably a far less urgent government program.

The previous year they had another similar ad budget of $85.3 million, but they overspent this by $51 million, for a total of $136.3 million spent on government ads. In fact, the Conservatives have overspent their ad budget by at least 25% every year on record, for a total of $128 million over their first five years in office.

Compare that number to the $100 million Kenney plans to save through cuts to the IFH program. Answer? The Conservative’s advertising overrun alone is enough to cover the cost of refugee healthcare cuts.

Let’s look at this further. In 2009, when the economic downturn was in full swing, the Conservatives budgeted $39 million—twice the annual savings from IFH cuts—just to promote their Economic Action Plan (they ended up overspending this amount as well, spending instead nearly $54 million). *This year, by the way, they budgeted for a further $16 million to promote the Economic Action Plan, even though the program has officially ended.

Put in perspective, $20 million dollars in savings a year is not a lot of money, despite what Kenney would have you think. $20 million translates to a mere 59 cents per Canadian, something highlighted by the 59 Cents Campaign. Yup, it would take just 59 cents each to restore funding to refugee healthcare. Meanwhile, Canadians are spending nearly 76 cents each year on government ad over-runs.

In the end, however, the economics argument is not very useful, and downright problematic. What, after all, is the true cost of not treating the health issues of refugees and refugee claimants, and letting those health issues compound and exacerbate? How much of a drain will the IFH cuts be on our health care system in the long run? And how much more will refugees be able to contribute to the Canadian economy—both now and as they become regularized citizens—if they are healthy and able?

It’s a matter of perspective, but it’s also a matter of priorities. $20 million can buy you a lot of things. It can buy you some more promotional ads, for instance. Or it can buy treatment of the immediate and urgent health needs of some of the most vulnerable in our society. The Conservatives have clearly prioritized the former.

{side notes}

Approved government ad budget:

Actual government ad expenditures:

The numbers:

  • 2011: $51.8 million approved, $78.5 million spent ($26.7 million difference)
  • 2010: $65.4 million approved, $83.3 million spent ($17.9 million difference)
  • 2009: $85.3 million approved, $136.3 million spent ($51 million difference)
  • 2008: $63.0 million, $79.5 million spent ($16.5 million difference)
  • 2007: $64.8 million, $84.1 million spent ($19.3 million difference)
  • 2006: $63.5 million, $86.9 million spent ($23.4 million difference)

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