Here's what the Cons' current plan looks like:
The Globe and Mail obtained a copy of the document. It consists of a letter from Treasury Board Secretary Wayne Wouters to CFIA president Carole Swan, followed by a table of proposed spending cuts. The agency is asked to cut 5 per cent of its budget as part of a government-wide "strategic review." However, unlike many other departments required to undergo the same process, the agency is promised in the document that the government will return the savings to it for new spending priorities.The Cons' spin will presumably be that for now, their plan is merely to shift some of the inspection burden from the CFIA to the private sector, with the CFIA ultimately able to do more by shifting current funding to new, unspecified priorities.
Among the 13 areas proposed for cuts is meat inspection: "Shift from full-time CFIA meat inspection presence to an oversight role, allowing industry to implement food safety control programs and to manage key risks," the document states.
Here's one of the problems with that, though: it's hard to see how the Cons could meaningfully evaluate whether the shift would be cost-efficient when they don't yet have a clue what the money would be spent on. And the fact that the Cons don't seem to care where the money is redirected to offers a hint at what may be coming in the long run if they get their way.
After all, the Cons' decision to attack 5% of department spending under their current review process is almost certainly a product of their having just come to power in a minority government: in the longer term, their anti-government bent will demand more and bigger cuts. And there could surely be few juicier targets for demolition down the road than a Food Inspection Agency which doesn't actually inspect food.
Alternatively, the Cons may see the CFIA as a source of patronage goodies, contracting out regulatory tasks to the corporate sector with no internal ability to assess whether anything's being done (and all in the name of claiming to make government more efficient). And sadly, that may be the better of the two plausible long-term outcomes, since it might leave enough structure for a future government to at least rebuilt a competent inspection agency relatively quickly.
What remains to be seen is whether the public will stand for either of those kinds of change, particularly in the face of a vivid example of why the private sector can't be counted on to regulate itself. But it's worth keeping in mind that as harmful as the Cons' current cuts look to be, they're likely just the beginning when it comes to hollowing out the federal regulatory structure.