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Brian Pallister's Efficiency Fairies

The Winnipeg RAG Review - Mon, 05/16/2016 - 07:06
Spending be gone painlessly,
no cuts to services, no
job losses, everyone wins
with the efficiency
fairies!

Image Source:


Disney
(Obtained from Wikipedia)
People like public services but also like low taxes. Conservative parties and right of centre politicians tend to campaign on the later. Given self-styled "fiscal conservatives" tend to make much of deficits and the accumulated stock of debt it stands to reason that something has got to give. Taxes (and other public revenue sources) have to equal spending or else debt financing measures have to be used. Since debt is often (and not always with warrant) regarded as bad, that means service cuts, right?

While people may loath "big government" or "government interference" in the abstract, actual public programs (especially the ones soaking up the largest share of spending) are usually quite popular. This is where one of the cheapest, most effective tricks of rightwing populists comes into play: blaming "waste" for large program spending.


The idea is that we can preserve or even increase services if we eliminate completely useless, unambiguously awful spending. In the 2016 provincial election campaign Pallister equated bargain hungry Manitobans doing comparison shopping to finding savings worth 1% of public spending. Apparently going over to the Dollarama instead of the Hudson's Bay Company is all it takes to painlessly cut the deficit 1.

Toronto's former rightwing populist Mayor the late Rob Ford took this line of thinking to comical conclusions. In the 2010 Toronto Mayoral Election he assured citizens that "services will not be cut, guaranteed" and instead promised to "end the gravy train". A big part of the public messaging (read: propaganda) on the cuts were that it would involve ending such "gravy" as zoo passes for certain city workers. Once in office this no service cut guarantee became a plan to close down five pools, among other things.

As Dan at Autonomy for All noted in 2013, with respect to Ontario provincial politics (Hudak was the Ontario Conservative leader at the time):

How often will voters fall for this deeply dishonest tactic? Try and take seriously the idea that Hudak knows of billions of dollars of true "inefficiencies" in the current government, as I joked on twitter, perhaps there is a Ministry of Burning Cash that can be shut down. If so, wouldn't he be bragging about this specifically? Embarassing the government day after day over the waste in Question Period?

Even as a matter of good public service, if the leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition knows of significant areas of taxpayer waste, is he going to sit quietly on them waiting for an election which might be years in coming, letting the government keep wasting money which could be saved?

On the other hand, maybe the claim is true that he plans to "find" these efficiencies, but only once in government. If so, how can he promise they are there? He can't know this. It's a hope, maybe an educated one, but still a gamble. Even if you think say, 5% of all government spending is true waste (like leaving unused buildings lit at night or whatever example of clear out and out waste you can think up, not talking here about spending you just don't like, which still has a purpose) - it will tend to be a thousand or more little spots of waste. [Emphasis added] There isn't really going to be a Minister of Burning Cash that accounts for 80% of the waste. Finding those unnecessarily lit buildings or other duplication, overpayment & such is going to be tough. Maybe the process for getting someone a driver's license take 14 steps and can be shaved to 13 steps with months of work by the Ministry of Transporation and this saves like $5M a year. I'm sure such inefficiencies exist in government as they do in every large organization, but wringing them out is tough work. Complex multi-deparment processes have dozens of stakeholders and usually no one person fully undertands the purpose of everything in there, so spotting the "waste" takes weeks of stakeholder interviews to find the steps that no longer serve useful purposes or are duplicated elsewhere.

("Hudak Promises To Incur Massive Project Cancellation Costs As Premier". Autonomy For All. Daniel (Oct. 28, 2013)) While there were some concrete, policy specific criticisms from the Manitoba Conservatives (particularly when it came to Provincial Crown Corporation Manitoba Hydro's - politically or otherwise motivated - investment decisions) over a third of the spending cuts they outlined at the end of the campaign came from "value for money" efficiences. Over 8% of the Pallsiter CONs savings came from undercutting labour unions, which I guess is at least outlining specific policy, leaving aside empirical and moral questions on whether workers can bargain a fair wage as solo individuals against large employers.

Some on the centre-right think nothing drastic is in store. The Pallister CON Government will just cut through attrition (which the NDP had started to do in it's last years with departmental hiring freezes) and workers will "prioritize, eliminate redundant reports, and generally find ways to get the work done".

The idea that there's endless (or at least great) slack in the public service such that staffing could go down without service effects seems like a nice idea, but it's probably too good to be true. The Manitoba Government has already been whittling down staffing levels through selective attrition under NDP rule. There's only so much "fat" you can scalp off. As Curtis Brown and Paul G. Thomas have documented 2, the Manitoba Public Service has went through some serious capacity reduction in the past, modest renewal in the Doer days, and currently has an aging workforce. They further noted that "by 2016, almost 75 percent of senior leaders in the civil service will be eligible to retire. By the same year, almost 50 percent of the entire civil service will be in a position to retire. These statistics have profound significance for government-wide policy memory and the in-house capacity to formulate policy under more complex conditions." (Brown & Thomas, 2010, p. 246)

Factoring in that there has been some replacement since the six years ago, when the book was published, it is still an aging workforce with many members set to retire. There won't be limitless slack to exploit and many upcoming challenges Manitoba faces, like an aging overall population more dependent on the healthcare system and the need to transition to a low carbon economy, will require significant policy development and expertise.

 And from the standpoint of keeping service levels constant with less staff, some of the Pallister CON Government's recent announcements seem weird. For instance, there is a memo directing deputy ministers to "refrain from new spending on office relocations, furniture and information technology projects [emphasis added]". Now, you would imagine increasing IT investments to make individual workers more productive as well as investments aimed at getting more government services online, faster would be exactly the way you keep services constant with less staff. Yet here be freezes.

All of this seems to be pointing to a situation where, yes, the Cassandras will be proved right. There will not be unlimited slack to exploit. Even if workers aren't fired, they simply retire and aren't replaced, we'll still face declining service levels.Comparison shopping and efficiency fairies, in the end, will not painlessly cut spending without cutting service.

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1 Pallister's actual savings plan had specifics like merging agencies like the East Side Road Authority and reducing union contracts in government alongside the unspecified "efficiencies" that accounted for over a third of his savings. Pallister, however, consistently argued in public for all his savings along the lines that they'd be just like comparison shopping done by Manitoba consumers.


2 Curtis Brown and Paul G. Thomas, “The Past, Present and Future of Manitoba’s Civil Service,” in Manitoba Politics and Government: Issues, Institutions, Traditions, ed. P.G. Thomas and Curtis Brown, 227-256 (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 2012).

Still Indispensable

Northern Reflections - Mon, 05/16/2016 - 04:51


Paul Godfrey appeared before the Heritage Committee last week to ask the government for a hand. It was more than a little ironic that the publisher who would prefer to get government out of our lives was coming to it cap in hand. But, Tom Walkom writes, Canadian governments have been giving publishers hand outs for a long time:

In his book Making National News, Ryerson University historian Gene Allen details the agonizing debates among publishers over the federal government’s handsome subsidy to their wire service co-operative, Canadian Press.

The subsidy was required in part because some Canadian publishers were unwilling or unable to pay the high rates charged by telegraph companies for transmitting news over the wire.
During the First World War, publishers also convinced Ottawa that a government-subsidized Canadian wire service would act as a pro-British antidote to news routed through the U.S.-based Associated Press.
At one point, Canada’s wire service was subsidized by both the British and Canadian governments.
In the early years, Ottawa rewarded friendly newspapers by contracting out government printing to them. Later, publishers lobbied for and won reduced rate postage for newspapers. At a time when many readers received their papers through the mail, this was a significant bonus.
Still later, publishers persuaded Ottawa to change the income tax system to favour domestic publications. Those businesses that advertised in Canadian newspapers and magazines could write the cost off. Those that advertised in foreign publications could not.
Known informally as the Maclean’s law, this rule proved of particular benefit to the newsmagazine of that name.
Surprisingly, Walkom believes Godfrey's proposal has merit -- perhaps not just because Postmedia is drowning in debt, but because Walkom's own publisher,  Torstar, lost $53.5 million in the first quarter of this year.
These are tough days for newspapers. But they're still indispensable.
Image: ipolitics.ca

The Attacks on Sophie Grégoire Trudeau Grow More Ugly and Violent

Montreal Simon - Mon, 05/16/2016 - 04:39


Yesterday I wrote about how disgusted I was by the way the Cons had gone after Sophie Grégoire Trudeau.

And how the smear campaign against her on social media was becoming meaner and uglier.

Well now it's out of control, and getting even more violent.
Read more »

Donald Trump and the Real Terrorist Threat

Montreal Simon - Mon, 05/16/2016 - 00:58


As you know Donald Trump has been trying to look more "presidential," to try to persuade the Republican establishment that he won't blow up the party.

And that he's not crazy.

But sadly for Drumph it's just not working, 

For his latest message to Americans couldn't be more insane.
Read more »

Marc Mayrand on Election Reform and Referendum

Creekside - Sun, 05/15/2016 - 23:52

Elections Canada CEO Marc Mayrand at PROC (Procedures Committee), excerpted :

"With a majority government in place, as well as a fixed election date of October 21, 2019, there is an opportunity now to bring the electoral process, currently anchored in the 19th century, in line with contemporary Canadian expectations."

On holding a referendum on choosing a new voting system as advocated by the Cons :
"The Referendum Act is outdated. It has not been changed since 1992, which was the last time we had a national referendum. In that regard, it is very much out of sync with the Elections Act, particularly around political financing. For example, unions and corporations could contribute to referendum committees. I think that may come as a shock. There is no limit on contributions by any entities. Again, that may come as a shock, but the legislation still stands.""Six months minimum to set up a national referendum." 
On amending the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act for STV or MMP or ...
"The bare minimum for a standard redistribution is 10 months.There are another seven months after that for implementing. You need to redesign all the maps across each riding and reorganize the poll divisions to reflect the new riding boundaries."
On time needed to revamp the whole system in time for the 2019 election :
"Legislation enacting the reform should be there at least 24 months before the election.Once you have the redistribution, you would need six to seven months to implement the new maps, the new districts, and then we would need to get ready for the election. We would need to prepare all the training. We would also need to build the systems that would support this new regime. We can assume that there would be a need for major public education." Also for parties, candidates, election officials.
On new Election Day technology :
"You have the electronic lists available at the polls. That means that someone who is showing up at the poll shows a voter ID card. The card is scanned, their name is struck out of the list immediately, and automatically it's valid across the country, so that person cannot show up somewhere else later during the day. As a result of that, they get their ballot. We could consider entering them into a tabulator, so, again, the results would be instant on election night."
On advance polls :"This time around, 25% of all Canadian voters showed up at advance polls. Similarly, we had a 117% increase in voting by mail—in this day and age, yes.We estimate that serving an electorate at an advance poll takes roughly 10 to 15 minutes. If you have 10 people ahead of you, and you're the eleventh, imagine the time it takes. If you see three or four tables that are free, why can't you go to them? If I show up at any store I'll go to the checkout that is available. Why can I not do that?""The other thing that we need to look at is automating procedures. If you have voted at an advance poll, you know that electors, when they show up, have to prove their ID, etc. Then their name has to be searched in a big paper document, and they have to enter the name and address and they have to sign. There's no reason in this day and age that it still needs to happen this way. We would be looking at automation. There are good reasons that controls are in place: to ensure that the vote is reliable. However, I think there are big opportunities for automation and better service at the polls."

Mr Mayrand also referred to four other Elections Canada issues that in my opinion should be addressed before the next election.

On removal of voter identification card as a valid piece of identification in the 2015 Federal Election: 
"Voter ID was a barrier for 172,000 people who claimed that not being able to prove their ID or address was an issue for them, and therefore they did not vote according to the Statscan Labour Force Survey"."There is no national ID card of any sort that meets the requirements of the Elections Act."
On voter education outreach :
"Our mandate now is restricted to non-voters, those who are under the voting age." "Elections Canada is, in fact, the only body in the world that I know of that cannot promote democracy within the country."
On expenses reimbursement to political parties after an election :
Approximately $60M goes back to our respective political parties—no receipts required. 
On the power to compel witnesses :
"The commissioner cannot compel witnesses.""The commissioner's office was moved from Elections Canada to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. It is reporting through the DPP and through the Attorney General. It's not an office of Parliament, so it doesn't report directly to Parliament."
Note : I took Mayrand's remarks on electoral reform and a potential referendum out of the order in which they were made and bumped them up to the top of the post. These quotes are responses made to questions from the MPs at PROC..

Another Month, Another All-Time Record Month

The Disaffected Lib - Sun, 05/15/2016 - 19:31



April is now in the books. That makes seven in a row. Seven consecutive months of record-breaking high temperatures.

The latest figures smashed the previous record for April by the largest margin ever recorded.
It makes three months in a row that the monthly record has been broken by the largest margin ever, and seven months in a row that are at least 1C above the 1951-80 mean for that month. When the string of record-smashing monthsstarted in February, scientists began talking about a “climate emergency”.

Figures released by Nasa over the weekend show the global temperature of land and sea was 1.11C warmer in April than the average temperature for April during the period 1951-1980.

Five days ago I posted the Climate Central graphic above. It's now out of date but the yellow line departure at the very end continues. That departure shows how global warming is not merely continuing to increase but steadily accelerating. Just as it accelerated again in April. 

Sunday Morning Links

accidentaldeliberations - Sun, 05/15/2016 - 10:12
This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Murray Dobbin argues that the Trudeau Libs' response (or lack thereof) to wealthy tax cheats will tell us what we most need to know about their plans for Canada.

- Meanwhile, Tonda MacCharles reports on Justin Trudeau's plans to abandon Canada's longstanding commitment (however neglected in practice) to providing a fair level of foreign aid. And Tom Boggioni exposes the U.S.' use of foreign aid threats to try to keep cancer medicine unaffordable in Colombia.

- Sarah Neville points out how workplace power imbalances can create an environment ripe for sexual harassment and other forms of employee abuse. And David Graeber theorizes that part of the current gap can be explained by the proliferation of what he describes as "bullshit jobs".

- Benjamin Radcliff examines the relationship between political systems and happiness economics, and finds that social democracy is the system most conducive to well-being:
The policies most conducive to human wellbeing turn out to be essentially the same ones that Einstein himself originally suggested: those associated with social democracy. In reviewing the research in 2014, Adam Okulicz-Kozaryn, a political scientist at Rutgers University-Camden in New Jersey, found that ‘societies led by leftist or liberal governments (also referred to as welfare states)’ have the highest levels of life satisfaction, controlling for other factors. Looking across countries, the more generous and universalistic the welfare state, the greater the level of human happiness, net of other factors.
...
If commodification is so harmful to humans, while the greater market system itself contributes so much to human society, the obvious solution is to maintain the essential features of the market while introducing public policies that serve to ‘decommodify’ workers and their families. Simply put, a society is decommodified to the extent that individuals can maintain something like a middle-class existence if they are unable to successfully sell their labour power as a commodity due to illness, old-age, disability, the need to care for a family member, the desire to improve one’s position through further education, or simply the inability to find (good) jobs when times are hard. The greater the level of decommodification, the easier it is for more people to survive without winning in the labour market.

The creation of a social safety net (the much-maligned ‘welfare state’) is essential to decommodifying people. It assures that those unable to find work will be provided with a minimum income, coupled in its most expansive form with other programmes that limit the extent to which one’s wellbeing is dependent on income – such as ‘family allowances’ (ie child support payments provided by the public), subsidised daycare and housing, and the availability of healthcare as a social right, ie as something (like police protection) that one receives because one is a citizen, not because one can pay for it.
Labour unions also play a vital role in helping decommodify people, by providing a degree of protection to workers against the arbitrary whims of employers; the higher wages and benefits of unionised workers tend to raise the wage floor for all. Finally, labour market regulations can cover all employees, even those not in labour unions. These protections, in some countries, protect all workers, assure them paid vacation and sick days, maintain high levels of workplace safety, and might even (as in codetermination schemes) provide workers with a say in how the business is managed. All this serves to not only reduce insecurity and other forms of stress, but helps contribute to an environment in which workers feel that they are treated with the dignity and respect all persons deserve.- Finally, Bruce Johnstone observes that the Saskatchewan Party's corporatist economic philosophy - like that of so many other right-wing governments - is failing miserably even on its own terms.

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