Never let a good photo-op go to waste
By Bruce A Stewart
Yesterday the cameras were flashing and the tape was rolling as federal Conservative MPs were seen handing out cheques.
Yes, now that the budget debate has moved on, here comes the spending.
Nothing like dropping $48 million of taxpayer money here and $36 million there so that you get your picture in the local paper, is there?
Look, I understand that government exists to spend money.
I also understand that politicians exist to smile for the camera when handing it out.
Did I say “exist?” How about “look forward to”, “best part of the day”, or “oh, wow!”
What most of us don’t see is what goes on behind the scenes.
First, if you look at any government’s budgets, you’ll see that at least 20 per cent of what’s spent never actually does any work.
Oh, excuse me, it goes to pay the civil service salaries and benefits for the office that evaluated the spending and issued the cheque.
Twenty per cent is a good ratio. It can climb much higher.
How does the civil service determine what to “recommend” to the Minister?
It looks to the interests of the civil service, of course.
Put two organizations side by side. Both want money to do something.
Maybe two small town museums?
One is simply there to do its job. All its staff are focused on the mission of collecting, explaining, exhibiting the history of the town.
The director stayed up until three in the morning, unpaid, to put the application in.
The other is interested in “the promotion of Canadian Heritage.” Conference? They’re there. Cut back on service to have a dedicated “development officer” writing applications, instead. Probably made a trip or two to Ottawa to “chat” with the evaluation group in the Department of Canadian Heritage.
Guess which one will be recommended for the money?
The one that was “serious”, which is bureaucratese for … that’s right … the one that “supports” the Department!
The same thing happens in places like Western Economic Diversification and the other regional expansion agencies, Industry Canada, Human Resources & Skills Development, all the places that serve up bucket-loads of investment suitable for Member of Parliament photo-ops.
The budget money makes the branch budget larger — which justifies jobs, and a management stack upgrade (your empire grew so my pay grade needs to be re-evaluated upward).
Twenty per cent becomes 21 … 22 … 23 … and on it goes.
Spending, and photo ops, are going to happen.
Just ask yourself, the next time a reform-minded politician asks for your vote, “How will they avoid being captured by the civil service?”
It’s so easy to bribe people with their own money.
Bruce Stewart is a consultant, educator and philosopher with a passion for public affairs currently located in Toronto. He is well known across the Internet for his blogs on management (Getting Value from IT) and social affairs (Just a Jump to the Left, then a Step to the Right) and for his daily stream of commentary on Facebook, Twitter and Google+. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.