Time for a core reset, not a core review of B.C. government
By Jordan Bateman, BC Director – Canadian Taxpayers Federation
Vancouver Canucks general manager Mike Gillis has studiously avoided the word “rebuild” in describing his mission this summer. Instead, Gillis says he wants to “reset the organization.”
Premier Christy Clark should borrow the phrase and transform the promised core review into a “core reset.” The difference is more than just semantics.
There have been umpteen reviews of various government agencies and files. BC Hydro, ICBC, BC Ferries and TransLink have all been reviewed within the past two years. Reviews have been promised for the B.C. Lottery Corporation, B.C. Housing, the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission, B.C. Transit and the Liquor Distribution Board. Pre-election, the NDP generated a list of 35 reviews that had been promised by the Liberal B.C. government.
One hesitates to remind government of these promised reviews, lest a review into the missing reviews also be promised.
Forget the review: B.C.’s finances and government services need a reset.
To reset the B.C. government to a more affordable level, every program must be examined through the lens of three questions asked in 2001 by then-Finance Minister Gary Farrell-Collins: “What is government’s business? How are we going to do it? How can we do it better?”
These three questions should be the litmus test in this process because they are geared toward action – not talk. Twelve years after that Collins’ blueprint, the B.C. Liberal government has drifted into all sorts of spending that fail his test. Government’s priorities need to be reset, not simply reviewed.
Take the Pacific Carbon Trust (please, take it as far away as possible). It fails all three tests. It is not government’s business to take millions of tax dollars out of classrooms and hospitals and put it into some of the largest companies in B.C. Even if it was, the Pacific Carbon Trust has proven to be hopelessly inefficient at its goals, overcharging taxpayers and relying on dubious projects to meet them.
Rather than continue this flawed program, kill it outright, save $18.8 million annually, and take back its $30 million surplus. Reset B.C. to the pre-carbon trust era: no one but those pocketing money from the trust will miss it.
Remembering that relatively small expenditures can quickly add up, this reset should drill down into money spent on various political priorities. B.C. government advertising is an obvious place to cut, and could easily save tens of millions of dollars.
The government could save millions by scrapping the current MLA pension program and moving to a plan where taxpayers contribute a dollar for every dollar MLAs put in – not the $4 for $1 ratio currently in place.
The core reset should also dig into health care spending with more scrutiny than ever before. At $16.5 billion per year, this is where substantial savings can, and must, be found. It may mean reassessing public health priorities, encouraging the use of new technology like video-conferencing to lower doctor billings and reduce unnecessary hospital visits. And, importantly, it must encourage having a frank discussion with taxpayers on the system’s future.
As Jeffrey Simpson outlines in his book, Chronic Condition, Canada is among the top five public health care spenders in the world, but ranks middle of the pack in health outcomes. For that kind of money, care should be a lot better.
“What is government’s business? How are we going to do it? How can we do it better?” asked the B.C. Liberals when they took power in 2001. It’s time for this B.C. government to reset itself to that purpose again.
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