Proceed with caution

Gerry Phelan
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I’m worried, and the events of the past week tell me I should be. The Dunderdale government has made a mess out of its budget cuts, proving again that poor advice prompted unacceptable change. And next year they want to deal with the health-care system?

For once, I wish I could force my fingers to type something positive about our friends on the hill. I get that they needed to trim costs to fight the deficit. I understand that every department has to play a role.

But how could they take a razor blade to the justice system and not know what the fallout would be? I don’t mean political fallout — we’re talking real stuff here.

Surely someone had to raise questions about safety in the courts, the prosecution of cases, legal aid lawyers for those who can’t afford their own, and on and on.

It took days of stories in this newspaper and elsewhere for government to get the message that something is amiss, that they may have cut the coat to suit their cloth, but the scissors were about to do irreparable damage to the system.

Only a day after Attorney General Tom Marshall insisted that they had “every confidence that prosecution and legal aid services in the province will continue to be provided effectively and efficiently,” there was some rethinking.

It was a good decision to strike a committee of stakeholders to, as Justice Minister Darin King put it to “hear the concerns first hand and work together toward maintaining a justice system that operates in a manner that is safe, effective and efficient.”

The newly appointed committee was tasked with “exploring the issues raised in detailed fashion, developing measures to minimize impacts, and work to find effective solutions to ensure we continue to have a well-functioning justice system.”

But wait — shouldn’t that have been done before the budget? Have the advisers behind the scenes simply become a group of yes-men, so fearful of losing their own jobs that they will simply do the bidding to shave costs as directed? Sure, they’ve since reversed some of the cuts, but what confidence can we have that before the cuts were initially made that they weren’t just asking the question “how much does it help the deficit?” but also “who does it hurt?”

Last week, I wrote about changes to the school boards and the anticipated impact across the province.

I’ve heard the assurances that massive health board amalgamation is not on the radar, but the fact it is even a possibility causes me grief.

The budget speech included a

10-year sustainability plan. This year is a deficit reduction process. Year 2 will involve operational reviews of among other things, the four regional health authorities.

I heard Eastern Health CEO Vickie Kaminski on CBC last week talking about how it is dealing with budget reductions to date.

It was already under a two-year review to save

$43 million, and the latest financial plan from the province will require continued savings.

Management jobs are the likely target, but that has its own share of drawbacks, not the least of which is monitoring and ensuring a consistent level of quality care.

Now Eastern Health is really getting down to the finer details. Kaminski said they are looking at what it costs to do a gallbladder removal or a hip replacement or a knee replacement to see if they can change their services, prosthetics and equipment to do it cheaper.

Cheaper worries me.

Let’s face it, all this is just the beginning. Reviews normally bring about change.

Hopefully any actions taken as a result of the announced operational reviews of the four health boards will pass a better smell test than the justice system reductions this year.

An operating table is the wrong place to find out someone cut too deeply.

Gerry Phelan is a journalist and former

broadcaster. He can be reached at:

Organizations: CBC

Geographic location: Dunderdale

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Recent comments

  • Cyril Rogers
    April 13, 2013 - 12:48

    With all due respect to Ms Kaminski, monolithic boards in a province with this geographic variety are only going to make a mediocre service even worse. In my experience, large conglomerates tend to go on a feeding frenzy that sees the proliferation of middle and upper management positions, coupled with empire-building by those people competing for higher salaries. The government is making a huge mistake in merging hospital boards and school boards in this province, to the extent that many areas are badly-served. Autonomy and self-determination is the mantra of this government and most federal governments........ but they don't practice what they preach. They try to impose a corporate mentality on everything and that model has serious drawbacks....but do have the financial clout to have their way. Bigger is not better when it comes to the delivery of vital services like health, education, and other public services but governments have a myopia that prevents them from looking a smaller more-streamlined and more agile entities. It destroys initiative and largely ignores the collective wisdom of local people.

  • SD Redgrave
    SD Redgrave
    April 12, 2013 - 10:12

    I wrote an article recently which focused on the philosophy of governments having skilled philosophers on staff for all the great points Gerry Phelan has brought up. Having a firm grasp on the ear of the people is paramount when you run a government or business. Clearly, Newfoundland has has let this area of political awareness slide asunder. History is their best learning tool, wishful thinking rarely comes through for the user.