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Letter: One newspaper page can reveal so much


B3. No, it’s not bingo. (You’d have a better chance of winning in bingo.) B3 is the page in the Saturday, Aug. 26 edition of the Telegram that gave the most accurate glimpse yet into our fiscal future with the Liberal government.

The editorial, “A taxing task,” asked why newly minted Finance Minister Tom Osborne would form an independent committee from outside government, at a cost of $100,000 or more, to review the province’s tax system when the necessary expertise already seems to be available in-house. This government is big on outside committees and consultants.

It goes on to detail some 30 or more employment positions, currently on government payroll at a cost of $3,259,212, that deal with tax policy in one way or another, along with the auditor general’s office at a cost of $3.9 million, and points to this expertise as “just the tip of the iceberg.” The editorial reasonably suggests that the “outside” committee provides the Liberal government with another direction for apportionment of blame should the next budget leave the minister between a rock and a Cathy Bennett hard place!

Minister Osborne actually replied to this editorial the following week saying, in effect, that everyone else was doing it (going the committee route), and that many of the employment positions mentioned did not deal with tax policy. Well, there you go!

While not stated in The Telegram editorial, the content reflects one of the key shortfalls of government structure as we know it, and a primary reason that segmentation by departments causes government growth beyond all reason, and beyond financial sustainability. You might call it “mirrored interdepartmental empire building.”

It’s what happens when every departmental minister wants what every other minister has, only more and better, and it’s a never-ending process. How else to explain such a disgusting duplication of manpower, of effort, of time and of expenditure of taxpayer dollars?

Here’s a decidedly unpopular suggestion for Minister Osborne, albeit one whose time may necessarily be approaching. Structure the departments with the required specialty background and education, and without support staff. Then provide a single support department for all. While it may be nice for government to be the main employer within a region, it is not sustainable.

The daily editorial cartoon that same day featured a rhyming Minister Tom (his lucky day). Something about “no more book tax” and a suggestion that we should therefore “spend like hell” because “our fiscal situation is doing well.” Unfortunately for the minister, things don’t work that way, and a decision that cripples a segment of the economy will have its impact felt long after that hasty ill-considered decision has been reversed.

Pam Frampton’s column took us back to 2011; to simpler and happier times BMF (“before Muskrat Falls”). We get a little more insight into Stan Marshall’s inner thoughts, then and now. Back to those times when the project was just a gleam in someone’s eye, and before all of Nalcor, and everyone else with a voice within government, had been directed to push Muskrat Falls like the latest street drug, and with just as little knowledge of its devastating impact.

Then, on top of all this, we are fortunate enough to have two more ministers of the crown, Steve Crocker (Transportation and Works) and Dr. John Haggie (Health and Community Services), weigh in on why public-private partnerships (P3s) are “necessary to ensure people access appropriate services in the current fiscal climate.” Where was it we last heard about the “lowest-cost option to meet the needs of the province”?

Their joint letter indicates that the value for money (VFM) assessment for both the long-term care facility and acute care hospital in Corner Brook “have been publicly released and are available online” at http://ow.ly/p6c030eCWIA. I suspect that this is the only opportunity we’ll get to have a say, if we’re lucky, in how these and future projects are awarded and handled. In fact, other documentation on the website appears to indicate that all submissions have been received and it’s just a matter of selecting the successful bidder. And they wouldn’t appear to want any input from us.

 

Dave Randell
Mount Pearl and Harbour Grace

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