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Pam Frampton: Champagne tastes, no-name soda budget

['Telegram file<br />Liberal government cost-cutting measures will be considering P3s for all provincail programs and services.']
The province’s financial situation is unsustainable, Pam Frampton writes, despite the government’s attempts to put the best face on the situation.

 

OK, so this province has a serious overspending problem.

 

Pam Frampton
Pam Frampton

 

Despite Finance Minister Tom Osborne’s weak assurances this week that there’s been great progress on curbing spending within government departments, and that credit-rating agencies think the province’s performance is just jim-dandy, our financial situation is nonviable.

It’s not hand to mouth — more like hand over fist.

We are spending far more than we’re taking in, and as anyone who pays household bills will tell you, that practice leads straight down the road to ruin.

Read the government’s Sunshine List for the core public service and you’ll see hundreds of thousands of dollars paid out in overtime.

The official Opposition’s feeble attempts to blame the Liberals for the mess we’re in puts them solidly in line for the Most Preposterous Political Performance of the Year Award.

When Osborne said the government would be taking a cold hard look at government boards and agencies, Progressive Conservative finance critic Keith Hutchings said the Liberals should have tried to cut costs sooner. (This, from an MHA whose Paul Davis-led government wouldn’t even tell the people of the province how broke we were before the last election).

Telegram reporter Ashley Fitzpatrick asked Hutchings why the Tories hadn’t done so themselves.

“We had a number of discussions with the boards and agencies going through, in regards to expenditures … but we also went through a process of growth in terms of driving our post-secondary institutions,” Hutchings said. “But if there’s a need to do that, we’re all in support of that, for them to do it, and take it on now.”

Translation: we were too busy spending money at the time, but we’re all for someone else making cuts and watching them suffer the political consequences.

I hear regularly from a keen-eyed critic who says the media spends too much time pointing out problems and not enough proffering solutions.

Well, I certainly don’t have all the answers, but a couple of glaring spending areas spring to mind.

Read the government’s Sunshine List for the core public service and you’ll see hundreds of thousands of dollars paid out in overtime.

Now, we all know there have been staffing shortages in health and corrections, so to see plenty of overtime in those areas is no surprise.

But what’s happening in our marine transportation sector when stewards/deckhands, pursers, first mates, marine cooks, marine engineers and ferry captains rack up nearly as much in overtime as their regular salary, and sometimes more?

A deckhand, for example, could make $52,900 in overtime on top of a salary of $45,200.

One mate (first class) made more in 2016 than a provincial court judge.

As people in the private sector know, when budgets are tight, overtime is one of the first areas companies zero in on to try and save money.

And that’s not to suggest the work isn’t legitimately needed, or that the pay is undeserved, but if a deckhand makes more than $110,000 a year in salary, overtime, bonuses, shift premiums and retroactive pay, couldn’t we hire two of them at $45,200 each per annum and save a few thousand dollars?

(I put that question to the Department of Transportation and Works on Wednesday, but as of this writing had not received a reply.)* See columnist’s note below

And speaking of ways to save money, why is a province that can’t afford a pot to piss in paying performance bonuses to some members of the public service?

Surely the satisfaction of a job well done, an enviable salary and the warm glow that comes from contributing your talents to your province is reward enough.

Then again, in a cash-strapped province where, not too long ago, Liberal backbenchers lobbied behind the scenes to try and hang onto a platinum-plated pension plan devised in an earlier era, why should you expect anyone else being paid with public funds to settle for less than the biggest slice of pie possible?

And we haven’t even touched on why lavish bonuses were paid to Crown corporation executives upon whose watch a multi-billion-dollar boondoggle went spectacularly off the rails.

Let’s have an explanation for that.

 

Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s associate managing editor. Email pframpton@thetelegram.com. Twitter: pam_frampton

 

*COLUMNIST'S NOTE: After my print deadline for this column has passed, I did receive a response to my question from the Department of Transportation and Works. I appreciate the information and will present it in a future column.

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