Victor Bowman’s column “Only one taxpayer,” Free Press, October 8, reads well in the first part of his deliberations. He describes the process in a regular family when considering the purchase of goods and services: weighing options, drooling over some nice-to-have things, but in the end deciding on an expenditure that fits the family’s financial means. Fine up to here!
But then Vic raises his hand and sternly admonishes us: “So why do we become so silly when it comes to services we believe our government should deliver?” … “You and I are the bankroll for whatever our governments do.” … “We have a choice.” … “We can choose to wait until the province is bankrupt or we can begin to bring a little common sense to what we expect…” Fine up to this point also, but incomplete.
There is one missing dimension, applying to all levels of government, that Vic may wish to examine in a future column: Since we are the bankroll’, we are entitled to demand that our governments deliver the expected services in an efficient, cost-effective manner within our financial means. They keep the books. That was part of our bargain when we elected them. (Remember the speeches at all-candidate forums during the last municipal election?) When will we abandon the public-sector notion that budgets are there to be spent in a fiscal year, or they will be trimmed next time? When do we start rewarding public-service employees and managers for cost-effective and timely execution of their tasks, rather than punish them for a budget under-run? When will the suggested common sense’ kick in and we remove redundancies, or lower priorities, from the menu of services? When will governments with their monopolistic service providers learn to know the real cost of their procedures and processes? When will governments bring their payrolls and remuneration schemes back into line with the private sector?
The family in Vic’s column is still an appropriate model for our public-sector organizations. Despite the bridging opportunities of borrowings, credit cards and mortgages, the outflow of funds must match the eventual inflow. The only difference: while families may go bankrupt, governments don’t in the same sense. Their fiscal failures lead to diminishing value of public and private assets, impoverishment of its citizens, and an outflow of population.