Sean Holman of Public Eye provides an example of good enterprise journalism.
“. . . let me share a government document I FOUND last week. It describes the behaviours senior civil servants are expected to demonstrate. Among them: being able to “create a crisis to force change.” I’m not making this up. I’m not wearing a tin foil hat. That’s exactly what the document says. So if that’s what bureaucrats are doing behind closed doors, is it unreasonable to think their political bosses are doing the same thing?”
There’s nothing like creating a good crisis to force change. The document Public Eye uncovered got me thinking about programs that have used this management principle during recent years. It is not exclusive to provincial ministry operations.
- The PacificCat ferry program was deemed a catastrophic failure so the NDP could be forever labeled incompetent and to make radical change to the ferry service seem logical. That led to a complete makeover of ownership, management and governance, set the stage for challenging union influence and enabled a privatization effort although that was unsuccessful. Denigrating BC shipyard capabilities allowed ship replacements to be sourced 10,000 kilometers from Vancouver. Former shipyards such as those on Vancouver’s North Shore began converting landholdings for construction of luxury waterfront condominiums. Jobs traded for condos was that outcome.
- GVRD (now Metro Vancouver) wanted to proceed with a $1.5 billion capital program for the water system of the lower mainland. First, they talked endlessly about water shortages and a crisis of being unable to guarantee clean safe water to everyone. This putative crisis was in the media often but disappeared from discussions after the capital budget and associated tax increases were approved.
- Provincial Liberals talked about a looming crisis caused by a growing electricity deficit, claiming that BC had already become a net importer of power, and that self sufficiency could only be achieved by paying private producers above-market rates for new generating capacity. The provincial statistics were at odds with federal government statistics because the Liberal government excluded BC power produced and exported by Alcan, Teck-Cominco and Fortis.
- Does the police industry need a security crisis to gain unlimited budgets? Pierre Laporte was murdered in 1970. Before him, D’Arcy McGee was assassinated in 1868. These are the only political VIPs fatally injured in Canada during almost a century and a half. Despite that, security forces needed thousands of personnel and around $1 billion each to secure the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and the Ontario G8/G20 meetings. Authorities have been proven to use undercover police officers as instigators to ensure violent demonstrations. The violence guarantees ever larger budgets.
- The Liberal Government claimed that the 1964 Port Mann Bridge was in poor condition and that massive expenditures needed to extend its life were not economic. The existing bridge will be torn down and replaced by a structure that will impose crossing tolls on casual drivers of $5.15 each way for cars, $8 for small trucks and $10.85 for larger trucks. The government preferred to eliminate the 46-year-old bridge because surveys indicated that drivers would accept tolls on a new structure but not on the existing one. To maximize annual income, the old bridge must be destroyed despite the fact that it has been well maintained and steel span bridges elsewhere continue to function safely after 100 years or more.
I could write about other examples, public and private. Crisis claims are used to cut wages in public institutions and in private commerce. Radio broadcasters tell their laid off staff that economic conditions force reductions and they tell their shareholders about ever growing profits. Television broadcasters claim inability to fund Canadian programing or to maintain news reporters. Yet many of those same companies earn record profits in their cable and Internet divisions. They want to tax their cable subscribers to subsidize their on-air channels. Cross media owners want to keep everything generated by the profitable divisions and want the public to subsidize the rest.