This fact really hit me when I observed sessions of the Braidwood Inquiry and Cohen Commission of Inquiry with their near endless lines of lawyers, patronage seekers and other beneficiaries. Neither examination was about seeking truth or conducting actual inquiry, it was about the symbolic process of apparent investigation within a system dedicated to spin doctors, lawyers and bureaucrats. Millions of dollars spent; little of value created. Had government mailed $20 million to random households across the nation, Canada’s economy would have been more effectively stimulated.
Of course, my notion grew stronger as I examined the financial management of British Columbia’s public affairs. Whether or not it is Pavco, BC Ferries, BC Hydro, BC Investment Management, public/private partnerships, health administration, etc., it is clear that taxpayers are badly served. So too are people dependent on delivery of efficient and effective public services and most of the public servants who do the work.
However, efficient management is not the aim of modern government. In BC, the present objective is to deliver wealth into the hands of friends and supporters and punishment to the backsides of the rest. For important insiders, days are good; salaries, pensions and expense accounts grow. Double and triple dipping abounds and insiders bounce from being regulators to being regulated, from being facilitators to being facilitated, and back again. Sweetheart deals become business as usual and people at the top know good things come to the quiet and the patient. No one speaks out for fear of losing opportunity.
In 2000, controversy reigned when the spendthrift NDP allowed its Deputy Ministers a 2% increase, bringing the salary of the highest paid bureaucrat to $152,000. In today’s dollars, that is the equivalent of $198,000. Under Christy Clark’s leadership, BC’s five highest paid public servants today average well over $1 million each with Doug Pearce, head of the province’s investment agency, highest at $1.6 million. Incidentally, the highest paid civil servant in the UK, also the chief investment officer, earns one third Pearce’s income.
Outside the dome of privilege, the herd is left on its own. Pay more, expect less, get less. That’s the role for most of us in the modern economy.