environment

Understaffed and incapable, by design

In The Tyee, Scott McCannell, executive director of the Professional Employees Association, asserts,

The B.C. government has slashed professionals in the public service to the point where it doesn’t have a full picture of what’s happening. In a March 2014 report, the Professional Employees Association (PEA) demonstrated that the province has reduced its complement of scientific and technical professionals by 15 per cent since 2009.

Looking back to 2001, there are 25 per cent fewer professionals in the public service…

Government policy over the last 13 years has been to dramatically reduce in-house government professionals, deregulate natural resource industries and to reduce the role of public service professional staff in monitoring, compliance and enforcement.

We believe that government policy increases the risks of disasters like Mt. Polley and may have significantly contributed to this event. Watchdog agencies, including the Forest Practices Board and the Auditor General, have already voiced concern over the lack of on the ground monitoring happening in natural resource ministries.

The 25% reduction of professionals in public service, despite the economy growing by 46% ¹ (in constant dollars) tilts the balance in favour of private parties with deep pockets, able to hire never-ending parades of consultants who will fortify the aims and objectives of their paying clients. These specialists have little concern for public interests; they are like lawyers paid to defend “every person, however wicked, depraved, vile, degenerate, perverted, loathsome, execrable, vicious or repulsive he [or she] may be.”

The very large companies who exploit British Columbia resources understand the advantage of a mismatch and I’ve heard it expressed crudely, as in “Bullshit baffles brains.” Urban Dictionary defines that as,

“A deception. To put on such a good show the inspector is so impressed (s)he won’t bother with a detailed check or to question anything.”

Not just taxpayers suffer from disadvantage. Small businesses – the putative economic backbone – typically cannot afford to muster similar resources and, by comparison, they become easy pickings for bureaucrats. I recall an example from my own career. An obdurate tax auditor argued that a supplementary regulation superseded a section written in the Provincial Sales Tax Act that formulated our position. He issued an assessment that could have cost tens of thousands of dollars. Our dispute fell on deaf ears for the longest of time, despite clarity of the Act. Only after we spent a considerable sum on lawyers and demonstrated willingness to go to trial was our position reviewed at the highest level and accepted as correct. Had our company been unable to afford defensive actions, we’d have faced a serious financial burden.

That story may sound like a complaint about government service but my intention is to reinforce the importance of employing skilled and knowledgeable professionals throughout government. Downsizing public agencies has eliminated or reduced functions seen as expendable, including optimum levels of supervision and human resource training and development. Inevitably, that results in a civil service that is less effective than it ought to be. For most of us, that is unfortunate. For laissez-faire capitalists, it is movement in the right direction.

My examination of public revenues from the resource industries began after a knowledgeable person offered a tip that material revenues were failing to reach government coffers because industry routinely undervalued and under-reported production. The individual said this continued because government’s enforcement resources were inadequate to ensure collection of amounts properly due. An additional allegation was that mid-level officials were aware but believed corrective action was not welcome at the highest levels.

I also heard a separate claim that top managers of the resource and environment ministries have less commitment to pollution abatement than the major resource businesses they regulate. The reasoning behind this situation was said to be philosophical, the belief of classical liberalism promoted by the Fraser Institute that governments should minimize involvement in the private sector and trust participants to make acceptable decisions in unfettered economies. Believers reject the need for government to act as conservators or guardians of public assets. They believe that private enterprises should be left to maximize their own economic returns.

We’ve reached a strange point in political history where the BC Liberal message machine spins in overdrive, proclaiming more and more accomplishments of government, while the functioning reality is that, in the trenches, managers are looking for government to initiate and achieve less and less.

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1. Statistics Canada, CANSIM Table 384-0038, Expenditure-based real GDP, chained (2007) dollars

5 replies »

  1. Reference Kelowna Daily Courier article: I thought we'd given up on PPPs? Apparently not. If 'they' can exclude housekeeping and dietary from the contract, why not maintenance too?

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  2. One has to look no further than the South Fraser Perimeter Road, to see that those in the Ministry of Highways are nothing but amateurs. Poorly designed, poorly build, the SFPR is an accident trap and who was responsible for this farce, the Ministry of course.

    The Ministry evidently likes the Canada line too, by recent correspondence, even though it costs about three times more to operate than comparable transit lines. The same correspondence could not tell me how ridership is counted (evidently because it is a P-3 ridership numbers are protected as “proprietary privileged”), nor what the actual ridership was. TransLink claims 120,000 people a day use the Canada Line, yet they evidently do not know how this number is calculated, nor do they actually count ridership and what figures are given by the operating (P-3) consortium are not independently verified.

    On asks this question on the basis that when ridership exceeds 100,000 a day, payments would be below $90 million annually, yet in 2012, payments were $145 million!

    Mainstream media interested in that? Not a chance; Nada; nope. The last reporter I talked to said “that with the new Mk.3 trains arriving, capacity on the Canada Line would be greatly increased”.

    Yet when I pointed out to him that the Canada Line was not SkyTrain and in fact the two systems were incompatible in operation and the so called Mk.3 cars could not operate on the Canada Line, he told me; “because SkyTrain is a different technology and the newer cars can”, and he promptly hung up.

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  3. Actually the new hospital in the Comox Valley is being built as a P.3. All maintenance staff will be laid off at the current hospital and maintenance and cleaning will be contracted out.

    The Campbell River hospital, is being renovated and then turned from a public hospital into a P3. It will also fire all its existing cleaning and maintenance staff. Once the hospital is renovated, it will contract out cleaning and maintenance.

    makes you feel ever so secure doesn't it. The province gets the hospitals “back” in 30 yrs. About the time they will collapse, if they don't the first time there is a good earth quake.

    The Comox Valley hospital, is owned by the Catholic Church. turns out they don't do P3s, so the Vancouver Island health authority went out and purchased land to build another hospital. You really have to wonder how deep the fix is in.

    Getting rid of professionals within government works very well for politicians. They don't hear the truth. In ancient times they killed the messengers of bad news. In B.C. we get rid of the messengers so there is no news.

    As the province continues to slide into to disrepair and debts, we have only ourselves to blame. We voted them into office. We haven't been out protesting. Constituencies haven't tried to re-call any of the lieberals, so all is good. I don't know how people think this province is going to carry on with its debt load and who will pay it. As it now stands, the average working person in this province is just treading water.

    The Saudis have said they are prepared for $60 a barrel oil. this weekend I saw it was at $66. When oil slides so does LNG. When the oil patch in Alberta starts to lay off all those workers are coming home to B.C. unemployed. There won't be any 100K jobs. there isn't going to be a trillion $ in income for the province, but we could go a trillion into debt. You see once those workers run out of E.I., they go onto welfare.

    They got rid of so many professionals the provincial government is being run by ameteurs who can see no further than their own personal needs.

    B.C. doesn't even have enough professional social workers to deal with the on going social problems in this province. The B.C. Lieberals are too stupid to even figure out, having one in 5 children live in poverty is going to cost them a lot of money in the future.

    Some countries have professionals and they figured out a long time ago, social programs can actually save money. They know there is a value to a clean environment. Germany and Iran are doing well with their plans for solar energy., B.C. is back in the dark ages.

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