We get what we pay for
By: Brian Bachynski
| Posted: Saturday, Aug 17, 2013 06:00 am
When I was a young lad, my father used to tell me, “Son, if you really want to get rich, get into politics.” I scoffed at the idea. In fact, I’ve been scoffing at the idea all of my life, until I heard of a guy named Stephen Duckett.
You remember the guy – the former Alberta Health Services CEO who was canned for refusing to talk to reporters about emergency room care. Instead, he waved a cookie at the cameras and insisted he was busy eating. Duckett had a five-year contract with the province paying him a base salary of $575,000, a car allowance of $18,000 annually, an annual bonus up to $143,750, a $50,000 moving bonus (moving bonus? He must have an awful lot of stuff to move), six weeks’ vacation and one paid year of sabbatical for every five years of service. His firing cost Albertans about $680,000 in severance.
Of course, there have been many Stephen Ducketts in the past, but this guy just seemed to crystallize what’s wrong with government – the sense of entitlement. Today, we have senators Pamela Wallin and Mike Duffy who continue to remind us that money may indeed grow on trees.
Examples of government excess are all around us. From unused hotel rooms the Redford government booked at the London Olympics, costing Albertans $113,000, to the $16 glass of orange juice ordered by former MP Bev Oda, the appetite for spending public money knows no bounds.
This appetite also exists at the municipal level, but it takes the form of overrepresentation. We need not look any further than our own back yard to see that we are suffocatingly over-governed. By definition, our capital region consists of 24 municipalities. Of course, each municipality has elected officials. In the capital region alone, there are more than 150 elected politicians collecting salaries and using expense accounts. Quick math suggests that we have a politician for roughly every 7,700 people living in the capital region (in places like Calmar, there’s a politician for every 395 people).
But that’s not the worst of it. Each municipality has its own bureaucracy, complete with its own bricks and mortar, recreation departments, tourism departments, public works departments, planning departments, and the list goes on. Of course, each of these departments have staff who collect wages and in most cases, benefits. The City of St. Albert alone employs some 600 people – that’s the equivalent of one staff member for every 102 people.
In the world of private enterprise, a sensible businessperson would look at this picture and label it insanity. The obvious thing to do is consolidate operations to eliminate duplication and save money. Do we really need 24 planning departments? Do we really need 150 politicians? Do we really need thousands of civic staff? Do our taxes really need to be this high?
Governments at all levels talk about the responsible spending of taxpayers’ dollars, and every election year taxes invariably become a key issue, yet nothing really changes. Until we decide to change the fundamental structure of government, we’ll continue to get what we pay for.
Brian Bachynski is the publisher of the St. Albert Gazette, and he buys his orange juice in bulk.