Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading...

- Carol Goar chimes in on the Harper Cons' shadow civil service which combines wasteful public spending with private-sector profiteering:
(David MacDonald) He sifted through 300,000 government contracts and pored over the five years’ worth of public accounts to find out what was happening, pinpoint the big spenders and track the trends. The deeper he looked, the more troubling the pattern became.

Not only had the cost of contract workers ballooned, the nature of their work had changed. No longer were they brought in for short-term projects or hired to provide expertise the government did not have. They did exactly the same work as public servants. They sat alongside them, had government email addresses and handled confidential government information.

“They look like government employees, but they’re not,” the economist said. They are exempt from the government’s normal hiring requirements such as bilingualism and proven ability to do the job. And they aren’t on the government payroll; their remuneration comes from a private outsourcing firm (which usually means they have no job security or benefits.)

Macdonald also discovered a large discrepancy between the value of the contracts the government signed and what it actually spent. Contracts were repeatedly revised, extended and modified driving up the final price by as much 700 per cent. Once an outsourcing deal had been signed, government managers had “considerable leeway” to reach back into the public purse to buy more services.
Why should taxpayers care?

First, the government is bulking up its own workforce, while preaching austerity. Second, outsourcing is expensive. Finally, Harper is weakening one of the pillars of democracy: an impartial public service that serves all governments regardless of ideology with professionalism and integrity.
- Dan Gardner is right to note that the single example of a nuclear power plant facing explosions and radiation leaks shouldn't be the deciding factor one way or the other. But it's equally true that contrary to the spin of the pro-nuclear camp, the absence of equally major incidents for some time previous didn't eliminate the risks associated with nuclear power either. And a stark reminder of the real downside may well serve as a spur to work harder on developing lower-risk alternatives - even if the need should have been obvious sooner.

- Not that I agree with all of the CCPA's ideas from its alternative budget. But who wants to be the one to argue against the position that creating 300,000 new jobs and reducing the unemployment rate by 2% is a goal worth pursuing?

- Finally, filed under "necessity as the mother of invention", the NDP may end up making more of a push toward online engagement in an upcoming election campaign in order to ease the travel burden on Jack Layton:
The NDP leader was back to work just hours after leaving Toronto's Mount Sinai hospital last Wednesday, five days after surgery to mend a fracture in his hip.

An election call would put Layton's physical stamina to the test during what would likely be a five-week, cross-country campaign.

However, Layton suggested he would work the phones more and use technology, such as the Internet, to get his party's message across if campaigning were to become too onerous.

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