Thursday, March 12, 2015

On unwanted obligations

Mike McKinnon reports that austerity elsewhere isn't being applied to continued seven-figure spending on a Lean tour. But it's particularly worth noting how that particular money pit is
still drawing Saskatchewan citizens' money even as the provincial government cries poor at every other opportunity:
The Saskatchewan government’s freeze on non-essential travel does not include costly trips to the United States for staff to be trained in Lean methods.

Seven of the so-called “Lean tours” were planned between Jan. 1 and Mar. 31, at a cost of $8,900 per person, per trip. With 20 people on each tour, the total cost is nearly $1.25 million.
In light of the travel freeze, Duncan said the Lean tours would have been reconsidered if the government had not been contractually obligated to them.
In other words, if the Wall government hadn't previously entered into a contract requiring it to pay off a private operator, it would likely have determined that the tours were a waste of money. But because it had contractually committed to waste that money, the provincial government was in no position to actually consider whether the spending was worth it in a changed fiscal situation.

Of course, that raises the question as to why the Sask Party was so reckless as to tie its own hands in the first place.

Lean may be one of the more familiar areas where public decision-making is being sacrificed to a desire to lock in corporate gains. But there are other areas - most notably P3 infrastructure projects - where the choice to sign long-term contracts today figures to severely restrict what decisions can be made in the public interest later. (Just wait until, say, a school which should be kept open based on any reasonable public interest calculation ends up getting closed because we're stuck funneling money to the private operator of another one which would be closed on the merits.)

In sum, Duncan's explanation only raises more questions as to why the Wall government has signed away any ability to make the best possible decisions for Saskatchewan. And if we're already paying the price for the Sask Party's past ill-advised contracts, then we need to make sure they're not in a position to inflict new ones on the province.

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