Friday, March 15, 2013

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content for your Friday reading.

- Jennifer Ditchburn reports that the Harper Cons are making ample progress in their goal of removing Canada from any list of socially-developed welfare states, as Canada has dropped from being the world's leader in the UN's Human Development Index to a position outside the top 10 countries by that measure.

- Peter Penashue's resignation in the wake of a campaign financing scandal will open up plenty of lines of discussion - as well as an opportunity to flip a seat into opposition hands. But let's ask another question arising out of his stepping down from Cabinet: will anybody notice he's gone?

- Carol Goar expands on the futility of trying to apply business principles to government management (with help from Donald Savoie):
To Savoie, this anecdote encapsulated what has happened to Canada’s public service over the past 30 years: front-line workers have been sacrificed to make way for offices full of paper-pushers, managers, supervisors and evaluators. “It is ill-conceived, costly and misguided.”
The bottom-line doctrine took hold under prime minister Brian Mulroney, who decided the public sector should operate with the same market discipline as private enterprise. His four successors have adhered to it slavishly.
It has never worked and it never will, Savoie says.
The first problem is that the public sector is not in the business of making money. In the absence of profit-loss statement, it has no way of measuring how well it is doing. So it fabricates yardsticks and backs them up with reams of reports showing how efficient, effective and indispensable it is.
The second problem is that government is incapable of “creative destruction,” the process by which industry gets rid of outmoded products and develops new ones. Bureaucrats don’t have the power to pull the plug and politicians seldom do it for fear of offending vested interests. “The problem is not that government is spending more on new things, but that it spends massively on old things.”
The remedy is obvious, Savoie says with the same clear-sightedness that once scandalized his boss. Figure out what a government department is supposed to do, then fit the employment level to the workload.
- David Climenhaga proposes that the Alberta NDP make a concerted effort to become the province's "city party".

- Finally, Scott Feschuk nicely summarizes the effect of the unaccountable Senate - and the futility of trying to defend it:
Having existed for more than a century, the Senate has produced a number of memorable achievements, such as having existed for more than a century. Also, there was one day that a plucky young upstart openly defied the two-nap minimum. He was subjected to a thorough harrumphing.

Being a senator sounds like a pretty sweet gig. You get an office, a staff and an annual salary of $132,000. You are also entitled to collect up to $22,000 a year in living expenses if a) your primary residence is more than 100 km from Parliament Hill, or b) you feel like it.

Are there any downsides? Not a ton. Sure, you become: a drain on the federal treasury; an object of national mockery, stereotype and derision; and a feckless member of a legislative chamber that Liberal and Conservative prime ministers alike have sullied and undermined over decades by treating it as a repository for cronies, bagmen and talentless, self-promoting partisans.

But on the other hand: Taco Tuesdays!

Alas, now that Canadians have been made aware of the existence of the Senate, a lot of them want to abolish it—simply because it’s a wasteful appendage that costs hundreds of millions of dollars a year and provides no tangible or intangible benefits to any human.
The bottom line is that even though our senators are beleaguered, they have the opportunity to be viewed by Canadians with a more sympathetic eye—if only they can draw attention away from every aspect of their job, everything they do and all that their institution has come to represent.

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