A change of roles

One can never be sure what is going on behind the scenes but experience can often lead to accurate conjecture.
The Government of Manitoba has to pay about 14,000 staff who belong to the Manitoba Government Employees Union (MGEU). When the government set the budget last spring, they announced that there would be no pay increase for the first two years. A 2.75 per cent increase would kick in during year three and year four. Employees with 20 years service would get an additional two per cent in year three. The bonus for accepting this pay increase delay was that there would be no lay-offs. Seems that the MGEU membership has rejected that idea and wants the union management to go back to the bargaining table.
What this move does for the government is that it will almost certainly delay an agreement until after fiscal year end March 31, 2011. If that happens, they will have achieved part of their goal by default and that is to not have a pay increase in the budget for 2010-11. Even if government is forced to give an increase for 2010-11 it won’t be paid out until after March 31, 2011 and therefore it will not impact the budget.This government needs all the help they can get because the budget is in the tank for about $500 million, it seems at this point, without any pay increases.
That a government, regardless of political stripe, lets its employees go for almost a year without a wage agreement seems a bit mean spirited and shows poor planning. 
The problem facing our Manitoba government is that they need to cut back in some areas of spending. It has rarely happened. If one were to track decades of government budgets and even if adjustments were made for inflation, few  governments cut back in spending. There’s no incentive to do so. Politicians hate saying no, love saying yes and do so with a flourish. They love announcements and re-announcements, they love ribbon cuttings. Politicians have no real incentive to cut programs, staffing, expenses or taxes.
Civil servants similarly have no incentive to cut expenses. Department managers get paid more if they have more employees and more dollars to manage. Why would they cut back, they believe in what they are doing, they want to be successful and do more of what they love to do. It’s a tough thing to reduce government costs.
If governments and civil servants could bring their collective wisdom to bear on the problem of ever increasing government expenditures, it would be a good thing. They likely know best how to do things in a more efficient way. It’s just that there’s no real reward for being prudent or efficient. The problem is that if the government and civil servants don’t figure out how to be more prudent and efficient, then the taxpayers and voters will do it for them. Programs will be cut, people will be laid off and there will be much misery. Government can’t keep expanding as a percentage of our economic activity and remain sustainable. 
There are some lessons that might be applied to controlling government expenses. In a private corporation, it’s not uncommon for massive cuts to be implemented and implemented very quickly. That won’t work in government. People who work for the government just aren’t wired that way. Besides, when experienced people are let go, a lot of experience and knowledge walks out the door with them.
A different approach has to be taken and it requires leadership from the top.
First off, a premier or finance minster should announce there will be no lay-offs. There will be a re-jigging of government programs but everyone will have a job at their current pay level. It just might not be in the same department. Every department should be advised that they can expand their services to the public but it has to stay in their current budget. Any new money has to be in partnership with the private sector. Civil servants should play a regulator role rather than a provider role.
Just for example, we need more CT scanners and MRI machines. Let the public pay for that service, especially for elective health care, and have the civil servants play a regulatory role, enforcing standards and regulations. If we need more research in agriculture, or any other industry, encourage private sector investment and have the civil servants perform a review or regulatory role.
There are only so many taxpayer dollars that can be raised before we tip the scale and become a totally socialist state where the government does everything. If we can have the government defer to industry for growth and expansion and have government perform a proper regulatory role, we can hold taxes, grow the economy and have safe standards in every aspect of life from health to environment to education to agriculture to industry. 
If we don’t make the switch, we will stay stuck where we are or slip into being Cuba of the north.

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kwaddell@kenwaddell.ca This is a Sunrize Group internet solution (204)226-2247