Service Canada? Service Ontario? Not! By Jim Merriam

The crappy ways in which governments serve Canadians were pointed out in spades in last fall’s report by the federal auditor general.

Although inadequate roll out of services is no surprise to Canadians outside the Ottawa bubble, it should be shocking inside that sanctuary.

The report suggests that government departments don’t bother to consider whether their services benefit Canadians.

In addition, the hidebound bureaucracy can’t keep up with emerging trends and does not bother to correct problems when they find out about them.

AG Michael Ferguson said Parliament uses his regular reports to learn about things that have gone wrong but does nothing to make things right. Often there’s no fix at all.

“What about programs that are managed to accommodate the people running them rather than the people receiving the services?” Ferguson asked.

“I am also talking about problems like regulatory bodies that cannot keep up with the industries they regulate, and public accountability reports that fail to provide a full and clear picture of what is going on . . .”

Departments and agencies work in silos, he said, failing to learn from what others outside, or even inside their own organizations are doing.

The AG was spot on in his report. He puts a finger squarely on the problem that bureaucracies want nothing more than to be self-perpetuating; so-called service to the people be damned.

The essence of the way free-world governments should work comes from U.S. president Abraham Lincoln in his famous Gettysburg address. He said, “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

Although the thought originated south of the border, it’s a concept that has broad support among Canadians.

Those three little words, “of, by and for” create a concept for government that at one time was the envy of the rest of the world.

But current governments seem to have lost sight of the “for the people” part of the equation. It’s losing ground at all levels.

Examples of how the people are ignored are many and varied at the federal level. With the Trudeau government, it seems they stem mostly from one factor – broken promises.

Are we going to get the much ballyhooed and promised changes to our electoral system? No.

What about balanced budgets, that would benefit all Canadians? That one’s a joke that isn’t even remotely funny.

Then what about revenue neutral carbon pricing? Not in the cards for overtaxed citizens of this country.

Reducing industrial greenhouse gas emissions? No, we’re pretty much just staying where the Harper Conservatives put us. (Remember the Liberals thought the Harperites where Neanderthals on this file.)

Restoration of home mail delivery? Not gonna happen.

Open and transparent government? Not only is this one not happening, things are going in the opposite direction.

Apparently, the people are good enough to pay the freight but not good enough to know where the train is headed.

The aforementioned Auditor General Ferguson says there is a government-wide lack of focus on Canadians.

In other words, the bureaucrats never think much about the taxpayers. Apparently, the politicians don’t either.

If there’s a hill to climb in Ottawa in the “for” the people thing, there’s a mountain range at Queen’s Park where careers seem to be made on the ability to ignore the people. Check the ministry of energy for endless examples.

No one seems to care about the deep concerns the public shares around the $320 billion debt the province is accumulating; or the way in which this government split families and divided communities by running rough shod over local concerns about wind turbines.

Ever-changing hospital funding formulas, growing bureaucracy with no accountability to the electorate, poor management of files from education to the environment, byelection scandals and more are on the list.

It used to be that governments that were closer to the people would be more responsive. Apparently, that’s no longer the case, particularly when it comes to regional school boards.

Across the province these boards are closing schools left and right with no thought to out-of-the-box alternatives, community economics, or what’s best for students.

In another example, the County of Grey that stretches from Georgian Bay to the Listowel area recently put the balance sheet, bureaucrats and administrative mumble jumble ahead of people.

Forced to upgrade one of three county-run homes for seniors in Durham, Grey is moving towards a decision to sell off a perfectly good sister facility in Markdale to private enterprise. The plan is to build one new county home to serve the two communities and surrounding areas.

The plan might make sense from an office in the county building – which by the way is undergoing a $10 million expansion for bureaucrats. But it makes no sense to the people.

The two current homes are about 28 km apart. However, the region served is broad and it’s not inconceivable that residents of the new home could come from 50 km or more away.

If a new resident has been married, perhaps for 50 or 60 years, it’s likely a spouse will want to visit. In fact, it’s not unusual for caring spouses to visit partners in such facilities every day, and sometimes more than once a day.

As the man in the TV commercial says when asked why he visits a wife who no longer remembers who he is: “I know who she is.”

That is the kind of sentiment that makes families work, but is totally ignored by governments.

But back to the example at hand.

With one new home replacing two, a senior driver would have to head out for a long drive in some of the stormiest weather in southern Ontario during the winter.

That’s just one consideration from the people. There are many more that seem to have had little impact on a staff report that had council members mesmerized by numbers, matrices, etc. that make up modern bureaucratic butt covering.

Council also accepted a staff recommendation to hire management experts to run the county-owned homes.

Those who helped compile the report must be hoping they won’t be among those laid off when work is transferred to such an agency.

Because that’s how governments function right? Less work because of hiring a management firm will mean fewer jobs, just like in the rest of the world.