As I mentioned in Part 1 of this series, it is important to look at the report with an open mind. You don’t have to agree with all of it but at least realize that some out of the box thinking may be worthwhile. I was planning to get to some of the details of the report but reviewing my notes it’s clear more of the mandate and general observations should be covered.
The summary begins with what the mandate of the committee was given.
1. Advise on how to balance the budget earlier than 2017–18.
2. Once the budget is balanced, ensure a sustainable fiscal environment.
3. Ensure that the government is getting value for money in all its activities.
4. Do not recommend privatization of health care or education.
5. Do not recommend tax increases.
We have developed a number of broad guidelines for our recommended actions. Government ministries and agencies should always strive for efficiency gains, not only when driven by overall budget restraint or in response to problems unearthed by the Auditor General or exposed by a spending scandal. We have also drawn lessons from both public- and private sector
restructurings, a series of “dos and don’ts” that we will set out in reverse order
The “don’ts” are proposals that sound useful, but are often harmful:
Do not simply cut costs. The imperative to restrain spending should instead be an opportunity to reform programs and service delivery;
Avoid across-the-board cuts. They represent an abdication of the government’s responsibility to make real, and often difficult, decisions;
Avoid setting targets for the size of the civil service. A leaner civil service will be an inevitable result of lower-cost programs and achieving greater value for money;
Do not rely unduly on hiring freezes and attrition to reduce the size of the civil service;
Do not hang onto public assets or public service delivery when better options exist; and
Do not resort to traditional short-term fixes.
The “dos” apply across the entire public sector:
The government should issue a road map setting out its vision. Such a document would both inform the public about the changes that lie ahead and also serve as a script for all bureaucrats;
Higher priority should be given to programs and activities that invest in the future rather than serve the status quo;
Policy development should be more evidence-based — with clear objectives set based on sound research and evidence — and relevant data collected and used to evaluate programs;
Governments must minimize the cost of operations, but they also need rules to ensure that taxpayers’ money is not abused. The pendulum has now swung too far towards excessive rules, with too many layers of watchers at the expense of people who actually get things done. The Ontario government must find a new middle ground;
Within their operations, public-sector service providers should assign people to jobs where they are most effective, efficient and affordable;
Seek common themes across the reforms to achieve economies of scale and to simplify communications; and Reform must be pervasive and speedy. Broader action favours a public perception that the reforms are fair, as opposed to a view that a few programs were unfairly targeted. Change is disruptive, but the medicine does not go down more easily if it is dragged out over a long period.
I have highlighted several sections which all follow the theme I’m seeing in the report. We must look at these issues from a new directions. As society as a while changes with time, the way that the puplic sector services the citizens of Ontario will change as well. In that regard it is worth stepping back and getting out of our comfort zones to see if better ways can be found. The word opportunity is used in the report many times, and I believe this is an opportunity that will benefit all stakeholders.
The task ahead need not be dreary. Many will scoff that the very idea of creating an organization that delivers the world’s best public services is hopelessly naive, and that we should not even think of such lofty goals. But high ambition should never be sneered at.
Such an objective could instil in our politicians, our public servants and all Ontarians a sense of purpose that would help see us all through this monumental mission.
Why not indeed.
In the next part I’ll actually get to some of the recommendations.:-)