It's time for B.C. to take a new approach to the civil service
The following is a reprint of an opinion editorial I published in the Vancouver Sun on February 5, 2013
Here are 10 ways to generate new provincial revenue, cut wasteful spending and avoid more reductions to important public services
The upcoming throne speech and budget will outline government plans for the next fiscal year. The government says we can expect a balanced budget. With declining revenues, this will require even more cuts to important public services.
There are things the province can do to raise revenues and cut wasteful spending without making cuts to services. Here are 10 suggestions:
- Allocate resources to the Natural Resources Ministry to address the permit backlog. The BCGEU has been raising concerns about permit backlogs for some time. Permit delays, the result of ministry staff cuts, mean lost government revenues. Business groups and the legislative budget committee agree we need to eliminate backlogs. Meaningful action now means greater economic activity, job creation and increased government revenues.
- Increase the use of long-term care beds and home support services. Too often, acute care hospital beds, costing $800 to $2,000 a day, are taken by patients who need long-term care or enhanced home support costing about $200 per day. Alternatives to acute care hospitalization provide more suitable care, significant savings and reduce surgical waiting times.
- Expand the services of the provincially owned Liquor Distribution Branch. In the last five years, the LDB contributed $4.3 billion to help pay for public services. Traditional retail initiatives would increase LDB revenue substantially. This should include expanded shopping hours, Sunday openings and new stores in key markets.
- Involve front-line staff in new initiatives and program changes. There is no better example of the costs of failing to involve staff than the deeply flawed Integrated Case Management (ICM) computer system. It has cost $200 million and does not work. Problems could have been minimized with input from front-line staff. Instead, millions of dollars are being spent to fix problems that should have been prevented.
- Review forest policy. The auditor general reported on the effects of cuts to forest inventory and research services which have been cut further this year. The Association of B.C. Forest Professionals estimates foresters are basing decisions on data that is decades out of date. Over the last decade more than 1,000 forest ministry jobs have been cut in compliance, enforcement, research, inventory, and silviculture. The Forest Practices Board has warned that government can't track forest harvesting and restocking and is concerned industry self-reporting is late, incomplete or inaccurate. We need an accurate picture of forest resources to maintain the resource and maximize revenues.
- Review Crown agencies and outsourced services to determine if they meet service goals. Over the past decade we have witnessed a proliferation of Crown agencies as services have been spun off from direct government. Many of these agencies have created large management structures and increased management compensation. A thorough review is needed to determine if these agencies are delivering value to taxpayers.
- Invest in our provincial parks system. Government studies show that visitors spend $10 in local economies for each dollar spent by the government on B.C.'s parks system. Parks generate revenue for local communities. B.C.'s park ranger corps has been cut by more than 60 per cent since 2001 and park infrastructure is decaying. These austerity measures hurt rural communities.
- Assign additional duties to deputy sheriffs. In Alberta, sheriffs handle traffic duties alongside the RCMP. The successful program was doubled in the first year, and created $111 million in new government revenue in 2010. Expanded sheriff duties would also improve road safety, reduce health care costs and reduce court delays by freeing police to focus on other law enforcement.
- Negotiate aboriginal treaty and land claim rights. Studies have documented the costs in financial and human terms of failing to address legitimate long-standing aboriginal issues. The growth of the Idle No More movement shows these critical issues require the attention of our society. More than 95 per cent of the land and resources are publicly owned in B.C. and subject to land claims. There are significant economic and social benefits of bringing a resolve to these disputes.
- Provide whistleblower protection to public sector employees. Auditor general John Doyle reported to the legislature that whistleblowers shouldn't have to risk their jobs in order to protect the public. The premier wants to change how the auditor general is appointed. We call on the legislature to include whistleblower protection as well.
The tax cuts and service cuts of the last decade have failed to deliver real economic benefits for many British Columbians. The economic challenges we face require new thinking and new approaches. There is a better way.
To read the opinion editorial in the Vancouver Sun, click here.