Ottawa’s Orgy of Extravagance

"waste"

GRATTAN O’LEARY March 1 1924

Ottawa’s Orgy of Extravagance

"waste"

GRATTAN O’LEARY March 1 1924

Ottawa’s Orgy of Extravagance

"waste"

The fourth article gives further examples of waste and outlines suggestions for economizing

O'Leary makes nine suggestions which make for efficiency and a lower tax rate

GRATTAN O’LEARY

SINCE the beginning of the publication of these articles by MacLean's, the King Government has proclaimed a policy of economy. Undoubtedly affrighted by a nation-wide protest against waste, the Prime Minister on February 1 summoned a meeting of Deputy Ministers and announced the following:

1. The Dominion Audit Board, under the chairmanship of Mr. Gonthier, the new Auditor-General, will make an investigation of overmanning, waste, overlapping and duplication in the Civil Service.

2. There will be a superannuation bill to retire from the Service all those whose advanced age has impaired their usefulness and efficiency.

3. An effort will be made to consolidate and unite departments, to the end that reductions in staffs may be achieved; and all those whose services can be dispensed with without impairment of administrative efficiency will be dismissed.

4. An attempt will be made to clear up the housing condition of the Service (exposed in Article No. 2 of this series) with the object of obtaining greater efficiency and of avoiding rental waste.

“When the Devil Was Sick—”

UPON the principle that a portion of a loaf is better than no bread, these steps, or proposed steps, must be commended. Yet knowledge of the labyrinthine ramifications of government waste, combined with experience of the value of government promises—any government!— compels the warning that the time has not yet arrived for those who have been attacking extravagance to throw their hats into the air.

In the first place, there is something disturbing in the fact that Mr. King, after sending for the doctor, protested that the patient was not ill. He summoned Mr. Gonthier to enter the departments with flaming sword to banish overmanning and waste; but in the next breath he characterized attempts by the writer of these articles to show that overmanning exists as “misleading and grossly unfair.”

In the second place, it is well to consider Mr. Gonthier’s qualifications for his anti-waste crusade. What are these qualifications? Mr.

Gonthier has never seen the Civil Service, and cannot possibly be familiar with the multiplicity of aspects in such an intricate, complex machine. He is given the assistance of two chartered accountants whose salaries (fixed by statute at $3,000 a year) preclude the probability of their being efficient.

And with this inexperience and lack of capable help he is asked to (a) inquire into the audit system of government finances, (b) investigate the finances of the Canadian National Railways, (c) clean up the Civil Service, and (d) report to parliament this present session. Not only that; but the Audit Board, which is to do ail these things, goes out of being (according to the statute creating it) in 1925.

Now that, quite clearly, is absurd. Mr. Gonthier can no more clean up the Civil Service in time to tell parliament about it this session than he can get into communication with Mars. The proposition is impossible. It may be, of course, that Mr. Gonthier will be given efficient help and ample time and opportunity to prosecute his work. If this be done, if the investigation be fearless, thorough, intelligent and fair, and if the proposals for consolidation be of the right character, then doubtless much good will ensue.

If, on the other hand, the Audit Board is rushed, or hampered, or restricted in its work, if there be the slightest inclination to introduce partizanship into, or to make political capital out of, the inquiry, then the work will be damned from the first.

Major Operation Needed

FOR an uprooting of waste from the Civil Service can never be achieved by the mere indiscriminate dismissal of a few hundred civil servants. What is required is a major operation. What is needed is not so much a combing of branches as a sheer abolition of branches, a ruthless extinction of overlapping and duplication and of wasted, futile effort. Let me give an illustration of what I mean: Two government departments carry establishments for precise levelling.

Three departments have establishments in connection with topographical maps.

Seven departments have photostat establishments. Five departments support establishments and equipment for the purpose of blue-printing and reproductions.

One department has five distinct engineering branches; and it is said that only one of these operates under the departmental engineer.

Dredging, with its costly overhead engineering establishments, is carried on in three different departments.

Surveying work is carried on in three different branches of one department.

One department has seven distinct branches dealing with lands, each having its own expensive overhead establishment.

Now the need here is not for dismissals; it is for wholesale abolition, or at least intelligent consolidation. Dismissal of a few hundred employees would mean a saving of some thousands of dollars; ordinary, common-sense centralization would mean a saving of millions.

Mr. Gonthier is to investigate waste in government reports. He will find it a rich field for his effort. For the waste that goes on in the preparation, duplication, print-

ing and distribution of government reports simply baffles computation. Blue-books upon every conceivable subject upon which governments exhaust their capacity to meddle; reports that range all the way from learned treatises upon bugs to hearings upon the marital disasters of John Jones whom the Senate has divorced from Mrs. Jones; Hansards and reports of committees that bulge with the verbosity of politicians; statistics duplicated and reduplicated, printed and reprinted; maps; charts; returns; the outpourings of commissions that have discovered what everybody knew before—all these are turned out by tens of thousands each year, and go only Heaven knows where.

I have heard Sir George Foster declare in parliament that he looked upon most government reports “only to wonder that the ingenuity of

man could devise things so useless.” And he spoke the literal truth. For these reports, as dry as the Sahara, verbose to the point of weariness, and thronged with statistics that tell of nothing in particular, are never read. They use up tons of good white paper, they compel employment of hundreds of civil servants, they are often used to provide fat printing contracts for friends of the administration; and they are mailed out all over the country, and usually end up in the waste-baskets of their disgusted recipients. The government maintains a print-

ing bureau in Ottawa. Years ago it ranked next to the Intercolonial as the prey of the politicians, but recently it has somewhat improved. That printing bureau costs the country hundreds of thousands of dollars each year; but let nobody suppose that it does all the government’s printing. Far from it. A large proportion of government printing goes to outside firms—usually to friends of the ministry. Thus in ten years of Conservative rule something like a million dollars was paid into the coffers of the Montreal Gazette.

But the Gazette has not been permitted to snatch all the plums. There were others to be looked after; and so we have seen alternate syndicates of Liberals and Conservatives printing the Labor Gazette; and we have had the spectacle of obsolete reports actually being revived and printed in French for the benefit of a Government’s friends. And this sort of thing, this senseless, vicious drain upon the treasury, has been going on for years.

Try This on Your Tax Bill

Just about the very hour this issue reaches you, just as you scan these scathing criticisms, the House of Commons is meeting for its annual session, to discuss various ways and means for prying money from the pockets of Canadian taxpayers, and to return this in the form of certain tangible and intangible federal services. It is your money—and mine—they're taking. It is your business—and mine—to see that less of our income is filched in 1925. This—the fourth—is the final article in Mr. O’Leary’s present series dealing with federal waste. This article will be followed by several, dealing with provincial, municipal anxl business taxation. You—and I— do not object to taxation. We must pay for governmental services. But Canada is in no mood, to-day to stand for any further financial' philandering. . . . By the way, have you, worked out your aggregate DIRECT taxation bill for 1921? I home. Hence the “heat.” Work out yours, and it will warm you, too.—,ƒ. V. M.

Ridiculous Ignorance

LET me give an illustration—two illustrations—of the J waste and the assininity or carelessness that go on in the distribution of these Government reports. It is now five years since the Ottawa Free Press ended its career. Yet, somehow or other, its demise is unknown to some of the gentlemen who -mail out these dreadful bluebooks; and, month after month, the reports of a number of departments are mailed out to the Ottawa Free Press and come to the Ottawa Journal.

It is twenty years since the Hon. Charles Marcil was a member of the Press Gallery. It is fifteen years since Frank McNamara was a member of the same institution. Yet although Mr. Marcil has been a member of parliament, a privy councillor, and Speaker of the House, and notwithstanding that poor Frank McNamara is in Heaven, the officials who send out blue-books stubbornly insist that they are still in the Gallery, and until quite recently addressed their mail there. Often have I wondered just how many of the dear departed were being still remembered by those mysterious people who dispense blue-books so unstintedly!

Costly Commissions

DISRAELI said that Royal Commissions were established to find out what everybody knew before. It was an epigram of more than usual truth; but although it is impossible to point to a Canadian statute and say, “here a Royal Commission did good,” Canada during the past fifteen years has paid out millions to Commissions. At one stage during the Borden regime so many of these Commissions roamed through the country that Sir George Foster declared they were “as plentiful as blackberries at Kazabuaza.” Mr. Meighen revealed an almost equal liking for them; and during the past year Mr. Kinghashad no fewer than six Royal Commissions going up and down the Dominion at the taxpayers’ expense.

Their genesis is quite simple. A Government fears to face a question—a problem to be conveniently shelved— political friends in need of a job; and so your Royal Commission is set up, and, with the usual benedictions, references—and expense money —goes on its costly way. What happens then is told chiefly in the Auditor General’s report. Huge travelling expenses; private secretaries for commissioners; clerks; stenographers; prolonged hearings —and finally a report which nobody reads, much less acts upon, and which serves chiefly as additional printing contracts for others of the hungry faithful.

I have sat in the Parliamentary Press Gallery for twelve years. During that time 1 have seen countless Royal Commissions come, take their toll, and go; yet offhand I cannot recall a single report of a Royal Commission being translated into law. Not a single one. \ et people ask why it is that Government costs so much!

Then there are special Commissioners—specialists brought in to do what ordinary officials cannot do. An illustrious example is Mr. Duncan Marshall, late of Calgary, Alberta, but now a man of the world. Mr. Marshall (to quote a Gallery wag) was “sired” out of

Alberta by the Farmers’ movement. When the votes were counted in ’21 he was among the fallen Angels—a politician unemployed. But it has been truly said of Liberals and Conservatives alike that while they invariably forget their promises, they never forget their friends; and so Mr. Duncan Marshall was not forgotten. On the contrary, Mr. Motherwell, that amazing Minister of Agriculture, decided that Mr. Marshall must be made an Agricultural Commissioner—at $7,000 per year. For nearly two years he has journeyed hither and thither, the greatest tourist of them all; and for the sake of curiosity, if for nothing else, I sincerely trust that Parliament is informed of what his vagabondage has cost.

Then there is that rich and colorful personality—Mr. William Pugsley, of St. John. Time was when the Honourable William was a glittering star in the Liberal constellation. In 1917 he passed into eclipse; and although he emerged to become a Lieutenant-Governor of his province, the end of his term last year found him in need of a job.

He was not long unemployed. For his old friends at Ottawa quickly found that there were Canadians who had reparation claims against Germany; and so what more natural (the existence of the underworked Exchequer Court to the contrary notwithstanding) than that Mr. Pugsley should be employed to see to it that reparation was demanded and paid? And so we see the Honourable William, whose dulcet tones enthralled us all in the brave days of yore, drawing down $9,000 per year to compel Germany to settle; and it is a moral certainty that she will not settle for a long, long time.

Some Suggested Remedies

1 COULD go on in a procession of passages in revelation of similar waste on the part of governments, Liberal and Conservative. I could delve into the extravagances and lack of method in government purchases; into the enormous sums spent by ministers and deputies and officials for travelling expenses upon journeys that are frequently unnecessary and futile; into the amazing abandon with which large sums of public money are placed in the estimates for projects estimable but not vital; into the bureaucratic red tape that prohibits action and efficiency, but space does not permit. And so I come now to put forward some suggestions for the achievement of economy. In so doing I have no illusions about a panacea or a cure-all. I have watched and studied government long enough to know that there is no short cut to perfection. I have watched it long enough, and know sufficiently of human nature in politics, to realize that

many of the rules which secure efficiency in private enterprise cannot be applied to government. Yet, weighing these considerations, and making allowance for factors that are inseparable from democracy, I am convinced that there is wide room for improvement in the administration of this country, and to that end, I venture the following:—

1. Retrenchment should begin with parliament itself. I would reduce the sessional indemnities of senators and members of the Commons by one thousand dollars— making the indemnity $3,000 instead of $4,000 a year. (Up to four years ago it was but $2,500.) As there are 235 members of the Commons and ninety-six senators, this would effect an annual saving of $331,000 a year.

2. The Cabinet should be considerably reduced in size; there being no satisfactory reason why the cabinet which governs nine million Canadians should be twice as large as the cabinet which governs one hundred million Americans. Railways and Canals, Marine and Fisheries, and Public Works are all public works; and should be under one department— Public Works—in charge of one, instead of three ministers.

The department of the Secretary of State should be abolished. Its chief duties are the incorporation of companies—clearly a proper function for the department of Trade and Commerce. The departments of Customs and Finance should be merged into one. These departments are both concerned with fiscal questions; and there is no sound reason for two ministers or for two large separate staffs.

Finally, the office of the solicitor-general should be abolished altogether. In England the solicitor-general takes charge of court cases in which the government is concerned. In Canada the same work is performed by the deputy minister of justice; the solicitor-general rarely, if ever, goes to court; and there is not a duty or a task in his

Don’t Prune—Lop !

In all this discussion of waste and extravagance don’t overlook the civil servant who is not over-paid—ivho may even be entitled to a larger stipend. MACLEAN’S MAGAZINE has received several letters calling attention to some instances where ridiculously low salaries are paid for work requiring a high standard of intelligence and a full sense of responsibility.

A fair day’s work—and adequate pay therefor—that’s the point to be emphasized.

It is self-evident that many branches are not overpaid. Whether they are sufficiently remunerated may be questioned. For example, in the Toronto Post Office ninety-four per cent, of the employees receive salaries ranging from $750 a year to $1,500 a year. In the great mass, there can be no question here of over-payment.

But — there are many drones — many overpaid inefficients—many ivho should not not be employed at any figure—and it is these timeand money-wasters who must be ruthlessly lopped off.

office which could not be performed by the officials of the

Department of Justice.

Cut Cabinet to Nine?

CUCH an amalgamation, if carried out, would reduce ^ the present cabinet of fourteen ministers to a cabinet of nine ministers. It would mean not alone the saving of salaries of five ministers; it would almost certainly save hundreds of thousands of dollars annually through the reductions of staffs and the greater efficiency and mobility that amalgamation of departments would involve.

3. The Civil Service Act should be amended to give (a) deputy ministers more control over their staffs and more voice in promotions, and (b) to secure some elastic system under which employees may be transferred quickly from one department to another; this to replace the present system under which, largely because of the red-tape in securing transfers, a department in need of extra help rarely seeks it from another department, but advertises for additional employees.

4. Some kind of board or committee should be established which would exercise the same control or check upon the growth of the staffs of departments that is exercised by the Treasury Board in England. The British Treasury Board from time to time compels heads of departments to appear before it and

show cause why their staffs should not be reduced, or why extra help taken on in cases of special work or emergency cannot be dispensed with. In this way overmanning is prevented. A similar control should be and could be established in Ottawa.

5. Civil Servants should be compelled to work at least seven and a half instead of six and a half hours each day; a stop should be put to the practice whereby the whole administrative machinery of the country ceases on every

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Ottawa s Orgy of Extravagance

Continued from vage 15

church holiday; and the four o’clock closing hour in summer time should be abolished.

6. The system whereby the Civil Service is scattered all over Ottawa, thus prohibiting efficiency, should be abolished as soon as practicable. Departments should be consolidated; duplication of effort abolished; and rentals, where and when necessary, should be placed upon a business-like basis.

7. The War Purchasing Commission should be restored and placed upon a basis independent of partizanship and patronage. It should have charge of all important government purchases (apart from petty departmental transactions) and have full power to obtain all government supplies and material solely upon the principle of good business.

_ 8. An editorial committee should be given wide powers to supervise, edit and restrict government publications. It should not only co operate with departmental heads in restricting the size of government reports, but should endeavor to eliminate the enormous duplication that exists, and should possess certain powers of veto in respect of the publication of reports which possess no real value.

9. There should be a committee of the House of Commons to deal with estimates,

such as is the case in England. This committee, which should be composed of the best men of all three parties, should consider all estimates solely upon their merits. It would not be easy to free it entirely of partizan considerations, or of other obvious weaknesses; yet I am convinced that it would exercise a potent check upon the “Pork Barrel,” and that it would in large measure prevent all kinds of expenditure being rushed through the House without adequate consideration in the dying days of the session.

Just a word in conclusion. In these articles I have honestly tried to point out a national evil, and to suggest a remedy. In doing so I trust that I have not too greatly sinned against fairness and reason; and if at times I have appeared more vigorous than logical, if sometimes I seemed content to be right merely in the gross, I can but plead imperfection of style and not rancour of motive.

I have not written for or against any party or group or faction, but have merely tried to contribute something worthwhile to the discussion of a national problem. How far I have succeeded it is for my readers to judge; my own parting word must be with Byron:

“What is writ, is writ;

Would that it were worthier!”