COLUMN

The time has come for a new breed

Whole battalions of bureaucrats devote life and limb to their survival. We have more sacred trusts than the Vatican.

STEWART MacLEOD April 10 1995
COLUMN

The time has come for a new breed

Whole battalions of bureaucrats devote life and limb to their survival. We have more sacred trusts than the Vatican.

STEWART MacLEOD April 10 1995

The time has come for a new breed

COLUMN

Whole battalions of bureaucrats devote life and limb to their survival. We have more sacred trusts than the Vatican.

STEWART MacLEOD

Our political parties undoubtedly mean well in proposing that governments operate within their financial means, but unfortunately they all have it, in a manner of speaking, butt backwards. What we need, in short, is a political party that will eradicate the word “downsizing” and instead eradicate government just temporarily.

Then, starting from scratch, a new and unsullied ministry could build a new government, a leaner, meaner machine we could actually afford. Sure, it would involve a disruption of sorts, but so do turbot.

In our never-ending battles against bloated budgets, we’ve never gone beyond the tinkering process, shaving here, chipping there and, more often than not, ending up where we started. Once established, every government department, agency or program becomes absolutely essential. All untouchable. Whole battalions of bureaucrats devote life and limb to their survival. We have more sacred trusts than the Vatican.

Everyone knows it’s easier, and a helluva lot more fun, to build than destroy. Who gets more enjoyment from work, a decorator or wallpaper stripper?

So what’s clearly needed is that still-uninvented party, one refusing to recognize the necessity of any bureaucratic administration, open to ideas of establishing new systems without any regard for the old. Out of decency, the present 245,000—or whatever—federal public servants should be given first consideration for new jobs, but there the decency should end.

And let’s hear no arguments that existing parties—all burdened with traditions—are up to the task. So far, the governing Liberals seem to be making relatively decent headway, but even their three-year plan of scraping, pruning and partial amputations still projects an increase in our annual debt of nearly

Allan Fotheringham is on assignment.

$25 billion a year, enough to turn Albania into an industrial giant. And forget the other parties. The Bloc Québécois, with the comical title of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, effectively consists of 53 political prisoners of war, entirely preoccupied with escaping to their own country. Pensioned, of course.

As for the 52 Reformers, well, they are not very reform-minded. Also a bit congregational. The New Democrats? Just what does one say about a nine-member socialist caucus whose most notable stand in the current Parliament is opposition to gun-control legislation? Rev. J. S. Woodsworth, we can probably assume, is not performing heavenly handstands.

No, it must be a new breed. We don’t need another cabinet to decide that, come hell or high water, we must cut 2,000 jobs from the 6,000-staff fisheries department. What’s essential is the back-to-basics question: “If there are no fish, why do we need a fisheries department?”

Or, if we do need one, why not privatize it, like the railways? If Iceland can catch 10 times our fish, with one-tenth our fishers—or whatever—why not let their bureaucrats run our operation, on commission. Or, since our

biggest catch of 1995 was hauled in by a gunboat, could the Coast Guard be the answer?

Think! If we didn’t have a Canadian International Development Agency right now, would an unencumbered cabinet consider such a 1,300-member aid establishment in these cutback times? Or might the job be done by a handful of missionaries?

Or, with the Cold War in a state of rest and our military know-how dedicated entirely to manoeuvres containing the word “peace,” would that fresh-faced ministry decide we need a Canadian Security Intelligence Service that spends $200 million a year investigating espionage? Doubts abound.

Wouldn’t an unencumbered cabinet question the essential duties of 700 people at the Heritage Department, particularly in view of the astonishing statement by multiculturalism minister Sheila Finestone? She said, no kidding, that Canada doesn’t have a cultural identity.

Which raises a question: what do we get from a $550-million Canadian Identity Program if there’s nothing out there to identify? The Swedes, you may have noticed, don’t have a department of humor.

Why does Canada need government subsidies for small business, for big business, for sports business? Fifty years after the end of the Second World War, do we still need 3,400 people devoted to veterans affairs? An unencumbered cabinet might ask.

Other random thoughts could spring up around the new, smaller, and probably plastic, cabinet table: should a leaner federal government really be in the business of subsidizing special-interest groups—some of whom use the money to lobby the hand that feeds them? An innocent minister might want to know why the Fur Institute of Canada qualifies for a federal grant. Another might ask why the Canadian Association of Provincial Court Judges can’t finance its own activities, whatever they might be.

Should the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, which gets some $270,000 from Ottawa, be considered a special-interest group? With women forming 51 per cent of Canada’s population, what’s so special? We don’t even know if money is going to something really significant, like trying to produce the world’s first female chess champion.

Something else: with 89.4 per cent of adult Canadians in the active labor force, should the Canadian Labour Congress still qualify for federal assistance? Bet the New Democrats have an answer.

No question, we’ve become so accepting of traditional practices that anything beyond downsizing is considered cataclysmic. Makes one think of those bishops who have been meeting regularly for 2,000 years to try to make Christianity more joyful. But there is no evidence that they have ever questioned why their traditional color is joyless black. You see, it’s the basics that need attention.

Stewart MacLeod is Ottawa columnist for Thomson News Service.