Column

A time to reduce the official head count

Do you agree with saving $500 million in taxes by eliminating mayors, councillors and their entourages?

Diane Francis January 20 1997
Column

A time to reduce the official head count

Do you agree with saving $500 million in taxes by eliminating mayors, councillors and their entourages?

Diane Francis January 20 1997

A time to reduce the official head count

Column

Do you agree with saving $500 million in taxes by eliminating mayors, councillors and their entourages?

Diane Francis

Ontario's Mike Harris and his Tories are to be applauded for undertaking the most intelligent reengineering of government to date in Canada. Perhaps in North America. And he’s only just begun.

His latest policy is to amalgamate the six municipalities and one regional government that comprise Metropolitan Toronto. This will create a “megacity,” and, according to at least one consultant, will save taxpayers at least $500 million over the next three years. Some of the mayors and city councillors who will lose their jobs are planning to mobilize public opinion against the move by holding referendums on the issue, a move that underscores how out of touch they are with the Canadian public they are supposed to serve as cost-effectively as possible. Imagine a referendum question: do you agree with saving $500 million in taxes by eliminating mayors, councillors and their entourages? Yes or No.

Taxpayers understand what only a few politicians like Harris do. Canadians pay far too many taxes for needless bureaucrats and governmental fiefdoms. The country is vastly overgoverned and simply has too many mayors, too many provinces, too many municipalities, too many school boards and too many politicians. Harris defied postwar history when he introduced legislation that will reduce the number of lawmakers, decreasing the number of people in Ontario’s legislature from the 130 now sitting to 103 after the next election.

The federal government is also too big. Why do we need duplicate labor, education, health, welfare and various other departments at the federal level when these areas are under provincial jurisdiction? Then there’s Parliament itself. Canada has 30 million people and a gross domestic product of $800 billion. California, with 32 million residents and a gross domestic product of $1.3 trillion, is slightly more populous and richer than Canada as a whole. Yet California sends just two senators and 52 members of the House of Representatives to Washington. Canadians send 399 representatives to Ottawa, or 7.5 times more than Californians send to look after their affairs at the federal level. New York state, with 18.2 million persons, has only 33 federal representatives in Washington. The entire United States, with 265 million people, has a total of 535 senators and representatives. If Americans were overrepresented as much as Canadians, their Congress would total 3,524 senators and representatives instead of 535.

Harris s new amalgamated Toronto will have roughly the same population as the four Atlantic provinces combined with 2.3 million. That’s why these four provinces should also amalgamate into one. Similarly, Toronto is larger than Manitoba and Saskatchewan combined with more than two million residents. Those two provinces should also merge. But there is resistance because each jurisdiction is an empire fiercely defended by its dependants.

Even if provinces remain intact, there are far too many legislators in each one of them. California has 122 elected state officials, while Quebec, with only seven million persons, has 125 legislators. Worst of all is tiny Prince Edward Island, which has a legislature with 32 representatives even though it has only 130,000 people, smaller than the Toronto suburb of York. This means that if California was as overrepresented as Prince Edward Island, it would have 7,877 legislators.

And there is plenty more fat beneath the municipalities, too. There is the plethora of school boards, hospital boards, health boards and so on. When Alberta Premier Ralph Klein began his dramatic downsizing, he discovered that some school boards existed even though they didn’t have any schools to supervise.

Harris has not invented downsizing, but he has certainly undertaken it in an intelligent and fair manner. He began by cutting the fat at the very top—his own legislature. Then, he reversed the usual cost-cutting pattern, which is to impose spending cuts on departments. This is a foolish policy because it guarantees that those running the departments will protect themselves and other petty bureaucrats, and instead tend to eliminate positions at the lower level or cut services to the taxpaying public.

Instead, Harris hired a management consulting firm to advise him on redesigning government rather than let those responsible for the existing bureaucracy do so. In fact, his megacity merger will cut fat, eliminate duplication of effort and streamline operations. This is how the $500 million in taxes will be saved.

Little wonder why the mayors and other elected politicians are screaming like stuck pigs. They stand to lose their fancy offices, perks and positions as the city moves into the 21st century run by fewer people in a more efficient manner. To say that Toronto’s 2.3 million people need seven mayors, seven city halls and seven duplicate bureaucracies makes no sense. Chicago, a very well-run American city, has one mayor, one council and one school board on behalf of its 2.7 million residents.

What politicians must understand is that governments have not gone through the re-engineering that the private sector has had to go through. There is no reason why they should not become as efficient as possible, if only because the taxpayers who support them have had to do so. But the most compelling reason to revamp governments is that the tax dollar money pit is not bottomless. Canadians are now struggling to pay taxes equivalent to more than 50 per cent of their entire incomes, on average. We all deserve better, and smaller, government.