Summer drifts lazily by — as it should. Alas, for those obsessed with every nervous twitch, “um” and twitter of the chattering class and their political enablers, summer has led to a flurry of articles and interviews, and, in the blogging community, charges and counter-charges.
Ah, well. I had hoped to be able to keep relaxing. Unfortunately, Gordon Campbell, the legend-in-his-own-mind Premier of British Columbia, has taken me from my reading of philosophy to react to his latest act against the people of this province.
I refer, of course, to the massive pay hikes given to the cadre of Deputy Ministers and Assistant Deputy Ministers in the BC civil service.
If this had been the only one, I would almost assuredly not be upset. I am aware that these pay increments come but sporadically, and therefore must come as a high percentage increase when they do. I’m also aware that, despite the public’s general impression of civil service work as a realm where two newspapers must be provided so that “there’s something left to do after lunch”, the reality is that a Government Department is a very large enterprise indeed, often with far more “lines of operation” than any sane operating company would take on. These are complex jobs: paying for the demanded skills and talent is appropriate.
Alas, two massive increases in two years is just not on.
Here’s the issue: the skills required to succeed in public sector executive management — including making the Department taut, good at execution, and good at policy anticipation — are quite different in nature from those in being a private sector enterprise executive. (Crown Corporations, of course, offer a blend of the two: a simultaneous need to master both sets of talents. Good luck with that: it’s a rare person indeed who can move between public and private thinking on a minute-by-minute basis and be good at both.) So, despite all the rhetoric about “attracting the best from the private sector” and “making sure our deputies and assistant deputies are not poached” there really is very little movement.
Indeed, the movement is far more likely to be between Departments in the same province than to another province. It’s also — to be clear — not been an issue here in BC. There’s been little movement out of the top echelons of the BC civil service of late.
No, this is all about paying off the cronies, rewarding the sickeningly supplicant, and leading, in turn, to yet another round of escalation in salaries of city managers, and between provinces “competing” with one another, and in competition with the equivalent “CEOs” of Crown agencies, than it is about stemming a tide of resignations.
Let’s start with the obvious: few, if any, of these public sector executives are hired by the private sector. The fact that, in BC, it’s David Emerson who is constantly cited as a deputy minister who landed a CEOship of a publicly-traded company overlooks two points: one, he’d been a CEO before going into the civil service, and two, that was quite a long while ago — it’s certainly the path less followed since.
Ah, some might say, but we have to reward these people for the complexity of their jobs. We expect a lot from them. I suppose this is yet another “pay equity” argument of some sort.
Well, riddle me this, then. Gordon Campbell’s deputy minister just got a $105,000 per year raise (retroactive to August 1) to $349,000 yearly. What is she doing today that she wasn’t doing on July 31 for $244,000? In other words, where’s the value to the BC taxpayer?
You see, if there is value to me as a taxpayer — perhaps this is the price to be paid to shave a thousand million from the provincial budget and lower our tax rates, and to slash the size of the bureaucracy and the impact it has on us — then I am quite prepared to pay $349,000 to the person who can weave such magic. You’ll pardon me, I presume, however, for not believing it’s happening here, since (after all) it didn’t happen when her pay was raised to $244,000 last year.
Then there was the timing of this announcement. Friday afternoon last week, as the Beijing Olympic opening ceremonies were on. Talk about “burying the lead”. Compliantly, of course, the local press has done precisely that, since they seem to follow the local mantra of “we can’t let the NDP back in”.
In discussing this over coffee this morning my fellow sipper said “Oh, belt up, Bruce, you just don’t get how the system works.” Well, yes, actually, I do. Far too many people in this province are determined to vote for a cardboard cutout of a politician with a BC Liberal slogan plastered on the image rather than do what needs to be done with such effrontery: boot the bahstids out.
Of course, as I sat down to write this, it’s not as though our Opposition Leader, Carole James, has promised to roll these back and put an end to this kind of sucking at the public teat, either.
If you’re like me, and you expect a parsimonious approach to tax dollars (and their use to build infrastructure for the future), Gordon Campbell and his BC Liberals are the last choice come May, 2009. There may not be a reasonable choice to put in in their place: flaws are everywhere. But after seven years of Campbell I know one thing: he’s the same kind of spend-thrift, “papa knows best” Liberal that I detest Federally.
Boot him out. It’s how we get to say “you went too far”.
ADDENDUM: Today on CKNW “Mr. Premier” remains resolutely unrepentant. “Out of touch” doesn’t begin to cover it. As far as our BC Government is concerned, we can get over it. Such hubris deserves the response of nemesis. It will be interesting to see if enough BC citizens will get over their fear that there’s “no choice but Gordon” by next year.