Blogs & Comment

A taxpayer’s rant

The Toronto garbage strike drags on, inconveniencing citizens there. Bus drivers in Ottawa went on strike earlier this year and after it ended, drivers were churlish with customers, buses ran behind schedule, and fares got hiked. Then in late June came news that $15 million in gold was apparently stolen from the Royal Canadian Mint.
We might ask: are taxpayers getting value for their money? A resounding NO has to be the answer. It has been such for a long, long time. These latest boondoggles are just more of the same, most of which never sees the light of day thanks to the culture of covering up and obfuscation that prevails in the civil service. Its really about time taxpayers demanded and received more value in the provision of public services.
Why are unions allowed to go on strike in sectors where government is the only legal provider? Unions + monopoly supply = gouging the user. There are no market forces to restrain the whims of public sector unions. Disputes in these sectors should be resolved through arbitration and follow private sector benchmarks.
We cant count on managers in the public service to hold the line. They are administering other peoples money and dont have quite the same interest in judiciously handling the funds the same way the original owners would. They cave into the unions or dont take enough security precautions to guard against embezzlement, fraud, and pilfering.
A 2007 study, Public Sector Efficiency: An International Comparison(or see this summary), measured the efficiency of the public sectors in Canada and 23 countries. It found that Canadas public sector was relatively inefficient and could achieve the same outcomes using only 75% of current resources. In other words, approximately 25% of the spending in the Canadian public sector represents waste.
If some of that waste could be trimmed, it could be passed on as lower taxes to taxpayers. And as mentioned in my latest column, lower taxes can have a salutary effect on a nations economic growth, productivity and standard of living.
But its not just a matter of waste. Its also a matter of governmentprograms not having an effect, or net benefit to society. For example, according to one study, Canadians are funding the developed worlds second most expensive universal access health system but are not getting anywhere near commensurate results.
In 2008, the median wait time from general practitioner referral to treatment by a specialist was 17.3 weeks. This wait time was 45% longer than in 1997, and 86% longer than in 1993 despite substantial increases in government spending on health over the years.
The report also notes:

  • Canada ranked 14th of 25 nations in MRI machines per million population and 19th of 26 nations for CT scanners per million population
  • Canada ranked 26th out of 28 developed countries in the age-adjusted number of physicians per thousand population
  • there are seven developed nationsAustria, Belgium, France, Germany, Japan, Luxembourg, and Switzerlandthat maintain universal access health insurance programswithout queues for treatment
  • a 2007 survey published in the Health Affairs journal compared the experience of patients in Canada and six other industrialized countries with universal healthcare systems and found that – Canadians were more likely to wait over an hour, and most likely to wait two hours or more for access to an emergency room – Canadians were most likely to wait six days or longer to see a doctor when ill and were least likely to receive an appointment the same day – Canadians were least likely to wait less than one month for elective surgery