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Entitlement will ensure waste, scandals continue

It would be nice to think Alberta’s health minister fired the entire Alberta Health Services (AHS) board to save money belonging to the citizens of that province. That’s not likely the case.

Instead, the firing appears to be about political control: the board members believing its desire to pass out bonuses at a time of austerity trumped the will of the government that appointed them.

The divide came to a head when the board insisted it would pay out bonuses totalling some $3.2 million despite being directed not to. It even maintained that executives who opted to forego the bonuses had to accept them. That was too much for Health Minister Fred Horne.

Despite the firings, however, it still remains unclear whether the bonuses will still have to be paid out under contractual obligations. With legal costs, it may end up costing taxpayers even more, though very small by comparison to the $11 billion the AHS doles out each year.

Still, the move sends the right signal to unaccountable government-appointed boards and agencies: you’re obliged to serve the best interests of the public, not civil servants … and certainly not yourselves.

There are thousands of agencies across all levels of government in this country, many most have never heard of but still full of appointees with the kinds of payouts, light workload and lack of accountability that would make even senators jealous. Many of the agencies, let alone the boards governing them, are of little use to the public, but make fine outposts for party hacks, bagmen, favoured donors and failed politicians, again much like the Senate.

The sense of entitlement on display in this instance is repeated daily, from the scandal-plagued PMO to the self-serving cancellation of gas-fired plants in Ontario, from the proposal to create yet another regional bureaucracy for economic development to the hiring of township staff that serves bureaucrats, not the public. Every example, and there are thousands more, reflects a culture that comes from operating inside a bureaucratic bubble, a universe where lavish spending, patronage and butt-covering expenditures all make perfect sense.

With governments of all stripes, program bloat and internal entitlements become entrenched. In budget deliberations, for instance, there is a rationale for every spending request. Taken in isolation, each may make sense, but it’s the role of elected officials to see the big picture, and to nip in the bud empire-building and incremental growth.

As for accountability, as we’ve noted on more than one occasion, politicians and bureaucrats make the rules for themselves, and they always make them such that the cookie jar is accessible and has no oversight, with no penalties if one’s hand is caught therein. Again, there are countless examples, but the reality of what accountability means to officials is clear when we see that the penalty for illegally deleting emails related to the cancellation of the gas-fired plants, for instance, is preciously nothing. Dalton McGuinty’s inglorious and abrupt departure as an MPP to avoid further questioning can’t be seen as a penalty, even by McGuinty himself.

Until the bureaucracy is pared down and officials are held accountable for their decisions, we’ll continue to see waste and scandals … and few showcase firings such as those in Alberta.

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