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More fodder for those who track government waste

Those who think governments routinely misspend, misallocate and misappropriate tax dollars – i.e. most of the citizenry – found plenty this week to bolster their case.

From a report detailing provincial profligacy to unaccountable spending in North Dumfries, from growing bills and inconveniences associated with the LRT boondoggle and an unjustified economic development scheme, there was plenty of waste and poor decision-making to go around. Throw in the latest revelations of overspending at the unloved, unneeded and unheeded Pan Am Games, and the situation gets even grimmer.

In all, not a great week for politicians and bureaucrats. Even worse for those subjected to the abuses. Worse still? This is business as usual.

A Fraser Institute report – yes, we know – released this week shows the Ontario Liberals splashed about money on civil service salaries, essentially looking to buy votes. The study calculates that between 2005/06 and 2013/14, compensation spending by the government – including wages, benefits, and pensions – increased by 47.1 per cent, faster than all other program spending (38.8 per cent) and well beyond the combined rate of inflation and provincial government job growth (26 per cent).

Had compensation spending’s share of total program spending been restricted to the 2009/10 level, the province would have saved $14.7 billion over a five-year period and sliced $4.4 billion from the 2013/14 budget deficit, the organization found. The province expects to be another $12.5 billion in the hole this year, that forecast coming before a commodities-based downturn in the economy.

Closer to home, the budget woes of North Dumfries Township are a clear example of why council oversight of staff is so very important. Councillors found themselves with staff suggesting a 23 per cent tax hike to cover a deficit that quickly ballooned to more than $750,000 as overspending was the norm, while financial reporting was not. By midweek, council was still looking at a nine per cent increase, and trying to put procedures in place to make staff more accountable and to bring longstanding discrepancies to light.

Perhaps they should look to Brampton, where city council is still wallowing in financial mismanagement following the tenure of long-serving mayor Susan Fennell, the poster child for entitlement, bad governance and featherbedding. The city saw pretty much every ethically-challenged and wasteful tendency on the part of some politicians and senior bureaucrats.

New Mayor Linda Jeffrey, attempting to right the ship, found nothing but pushback from senior staff, resulting in the CAO being dismissed this week. Other heads may roll.

The Toronto Star reported this week that Jeffery tore into senior staff for ignoring city council’s directive to reduce their wages, and for presenting budget information at the last minute, preventing councillors from making informed decisions. (Not a practice reserved only for Brampton.)

Instead of heeding council’s direction, staff came back with budget proposals calling for hiring more staff, increasing their wages and generally maintaining the poor status quo. Tax hikes of two, three and four times the rate of inflation were proposed, rather than reeling in spending, as directed.

The moral of these stories of profligacy and lack of accountability? Without someone keeping a close eye on the public interest, those with the power to do so will help themselves to the goodies, the public good be damned.

A little more local for your inbox.

Seven days. One newsletter. Local reporting about people and places you
won't find anywhere else. Stay caught up with The Observer This Week.

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