9.8 C
Sunday, October 13, 2019
Connecting Our Communities

Public to lose as province, municipalities square off


Meet the candidates

By Veronica Reiner & Aneta RebiszewskiFive candidates are vying for your vote in...

Kitchener-Conestoga too close to call

With less than five percentage points separating the Conservatives and Liberals in the riding, Kitchener-Conestoga has become too close...

Organizers aim to put environment at the forefront of election

The federal election underway, environmental groups are looking to make issues such as climate change a central part...

Putting the green in the initiative

The woodlot in Elmira's South Parkwood subdivision attracted 35 volunteers who planted 150 trees Oct. 5....
Steve Kannon
Steve Kannonhttps://www.observerxtra.com
A community newspaper journalist for more than two decades, Steve Kannon is the editor of the Observer.

Critics aren’t wrong in calling Doug Ford’s offer of $7.35 million to help Ontario municipalities do line-by-line budget audits just another public relations manoeuvre.

The Progressive Conservatives are taking heat for a range of cuts to its own spending, including cutting transfers and downloading costs to municipalities at midstream, local governments having already set their own budgets for the year. That’s left many communities scrambling at this point, a task made more difficult by provincial laws that demand municipalities balance their budgets each year.

Asking municipalities and school boards to cut spending by four per cent, retrenching in favour of core services, isn’t likely to endear Ford to bureaucrats who prefer to simply boost budgets every year and pay for it by hiking taxes and fees.

The cuts Ford sees are reminiscent of the gravy train comments made while he was a Toronto councillor and his brother Rob was mayor: there turned out to be far less gravy than expected. That doesn’t mean, however, that there shouldn’t be an attempt at cutting costs. In fact, cuts can be made. And fairly easily, too … if there’s a will, which is the one ingredient missing where empire-building bureaucrats and compliant councillors come together, i.e. municipal government.

The easy part comes into play with a basic cost-benefit analysis: how many citizens benefit and at what cost. Leaving aside spending on society’s most vulnerable, there are plenty of instances where governments spend money, often lots of it, without any commensurate value to enough people to justify said spending. Making such cuts requires first that bureaucrats and politicians actually consider the public good and the public purse – most certainly not a given, as we can plainly see – and second that they’re prepared to make actual decisions that might leave them open to criticism.

As we’ve seen on many occasions locally, officials are always ready to say “yes” to requests for spending, but rarely say “no.” Once approved, even poor spending decisions and lightly used programs are rarely reviewed, let alone cut.

Ford – or, more likely, those working for him – knows this. His voluntary request is likely to hold any sway. By offering to help with the cost of reviewing municipal spending, he takes away an easy excuse not to carry out such an audit, though bureaucrats eager to bring in consultants to spend more money aren’t likely to be as keen to hire consultants to cut their budgets.

If there’s no uptake, as is likely – former premier Dalton McGuinty tried to the same voluntary tack in asking municipalities to freeze wages, to little avail – Ford will have a reason to make the cuts mandatory. In that case, he’ll have to have third-party agents make the changes so that frontline services aren’t cut – a punitive step taken out on the public – and all the savings come within the ranks of the bureaucracy.

That would be a big departure from what we’ve seen, both locally and as a rule in the province. Instead, of zero-based budgeting and line-by-line review of an ever-bloating list of expenditures, taxpayers continue to see operating expenses to rise. There never appear to be any real effort to cut operations in order to free up some money for the growing infrastructure deficit, the millions of dollars that will be needed to replace aging roads, bridges, sewers and the like.

We’ve seen that bureaucratic priorities don’t always align with the public interest.

Leaders determined to set priorities would need to balance expectations with reasonable levels of taxation, essentially selling the merits of more prudent spending. That’s more work, however, than taking the easy road: spending more, and taxing everyone as a matter of course.

Previous articleThe View From Here
Next articleLefcourtland

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to The Observer's online community. Pseudonyms are not permitted.By submitting a comment, you accept that The Observer has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner The Observer chooses. Please note that The Observer does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our submission guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.


Program encourages Girls to give it a Go

Whether you’re a girl in need of a new friend or just someone to hear you out, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Waterloo Region (BBBSWR) is offering a seven-week GoGirls mentoring program at the...

In Print. Online. In Pictures. In Depth.

You obviously love community journalism. Thanks for visiting today. If you have a great local story, let us know.

Music that’s designed to give you a lift

Audiences can expect an authentic atmosphere, soul-stirring ballads, and plenty of interaction with the cast in Drayton Entertainment’s latest offering.Now...

Former Wolfpack soccer player earning accolades as part of St. Thomas University team

Former Woolwich Wolfpack soccer player Brett Springer was recently recognized for his outstanding performance and sportsmanship as the athlete of the week for the...

Young Breslau martial artists continue to excel, collect hardware

It’s been another successful run for a pair of Breslau siblings, who crushed two martial arts tournaments in the past month.

Shantz family doesn’t have to look far to find new owner for historic schoolhouse building

With fall’s arrival, change is in the air, but that’s not reserved just for the weather. A St. Jacobs historical landmark is being...

Wellesley council declares a climate emergency

Wellesley has officially recognized that the municipality is facing a climate emergency, a situation that requires bold action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
- Advertisement -