Thursday, July 29, 2010

Twilight of the Bureaucrats

Farmers and cowboys used to say that the scariest words in the English language were "I'm from the government and I'm here to help."

That phrase has been echoed by occupations of all sorts recently as governments extend their influence deeper into our lives.

This morning, for example, the Canadian Federal Department of Health announced a 27 step program to reduce our consumption of salt. Included are new regulations for restaurant menus, institutions and health care professionals.

As a doctor of my acquaintance remarked, "How about one step -- 'Hey! Stop eating so much damn salt!' ". 


Take a moment to consider how many conferences, office confabs and regional meetings it took to identify and agendize 27 different sodium reducing initiatives.

Calculate the number of studies that had to be scrutinized, the army of consultants that had to be consulted and the acres of forest leveled for the piles of annotated and indexed reports soon to be available in Government bookstores.

And then consider the miles flown, the hotel stays, the per diems and meals, not to mention the contributions to indexed pensions.

There's no doubt that busy bureaucrats are a boon to some parts of the economy. But is their work really making a difference where its supposed to matter?

Last year, Ontario spent $1 Billion on consultants and an inner bureaucracy to design a medical record database -- and ended up scrapping the whole thing and starting over because the system didn't work.

By this afternoon, some of the same medical professionals who exposed that boondoggle were questioning how anybody arrived at the quoted figure of 15-23,000 lives that would be saved annually by reducing our salt intake.

Have we all forgotten that after decades of Health Department functionaries finding new ways to get Canadians to follow the continually evolving Canada Food Guide, it was revealed that much of our daily allotment of fruits and vegetables wasn't based on what was good for us but what worked for agricultural lobbies and marketing boards...?

It's no wonder that Government programs from Global Warming to New Media funds are more and more being taken with a (sorry) grain of salt.

And yet our bureaucrats insist neither we nor our governments should be questioning the job they do.

We've just endured a couple of weeks of raging debate over the fate of Canada's long form census, a document distributed to something like 5% of the population every 10 years and comes with an admonition that refusing to answer questions or falsifying your answers can net you a few years in the slammer.

The government decision to make the form "voluntary" has resulted in everything from bureaucratic resignations to op-ed pieces claiming this exhibits our slide toward dictatorship and will be used to do such things as "make the poor disappear" -- (statistically speaking of course).

I actually watched one statistician on CBC Newsworld claim that without this miniscule once a decade sampling, governments wouldn't know where they needed to create jobs. His appearance was followed by a report on the closing of the GM plant in Windsor where the unemployment rate is now over 13%.

Hey, I got an idea -- how about we create some jobs IN WINDSOR!!!

And that lack of awareness of what's happening right in front of your nose, for me, exemplifies both the mentality of your average bureaucrat and what's really going on here.

Stephen Harper may well be a Pol Pot in the making, but can you imagine the reaction if, instead of making the census voluntary, he had imposed mandatory compliance and imprisoned those who objected to any questions they felt were intrusive?

This poor bastard can't win no matter what he does. I was him, I'd opt for banging my head to Nickleback too!


A wise man once said that the true purpose of a bureaucrat is to create more bureaucrats. And while there are many supremely dedicated people working in the public service, how come there are still Canadians in Aboriginal Communities boiling water or drinking raw sewage after decades of government reports and studies saying we needed to fix that problem?

How come the bureaucrats screaming now about not having the stats they need weren't screaming back then when nobody acted on the reports they slavishly labored to produce using them?

Or is this really about a growing public perception that a lot of people employed by the government aren't interested in much more than remaining employed by the government -- and a realization among bureaucrats that some of us might like to see our taxes supporting fewer of them?

A couple of days ago, the newly elected British government chose to disband the UK Film Council, its version of Telefilm, which annually distributes $94 Million to local filmmakers.  Within hours of the decision I was flooded with emails from those who lobby on behalf of Canadian artists asking me to add my voice/signature/vote/whatever to one of the many websites, social media groups or petitions decrying this decision.

Some of those rallying to the UKFC's defense included this reaction from John Woodward, the Council's Chief Executive.

Meanwhile, the younger incarnation of my own Libertarian spirit (Trevor Cunningham) copied me an opposite reaction from those actually working within the British film industry.

And while I only have limited experience with the UKFC, what struck me was how much the sentiments of the working members of their industry echoed what many similarly involved people here feel about Telefilm and the CMF.

I was also intrigued by the well chosen words Mr. Woodward used to describe the situation, words that completely ignored the concerns of the constituency he was supposed to oversee while wishing there'd been more time for further study and consultation on the ramifications of the decision.

As in Britain, it seemed those who did the work fell on one side of the ledger while those who depended on such labor to justify their own reason for being energetically took the side of the bureaucrats.

According to information provided today by Deadline Hollywood's Nikki Finke, you begin to wonder if Mr. Woodward's major concern was not that the films he'd funded had never made a farthing but the loss of his own salary and hoping not many noticed that 23% of that $94 Million budget went to cover bureaucratic overhead.

Is that why their logo even has its fingers crossed?

Maybe its time we took a hard look at how many people it takes to administer the Arts here in Canada and whether, as is now happening in the UK, more options might be available to those making films if they weren't around.


Rusty James said...

Funny thing. Was with my mother-in-law today, a contracted employee of the CNRC (National Research Council Canada), and she was decrying the exact same thing.

She spoke about managers and directors making over a hundred grand, taking two week European holidays and 'writing off' the $15, 000 bill as business related.

But what is the governement doing to cut costs?

Charging every employee $70 a month for parking.

And as I said, she's a contracted employee (no sweet gov pension here) who has no job security - they 'renew' her post every three months - and she only makes about 18 bucks an hour.

But that 'manager' that hasn't worked 5 full days in a row? The same one who only actually 'manages' one other employee?

That bitch makes a hundred fucking grand and takes a month off every summer (paid!) for stress leave.

lifeonqueen said...

Consultants are not bureaucrats. Consultants are how politicians that get elected by promising to cut public service jobs reward their political allies for supporting them - with fat consultancy contracts.

John McFetridge said...

Having the industry lottery funded seems perfect, though, because it does seem like the people who make their living in movies and TV in Canada won some kind of lottery.

Mark said...

This paternalistic element of government is worrisome. It seems the individual doesn't need to take any responsibility anymore. The government will protect us from ourselves and stuff their own pockets while doing it. It's so very rewarding.

I teach at Humber College and last year we were denied coffee and snacks for a meeting that I wasn't even getting paid to be at. Now, I can deal with getting my own coffee and snacks but when the guy who denies the little perk is putting on big banquets and has an expense account the size of my salary I can't help but feel a little miffed. The system is broken.

Rusty James said...

And until more financial criminals are put (and kept) in prison, the corrupt will continue to feed off of other peoples' hard-earned money.