Equalization Payments; and other great ideas in Canadian politics that don’t work

I was reading the National Post the other day about a study that the “have not” provinces whom receive the equalization payments have better social services then the “have” provinces that provide the equalization payments. Here is the link. The print version caught my eye with some interesting numbers that really showed just how much difference there was (these are missing from the online version.)

As with so many things in Canadian Politics my beliefs seem to be changing over time. When I was in university I would have unequivocally supported equalization payments. I would have supported it on principal. I 100% support the vision of government that part of it’s role is to provide social services via taxation. I am grateful to live in a country that has a social safety net, even if it is eroding. Equalizing between provinces, in theory, makes sense. Some provinces have stronger tax bases and whether or not you can get good public health care or education shouldn’t be based on the collective income of your province.

As I get older and arguably, more cynical, my beliefs are shifting. Sure, I still believe that the role of government is to provide social services. The problem I have is that the government (both Federal and provincial) are CRAPPY at providing social services that are cost effective and good quality. So I would kinda rather they let me keep my money. When they can prove to me that they are capable of providing social services effectively, then they can raise my taxes. But if they aren’t going to do a good job, then cut the fat and give me my money back. I don’t want to pay for your incompetence.

And when you have a program- whose stated goal is to ensure poorer provinces and richer provinces have fairly equal quality of services and the poor guys have better services then the rich- well the program by definition doesn’t work. And then what is the point? Why not get rid of it? I know it is more complicated then that- but geez.

Now, I say this within a Canadian context. What I mean by this is that, in comparison to the rest of the world we are INCREDIBLY lucky to live in Canada with the social services we have. That being said, I think there is a lot of money wasted and there is a lot of mis-management.

Particularly, it irks me that a lot of government programs are designed, not to actually solve a societal problem, but to get votes. These programs and spending plans are ineffective, but they sound good, so we voters go for them. A great example is the Conservatives $100 child care cheque we receive each month. In the 2006 election the Liberals were proposing a public child care system- which would help parents of children who work, but would not have helped support parents of children where one parent choices to stay home. Weather or not this child care system would have been well executed is unknown. But the Conservatives used the “you can spend this $100 we are offering you how ever you believe is best,” which is a strong and very popular concept to many people. It plays to just my complaint above: government isn’t doing a great job, so let me decide how to spend the money. The problem with this $100 of course, is that it is VERY VERY ineffective. Why?

1) $100 a month is only a fraction of either the cost of child care or the salary lost by a stay at home parent.

2) They tax it. That’s right- they tax the $100/month. What an utter waste of time and energy if you are going to send me a cheque and then ask for about 20% of it back. Why not just send me 20% less?

3) Not to mention the fact that you are sending this $100 to families that really don’t need it. While bring a child into your life sends financial shocks through all families, there are a good number of families out there whom have enough income that this $100 is really not needed. This means by definition that this program is not meeting its objectives in terms of making child care more manageable for middle and low income families.

Here is the basic problem with politics. It is a job. And a job they have to reapply for every couple of years. Therefore their focus (reasonably so) is keeping their job. If you had to reapply for your job every couple of years you would be more focuses on appearing to be doing a good job, rather then actually doing a good job. Very rarely do those two things go hand and hand. And this is what is so frustrating to me. Do our politicians and government institutions ever really get evaluated on RESULTS? No. They get ripped apart for what they plan to do… but once those plans are in place we largely forget and more and more money gets sunken into programs that aren’t effective. Vote getter programs are rarely effective.

And for goodness sakes- we are sooo focused on budgets. I get that budgets are important. But instead of it all being about money- why can’t it be about best quality within the budget. Often, when public services like health care or education need to cut their budgets they use ‘zero growth’ tactics where as people leave their jobs they do not replace them in order to reduce labour costs. This is pure insanity to me. Instead of looking at innovative ideas on how to shift roles and implement more efficient systems they are cutting the budget by not replacing nurses and doctors when they quit. Less health care workers= lower budget. Insane. The Universities are doing the same. The work is still there people. This doesn’t make things any better. And of course when the budgets go back up, they have to spend a boat load of money to hire and reorganize. All this up and down is incredibly inefficient. Why can’t all public institutions bonus based on the highest quality of service within the budget? Provide we give them a reasonable budget, of course. And while we are at it, let’s give them a steady, predictable budget, so that money isn’t wasted in the constant cut back then grow cycle? Budgets, something that need to be fairly stable and increase with growth, are so often hyjacked by politics.

Come on, we voters need to be smarter then this. We can’t continue to fall for this type of politics where it is all about getting votes and not about actually leading the country. If a program doesn’t achieve it’s objectives and isn’t providing quality service then REFORM IT or CUT IT. We can’t let our social services be held hostage by votes. We need to figure out our national priorities and then demand a government who is willing to make the tough choices to get us the quality services we want. And then we need to give them time to fix it before we boot them out and start again. It starts with us. Don’t pick your government on a sound bite or a well worded speech. Vote based on a platform of actual reforms and innovative ideas.

Now we just need a political party that has some of those.

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One response to “Equalization Payments; and other great ideas in Canadian politics that don’t work

  1. canadian association of political consultants August 25, 2010 at 6:06 am

    Heeey…. niceee… blog…very imformative and intresting……….

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