The NDP leadership race is where the action is in provincial politics right now. Unfortunately, the top issues – attracting employers, more private sector jobs, managing debt and fixing infrastructure – haven’t been front and centre. Instead, the candidates are promising new programs and new costs.
Manitoba’s provincial debt is now over $25,380.00 per person (see www.debtclock.ca). Our next Premier should begin by floating plans to stop borrowing and spending more than we can afford. If the candidates are really that hard up for ideas, here’s an easy one: pick the ‘low-hanging fruit’ off of Manitoba’s budget tree. The easiest place to cut can be found in Manitoba’s long list of agencies, boards, advisory boards, commissions, special funds and corporations.
There’s a Trade and Investment Corporation, a Community Economic Development Fund and an Agricultural Services Corporation. There’s a Milk Prices Review Commission, a Combative Sports Commission and a Caregiver Advisory Council. Then, there is the Co-operative Promotion Board with its annual budget of almost $60,000 a year. Board members are paid a small fee to hand out grants to promote a better understanding of co-ops.
Of course, the full list of unnecessary bureaucracy would fill a few pages of this newspaper. Some of these agencies are paid for by taxes and fees charged to a particular industry. For example, the Deposit Guarantee Corporation insures credit union deposits, charges fees to credit unions. Still, it costs the government time and money to monitor each agency, review appointments and to step in if something goes wrong. The fees, along the inferred guarantees, still come out of the Manitoba economy.
If some agencies are really important, it’s still easy to save. Merging two similar boards can save on administration without reducing service. For example, the Manitoba Housing and Renewal Corporation could absorb the Co-Op Loans and Loan Guarantee Board. Civil servants and cabinet committees could and should serve as the legal board of directors for different agencies without extra pay.
Manitoba could even negotiate with other prairie provinces to merge similar agencies – like film ranking boards – to save. Small ones and even ‘big’ ones such as WCB and MPI). The province can cut board members’ fees, shrink the size of boards and use more videoconferencing to reduce travel expenses. Manitoba could save millions if these tactics were applied broadly. It’s so easy, other governments have done it.
A few years ago, Ontario conducted a small review, closing fourteen boards and agencies to save $5.2 million. Cuts included the Ontario Network of Excellence Advisory Committee (shut down), the Stadium Corporation of Ontario (merged) and the Biopharmaceutical Investment Program Marketing Advisory Committee (bureaucrats finally realized the committee was offering advice to a program that had already been shut down).
Late last year, Australia dug deeper into its own agency phone book. They’re in the process of cutting over 250 agencies, saving over half a billion Australian taxpayer dollars.
Agencies, boards, commissions and corporations are Manitoba’s bureaucracy outside the bureaucracy. While trimming them back or merging them won’t even come close to balancing our budget on its own, it would be an easy place to start. Especially since saving money in these agencies doesn’t mean cutting a single nurse or teacher.