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Good policy needed, not more NDP spin

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18Feb

By: Graham Lane
Posted 01/14/2016

All last week Selinger’s spin machine cranked out new spending announcements.

Desperately behind in the polls, the NDP continued its spendthrift ways by hiking education spending by 2.55% above the inflation rate and among the largest such increase of its 16 long years in office.

With only months to go to the next election, the latest spending bump was announced by the Premier directly, not the Minister of Education. It came amid predictable applause from the direct beneficiaries of his generosity — the representatives of school boards, trustees, and teacher unions.

Expect more occasions like this: spendthrift politicians shovelling money into low-performing public services to the praise of richly-funded service providers. In simple terms, the NDP is all about pouring new money into old systems, even when those systems are mediocre if not demonstrably broken. In public policy jargon, the NDP’s default-thinking focuses on simple-mindedly increasing resources without regard to results.

Part of their obsession with constantly increasing spending reflects the fact that the NDP is, essentially, dominated and run by the public sector unions. Its power-base is built on costly plodding public sector monopolies that dominate our health, education and public service delivery systems.

First, these systems provide above-market salary and benefit packages while maximizing staff count. This generates a great wealth of union dues for the union leadership. Second, we find layers and layers of management and bureaucratic overheads caused by the old-style civil service focus on excessive internal regulation, red tape and process. Third, and most insidiously, these non-results oriented systems are the foundation for rampant political cronyism, where the NDP has aggressively inserted party faithful and other non-meritocratic hires into critical management positions.

Back to Selinger’s education announcement. The harsh reality is that while Manitoba’s education system is Canada’s most expensive it also produces the lowest student test results in Canada. This, according to international comparisons conducted by the OECD, a prestigious international research organization. So, despite ever more inputs, Manitoba’s education system keeps delivering worst outcomes.

Let’s ask the obvious question — how would pouring more money into a low-performing model make this dismal situation any better? Why should ever more money produce better results? These questions are the desperately-needed starting point for a more intelligent public policy discussion in Manitoba and Canada.

Instead of miring our broader economy down with ever-increasing debt and taxes to fund low-performing models, we need political vision and leadership that confidently seeks best practice as it creates efficiently-delivered high-quality public services.

First, government spending should focus on delivering the best possible outcomes for the consumers of public service, not on maximizing the comfort and benefits of the providers. This means rethinking systems to cut and eliminate waiting times in our hospitals, basing future funding increases and rewards on improving test scores and student performance in our schools, etc.

It also means working in a win-win manner with the abundance of talent that lies within Manitoba’s public sector. This to spend smarter by adopting results-focused and measurement-based delivery systems, cutting out brainless red tape, hiring based on merit not party connections, and relying on attrition and early retirements to achieve lower national staffing benchmarks.

The opportunity is enormous.

Graham Lane chairs Manitoba Forward (www.manitobaforward.ca), focused on sound public policy.Republished from the Winnipeg Sun online edition January 14, 2016.

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