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Reform requires proper performance measurement

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26Aug

By: Graham Lane
Posted: Winnipeg Sun, August 26, 2016

One of the major misdeeds of the recently retired NDP government was its failure to create proper statistics allowing for measuring results. Higher-performing private sector firms and government administrations increasingly focus on measuring: Inputs and outputs.

In Manitoba, all levels of government together spend roughly 50% of the money in our economy. The money to do that spending ultimately is derived from the private sector, and it is there where the focus on measurement has been most valued.

The electorate voted for a change in government because in part they want to see significant improvements in the government’s performance. However, sadly, the purposeful obfuscation of meaningful measurement by the defeated NDP regime has made it harder even for managers in the public sector to do their jobs effectively and efficiently.

When the NDP took power in 1999, there had been ongoing efforts by the prior Filmon PC Government to improve government operations through the implementation of performance measurement. This was most notable in the two largest departments – health and education. But, shortly after the NDP took over, they stopped meetings of education committees tasked with measuring performance; did away with most standardized testing; and, over the years that followed, made it increasingly difficult to measure any meaningful output from our schools, colleges and universities. The same misguided approach was applied in health, where performance measurements were soon either hidden or massaged to hide the truth.

In their last years in power, the NDP went farther, removing large swaths of information from the Manitoba Bureau of Statistics’ website. This makes it difficult to understand, for example, population outmigration. Those interested in detailed subsets of the numbers (often critics of the government) had to visit the legislative library and wade through reams of paper to gain information, rather than access information from the Government’s website, as had been available before.

In the private sector, the price and quality of goods and services of a firm are continually assessed – externally and internally. In government, without civil servants undertaking the gathering of accurate and meaningful statistics, taxpayers and the electorate are left in the dark.

The NDP did their best to hide information or mislead the public. For instance, crown corporations were considered private corporations for statistical reporting purposes. That meant that investments in crown corporations were classified as private sector investments, with jobs created in the crowns counted as private sector jobs.

Anyone looking at government published statistics for private sector job growth in Manitoba had to be amazed at how well it was performing. But that was not surprising if crown corporations were positioned as private sector employers. When large numbers of NDPers migrated from government departments – reducing the civil servant count – to the crowns, it effectively grew the private sector job count.

This of course understates the true size of the government controlled portion of our economy. To start a much needed discussion with a more realistic baseline, the new PC government should develop statistics allowing for the measurement of government and crown performance. They should re-calculate distorted historical data and re-release those numbers. Without an accurate baseline and ongoing measurement, the PC’s new ministers and their civil service managers will lack the tools necessary to reform government.

Graham Lane leads Manitoba Forward (manitobaforward.ca).

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