07 May 2012

More pork for the buck #nlpoli

The CBC’s John Gushue has a tidy analysis of Premier Kathy Dunderdale’s recent suggestion that government employees could work from home in the future as a way of cutting down on government real estate costs.

Gushue notes that people have been talking about “telework” for a couple of decades.  But where it was once an idea, today it is commonplace.

Unlike other employers that have looked to telework to improve productivity and employee lifestyle, Dunderdale’s interest in the concept is pretty simple and – for politicians in this province – typical and old-fashioned.  As Gushue notes:

She suggested reducing the cost of the public service ... not by dwindling its numbers, but by shrinking the footprint of its office space.

The reason the provincial government in Newfoundland and Labrador  costs more per capita than elsewhere in Canada is because provincial politicians use it for political purposes rather than just delivering government service to the people who pay the bills for the service.  It’s patronage.

Since taking office in 2003, the provincial Conservatives have done what the Liberals immediately before them have done.  Just as the Liberals transferred provincial paycheques to communities outside St. John’s, the Tories did the same thing in Grand Falls-Windsor and Stephenville when the local paper mill shut down. Overall, they swelled the provincial public service until it had become 25% of the provincial labour force.

Not surprisingly, the province’s public sector unions don’t like the idea of cuts to the number of people they represent.  In an interview last week, the head of the province’s largest public sector union claimed that the current size of the public service was the result of “rebuilding” after a period of cuts.  NAPE’s Carol Furlong said that “we really need to ensure that the people of this province have the services they need…”.

Of course, Furlong is full of crap.  The number of people represented by public sector unions has nothing to do with delivering the services the public needs.  There are plenty of ways to improve service delivery at a lower cost to taxpayers and with fewer members in Furlong’s union.

But, as you will see by looking at the Dunderdale and Furlong interviews, the politicians and the union leaders are in complete agreement on the question of the size of the provincial public service.  Neither of them wants to see it any smaller.