Who will review the reviewers?

The BC Government has ordered an extensive review of BC Ferries and Translink, apparently to look for savings. Even the heaps of gravy slathered over the executives and boards will not be safe from the review, which will likely result in nothing.

I’m no fan of Fat Cat public sector salaries (which are rampant), but one wonders what the government hopes to achieve by conducting a review for independent organizations that in theory don’t have to abide by any recommendations made as a result of the review.

Finance Minister Colin Hansen is quoted in the Vancouver Sun as saying, “During these challenging economic times, we must ensure that services provided to ratepayers are done so in a way that is financially sustainable and provides maximum value for all British Columbians.”

Why not do that all the time?

While this seems like a token gesture we can hope (dream) that a similar process will be used to review the performance of the fattest of the public employee cats : elected politicians. A review of our political systems to”ensure that services provided to ratepayers are done so in a way that is financially sustainable and provides maximum value for all British Columbians,” is the one thing that would be supported, nay applauded, by said ratepayers. It is also a matter that politicians could actually do something about, as they (I guess I have to start saying “we”) name their own salaries.

This built in “Cats guarding the Mouse House” system is yet another antiquated way that those holding public office are shielded from accountability, and largely regarded as the Lowest of all Life Forms.

A title which most seem content with.



Filed under Canadian politics, Sunshine Coast Board of Education

6 responses to “Who will review the reviewers?

  1. Silas

    The answer to your question is easy: voters.

    There is no more fragile or tightly scrutinized threshold for accountability than being elected. You may get your 3-4 years, maybe even months as the federal case may be these days, but then you’re judged by voters who certainly are not accountable to anyone else for their act of voting. They can kick you out because they don’t like the way you look, don’t like the design of your blog, etc.

    That isn’t much job security, and is A LOT of accountability. There is no stronger form. Provincial and federal politicians may get pensions but only if they’ve been successfully elected enough times. Otherwise, there’s no union, no contract, no severance. Meanwhile, the job of provincial and federal politicians in particular (some municipal) is basically 24-7, with constant and universal public scrutiny (or sometimes disgust, as you and many others seem to hold for “politicians” even without much explanation).

    Ever get an impression of our MLA or MP’s schedules? They’re constantly on the go, whether the House is in session of not. I can’t think of many jobs (except maybe IN the transportation sector?) that require as much travel, either. I don’t mean “junkets,” either, because they’re impossible to get away with these days anyway: I mean constant plane trips from Vancouver to Ottawa, or Prince George to Victoria. Lots of time hanging around in airports. Exciting.

    And how about as much responsibility? Even if one isn’t in a position of power, they all get blamed for everything by everybody. Justifiably but often unjustifiably, too.

    The pay? Provincially and federally it’s probably at a fair level now. Locally it generally isn’t, except in cities.

    Regarding pay, I feel there is a contradiction in your argument. A fair wage/honorarium *contributes* to accountability. Otherwise, why take the job seriously? Why show up to meetings? The primary answer to this question for most people is a genuine belief in the importance of community service, but receiving compensation significantly adds to the seriousness and prioritization one takes in a position. I’ve served on many boards and committees due to my belief in the causes, but if in one case you are elected and compensated by the public, it automatically and immediately demands a higher level of responsibility.

    Traditionally, politicians hardly compensated themselves because they were, indeed, largely “fat cats” who were using their positions to enhance or promote their business interests. The concept of “conflict of interest” didn’t really exist; arguably, it was the name of the game. And raising compensation for elected positions was against their interests because that would open up their elitist domain to others who could then afford to run.

    Similarly, bastions of conservatism at the local level tend to keep their rates of compensation extremely low because generally, the money is a nice supplement to a pension for retirees, but also low enough so that the next election won’t attract much interest from working people who simply cannot afford to take on such a position for the hours required. For even tireless volunteers, why drop many of the important groups and causes you’re involved in so that you can be subjected to higher public scrutiny and responsibility in an elected position? I don’t believe that compensation would be the number-one reason for anyone, but on the other hand for many people it plays a role in making the choice/opportunity viable.

    Economic incentives work in this direction, too: people will keep compensation low because it is high enough for their own financial situations but impossible for potential competitors’.

    But aren’t elected bodies supposed to represent the public at large? So how is that working on the Sunshine Coast? Retirees and the self-employed are certainly well represented, but for the vast majority of full-time workers who are not self-employed, I am aware of ONE who has taken on an elected position. A second one just retired earlier than planned because the elected responsibilities and time commitments were too strong to keep a full-time job as well.

    Finally, many governments under-function, including our provincial government which has drastically cut back on its time in session, and federal government which is hamstrung because it’s a minority with no other parties that partially support its agenda. Many local governments leave virtually all responsibilities including community leadership, and taking the public heat, to staff. So I can somewhat empathize with the argument that these people should be paid less for under-functioning. However, I believe the only outcome would be more compliant/complacent individuals in office, weaker public representation, and more under-functioning.

    Instead, I believe the biggest obstacle to true public accountability is the political party. If political parties are going to demand that our elected representatives spend half or even three-quarters of their time engaging in adversarial politics and trying to get sound-bites on behalf of their party, rather than working for the people/region that elected them, I think that perhaps the political party, rather than taxpayers, should be on the hook for paying them for that time.

    • Jason Scott

      Thank you for the well written comment. I should say that I am not against politicians being fairly compensated. Nor am I against politicians, per se. But I am frustrated with our system of government. And I know many politicians are hard working and dedicated, at least when they start out. However, the vast majority won’t speak out against the systemic lack of integrity in our governmental systems and, if you’re not part of the solution…

      You’ve raised many points and I appreciate the time you’ve taken in your rebuttal. Having said that, let’s get it on.

      I appreciate your opinion, but your treatise is reminiscent of the rhetoric heard mostly from politicians immediately after giving themselves a big raise. Not to say you haven’t raised some good points, but simply saying your BFF’s work really hard and deserve salaries two or three or four or five times the average salary doesn’t make it so.

      Here’s an article from The Tyee, written just before our provincial MLA’s gave themselves a big fat raise, including a 50% raise for the premier:

      “BC Legislator: Nice Gig!
      MLAs got full-time pay for nine week session. Gordon Campbell is arranging a raise.”

      By Will McMartin, 9 Feb 2007, TheTyee.ca

      In answer to your question, no I’m not completely sure what an MLA or MP’s schedule is. That’s the problem: no one really does. I’d be happy to look over their time sheets if some one wants to submit them to me. I’d be interested in seeing the gruelling “24/7” workload you speak of. I’m not saying all MPs and MLAs are lazy, but, unfortunately, much of the work of a politician is optional. Sure you might not get re elected if you’re a slacker, but that’s a far cry from accountability.

      Saying that an election every four years is all the input that the people breaking their backs to pay the huge salaries and pensions deserve is both patronizing and preposterous.

      Similarly, the argument that politicians should be paid fat salaries because they are only guaranteed a few years of pay (plus fat taxpayer funded pensions from 55 until death) is a slap in the face to working folks.

      These days most people would be ecstatic to have four years of job security with an average wage, never mind salaries that place them in the top ninety percent or so of society. Now imagine if, in the real world, jobs were doled out for four years, regardless of what you did, or didn’t do, during those four years! With no reviews, evaluations, etc from employers until the four years was up!

      The erroneous attitude that these jobs are so much more difficult and therefore exempt from the accountability that the rest of us poor slobs live with fuels the frustration and “disgust” that you identify. For instance, you point out that much of the job entails flying and waiting in airports, which certainly might be boring, but is not something that takes any skill or expertise. This, again, is something most people would be happy to be well paid to do. Don’t get me started on the fact that those flights are usually to cast predetermined votes that could literally be phoned in, since the vast majority of MPs and MLAs vote based on their party affiliations, rather than the wishes of their constituents.

      Furthermore, to say that MPs and MLAs face “constant and universal public scrutiny” is naïve and simply not true. The public doesn’t have access to their elected “representatives” and certainly can’t scrutinize what they’re doing. A handful of politicians certainly face media scrutiny, which might be unpleasant, but it doesn’t equal public scrutiny, and, again, is not accountability in any real sense.

      As stated earlier I’m not against politicians being paid. I am against politicians deciding how much they should be paid. This system, in which the people paying the wages have no say in how much the positions should be paid (regardless of who they vote for), is much more akin to a feudal monarchy than a democracy. It is also the most blatant example of how our system is much more geared towards the people serving those in government, rather than the other way around. The whole “By the people…” concept has been completely left out of our system of government, which should just be called a Cracy.

      Okay, one last point for now. I vowed to keep this blog about traffic and puppy dogs, and maybe even some school board stuff, but YOU KEEP PULLING ME BACK IN. This was supposed to be a happy place.

      You seem dumbfounded by the “disgust” people feel for our political system. Well, if the above points aren’t enough to shed some light on why politicians aren’t generally held in as high esteem as, say, lawyers, there’s also the simple fact that politicians lie. They lie a lot. Many seem to think it’s part of the job. It’s become the basis of the system. It’s not acceptable to the people and they would do something about it if they could. Your magic panacea of voting has no effect on that, either.

      Which brings us to Low Voter Turnout: Is it really that hard to figure out why less and less people bother showing up?

  2. Silas

    OK, I guess if I’m “naïve,” “patronizing,” “preposterous,” “simply not true” and “erroneous” I should just shut my mouth.

    I get it, and will do.

  3. Jason Scott

    C’mon, don’t be like that.

    I’m not attacking you, or I certainly didn’t mean to sound like that. Rather, I was simply giving my perspective on the points that you raised.

    You pointed out that I didn’t offer any explanation for the frustration that me and my kind spout, so I was trying to support my position.

    I don’t want you to “shut your mouth” On the contrary, I was expecting another rejoinder.

    I apologize if you felt my reply was unfair. I am passionate about the (crumbling) state of our governmental systems, and I think things need to change. Quickly.

    But it’s not your fault, at least not entirely.

    And you forgot “dumbfounded.”

  4. Silas

    I thought I included “dumbfounded.” Now I see I edited my post down to drop the sentence about the inferences you made about some things I wrote. I’ve been in plenty of those name-calling, hyperbolic, ad hominem types of arguments over the years but now as an elderly grey-haired man I’m tired of winning them all the time. I’d rather have a boring, respectful discussion about ideas instead.

    And surprisingly, I’m not dumbfounded at all. I was lucid in the late 80s and early 90s when people were really angry about corrupt and lying politicians. Now, comparitively, there is a lot less of this going on (i.e. conflict of interest, patronage appointments), but the problem seems to be that most people don’t care one way or the other. A big reason for this is that culturally, we are becoming a more individualized society. Most people like this as they get to spend their free time satisfying their personal appetites from a selection of millions of TV shows/websites/DVDs/books they’ve ordered online/video-games/social media but the fact is that this wonderful array of beautiful choices comes at the sacrifice of the collective interest. One (not me) could go a step further and argue that reality TV is blurring into our reality.

    Would people be more interested in government if we had a charismatic, loved/hated TV-friendly celebrity politician like Pierre Trudeau (our Obama) running the country? Honestly I wonder if he’d last these days. He was supposedly a man who valued his privacy, and that’s not really possible anymore. He was also intellectual and thought-provoking and today’s media and its audience generally prefers quick & dumbed-down. To me it’s more amazing that Obama managed to overcome this in 2009 than the race issue.

    I think “By the people…” plays out in a very different but incredibly powerful way these days and that is through polling and the media (via advertisement and newspaper sales). Short-term media strategy/polling popularity dictates government direction more than good, thoughtful, long-term policy does. And this, according to the daily polls and audience ratings numbers, is what the people want. Right?

  5. Silas

    2008, not 2009. I was too dumbfounded to take notice.

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