Friday, December 9, 2016

Déjà Vu All Over Again

There are none so blind as those that cannot see.

He didn’t say those words, but that’s the real message delivered last week by Michael Ferguson, the federal auditor general.

Auditors-general give regular reports on how our governments, federal and provincial, are performing. The reports often are litanies of waste and screw-ups that governments promise to fix. Sometimes fixes are made, often they are not and some problems continue to exist for years, even decades.

In his fall report, Ferguson revealed why problems don’t get fixed. Why governments fail to serve us the way they should.

Governments don’t see because they are looking in the wrong direction. They are looking towards themselves, instead of the people.

“Over the years, our audit work has revealed government’s lack of focus on end-users, Canadians,” he said in a special message attached to his fall report.

Which really means that civil servants and politicians manage programs to accommodate themselves rather than the people they are supposed to serve.

“What about programs in which the focus is on measuring what civil servants are doing rather than how well Canadians are being served? In such cases, the perception of the service is very different depending on whether you are talking to the service provider or to the citizen trying to navigate the red tape.”

Ferguson said an example is the federal government’s many new measures implemented to improve security, yet speed the flow of goods and travellers across the border.

“However,” he writes “these departments and agencies cannot show Canadians how these measures have significantly enhanced border security or accelerated travel and trade.”

I can second that, having made a trip to the U.S. last month.

When you arrive at Toronto International for an out-of-country flight you enter a massive hall filled with computer stations. You feed a computer your passport, stand very still while it takes your picture, then you receive a piece of paper with your photo on it.

You then show your piece of paper to someone who directs you to another officer who looks at the paper, then you go to the U.S. immigration officer who looks at the paper and your passport and you, before you pass through to the hell of emptying your pockets, hauling out your electronics, taking off your shoes, and explaining that you have a titanium knee that is going to set off the alarms on the body scanner you have to pass through.

Returning from outside the country, the traveller is greeted at Canada Customs (or whatever they are calling it this year) by rows of computer screens. You give your passport to the screen, which asks you some questions, then issues you a sheet of paper.

You walk into a line, show the paper to an officer who directs you to another officer. You show that officer the paper and he or she may direct you to another officer who interrogates you, or to a hallway to another officer who takes the paper.

It used to be that going or coming you stood in line, walked up to a counter where an officer checked your passport and grilled you about where you are going, or where you have been.

Going and coming these days you get the impression that computer sales folks spent a lot of time wining and dining some politicians and civil servants.

A day or so after Ferguson made his fall report, Ontario auditor general Bonnie Lysyk released hers. Another day, another litany.

Lysyk reported that Ontario rewards shoddy contractors with more work, has a climate change plan that will help California more than Ontario, has yet to finish its eHealth digital health strategy after 14 years and $8 billion worth of effort.

She also noted that Ontario increased its advertising spending by 66 per cent. That spending of course came after Premier Wynne softened the laws banning use of public funds for partisan ads.

Nearly $50 million of that huge increase in ad spending went to ads promoting the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan, an idea that crashed and burned soon after take-off.

Like Ferguson noted in his federal report: it’s déjà vu all over again.


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