Renewal
October 11, 2012

A balanced role for government

Quote of the week

“Ontarians put a high value on the services that define our society.”

— Peter Wallace

Editor’s Corner
Last night in Toronto the head of the Ontario public service, Peter Wallace, spoke at the 2012 Fleck Lecture on Modernizing Government. He talked about the future of the OPS in language he has used before (see https://canadiangovernmentexecutive.caarticle/?nav_id=83).

He reminded attendees that it is an extraordinary time to be in public service, a message that will resonate with many public servants. He said that governments are in crisis, but reminded listeners that lately governments always seem to be in crisis, and that the public service always seems to pull through.

Wallace believes that government has an important role to play in society, and sees the challenge as ensuring that its big “institutional footprint” runs well and less expensively.

And this is because he believes Ontarians are generally happy with the role government plays in society, arguing that, unlike south of the border, there is no discussion of what government should get out of but rather one on how it can do what it does more cheaply.

He was clear that saving money must happen. But getting things done less expensively will not be easy. He said that the OPS is already lean from previous debt reduction exercises, and that most of the low hanging fruit has been picked.

Wallace outlined his multi-year plan for getting the provincial budget under control: first, reduced compensation for employees; second, finding the cheapest way to provide  services by using partners if necessary; and third, examining the entitlements given to businesses and citizens to make sure they are accomplishing what they are supposed to.

It’s a tempting agenda that steers a comfortable middle road between the ideological streams of the increasingly strident pro- and con-government proponents.

And it is attractive because it buys into the notion that citizens are right to expect governments to be accountable for services, and that over time (and relatively painlessly) cost containment can occur by finding efficiencies.

Wallace, of course, is reflecting his government’s approach, and while there will be some obvious pain, optimists should hope it will succeed, removing the need for more drastic approaches such as in Wisconsin or the UK.

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