Service delivery
January 21, 2013

A new approach for Ontario public service

On December 6,  Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak released a document entitled A New Deal for the Public Sector in which he laid out his vision for the Ontario Public Service. In this interview with editor-in-chief Toby Fyfe, he offers to bypass unions and negotiate directly with elements of the OPS.

What is the role of the public service in the 21st century?

We’re using the tools of the last century to address the new challenges of the 21st and its time to engage the public in a different way. I think job one, particularly when you’re staring at a potential $30 billion deficit, is to define exactly what government should be doing and what it no longer should be doing. That means setting apart the nice-to-haves from the must-haves.

Step two is determining who actually delivers that program. Should it be delivered directly by the public service or regulated with oversight from the public service? And if you do go down the alternative delivery path, then the public servants and politicians need to determine: is it done on a contracted basis? Do we develop a competitive framework for service delivery? Do we sole source with monopoly service provision? And when you emerge from that, what’s the role in ensuring quality? I want to see a civil service that knows what their job is, does fewer things, but does them with excellence and is rewarded for the quality of service they deliver.

When you outlined your criteria for a program review, you mentioned that a program will be “good or bad or affordable.” What if it is good but unaffordable?

It’s about setting priorities. We no longer have the luxury of low hanging fruit. Now we need to sort out the good from the bad, but the challenge is to figure out what is affordable. We’ve looked to others. We saw Prime Minister Chretien, Premier Harris, Premier Klein and Premier Romanow all successfully reduce spending on a year-by-year basis. What was successful is that they engaged the civil service in identifying and separating out the must-does from the nice-to-do’s and then made the tough decisions.

Program reviews may offload to lower levels of government, an accusation made of both the Chretien and Harris reviews. Will you avoid offloading to municipalities?

Municipal government is a creature of the provincial government and so at the end of the day decisions fall on the same taxpayer. Our goal is to not take from one pocket to put in another. It’s to find an actual reduction in the amount of money government spends on a year-by-year basis to get back in balance.

You call for “smaller government.” Is that really the issue or is it a more focused one?

Both. Though I am not going to mince words: there will be fewer people on the public service payroll. But those that will be on the payroll will know what their expectations are, they’ll be engaged in setting those goals and they’ll be rewarded for their performance. And that includes everyone from senior administrators to frontline workers.

We need to reward performance in the public sector. And I am not talking about some broad-based pay structure where we saw 98 percent of civil servants get bonus pay this last year. I am talking about rewarding excellence. And those who aren’t carrying their weight, are not performing, are redundant, are no longer on the government payroll. You set goals, you measure your outcomes and you reward performance. That is going to give the civil servants a better sense of purpose, sense of satisfaction that they’re delivering better quality services for the people who are paying the bills. And I want our civil servants to look forward to this.

We have to take on the public sector union leadership who have resisted tooth and nail any kind of performance pay. I know that runs against their viewpoint but the notion that teaching, nursing and policy advisors work in some kind of 1950s assembly line is a relic of the last century.

You talk about a new deal for the civil service and an across-the-board wage freeze for two years. Looking at what’s happening now in an attempt to control public sector spending in the teaching area in this province, how will you manage the inevitable unrest?

There are three reasons why we are in this chaos in the education sector. One, the government built up unreasonable expectations by handing out wage and benefit agreements over the last nine years that did not meet the basic test of affordability. And we’re out of line with what’s happening in the private sector.

Second, they said one thing during an election campaign and later went the opposite direction. We have been very clear we will have a two-year across-the-board wage freeze and no merit pay until we get out of this mess. The third thing this government did wrong was that they’ve gone about this on a one-by-one basis. We have 4,000 different collective agreements in the province of Ontario so if you go at this one at a time you’re going to have to go through the circus like we are seeing with the teachers 3,999 more times. And that’s not a realistic solution.

We are all in this together, whether it’s teachers, doctors, firefighters, MPPs, for a minimum of two years. I just believe human nature  being what it is, if we are all treated the same way and do not pick on one profession at a time, we will get a better outcome and more buy in.

Will any group be exempt from the freeze?

No. No back doors, no exemptions. We are all in this together and that includes the agencies of the province and the MUSH sector as well.

But there’s bound to be resistance.

First of all, you set expectations from the beginning. I think we also have to take the message directly to those workers like teachers and nurses. You know, if there is some teacher who is pulling off minor miracles in the classroom, teaching somebody with significant learning disabilities, I think she should be recognized and there should be performance pay. Her salary should not be based strictly on seniority. The same with the nurse getting someone back on their feet in record time. This notion again that this service delivery resembles a widget factory of the mid-20th century does not fit with the sophistication of their service delivery or what the expectations are of those who receive those services in the 21st.

You have a line in the report that says: If you can find a service in the phone book, why hire a unionized government worker? What do you mean?

If you’re going to provide a public service, the choice should be whether that’s done by the government itself directly or through a bidding process. And when you look at areas like IT, back office services, fleet maintenance, logistics, hospitality, in those areas there is a healthy, thriving, competitive private sector market. So whether you are union, non-union, private or public sector, at the end of the day you  want to get the best quality service and the best rate for the taxpayer. If you lock into fixed contracts you have closed tendering. Those things are often just a couple of steps away from corruption.

Your document suggests the role of government is to get out of the way of business. What are its other responsibilities in this area?

It’s providing the environment for people to succeed and thrive, good infrastructure, a strong education system, and social services to ensure that our vulnerable population have support when they need it and to help them achieve their potential. Too often government has been getting into the business of running business or micromanaging every step in a process instead of setting targets for outcomes when it comes, for example, to  environmental standards. The top complaint that I get from businesses is about all the regulatory hoops they have to jump through, the delays waiting for phone calls or emails that never arrive. I think we have to change the attitude to say we cannot have the best public services that Ontarians deserve without a healthy, thriving private sector.

The report focuses on service issues. What is the policy role for government?

It is one of the most important roles. We are saying to the management union that we will go directly to them and say: Do you want to opt out of the union and negotiate directly with the employer? We encourage you to do so. The notion that policy advisors, mediators, managers are part of a union is alien to most other governments, let alone the private sector in 2013. At the end of the day I think the role of policy is absolutely paramount, and rewarding those who come up with the best ideas and attracting the best and the brightest needs to be a core function of government in the 21st century.

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