Opinion Column

Government can always use reform

By Monte Solberg, QMI Agency

The Reform Party of Canada is long gone, but I miss it.

To be accurate, I miss half of it. The party was great while it lasted, but what I really miss is the Reform part.

Imagine, those crazy Reformers actually believed that governments should dump or fix programs and practices that had outlived their usefulness.

Sure, there are still significant outbreaks of reform fever at the federal level. The proposal to allow Indian reserves to choose private property ownership holds the potential to improve life for Aboriginals. The Canadian Wheat Board was given monopoly marketing powers to aid the war effort. Now that we are quite sure the Second World War really is over, it’s heartening to see the marketing of grain opened up to competition.

Still, more can be done. I’m talking about you, Employment Insurance, supply management, grants and contributions and environmental stewardship, to name but a few. At the provincial level, the opportunities for reform are even more necessary.

Note the expense account fiasco in Alberta, the Ornge scandal in Ontario and the Quebec corruption allegations which may soon topple its Liberal government. It’s no coincidence that all three governments have been in power a long time.

It’s an iron rule in politics that it’s the tendency of all governments to get fat, sloppy and opaque the longer they are in power. The only way to overcome that tendency is for leaders to consciously encourage reform even over the protests of career politicians, status quo bureaucrats and party insiders.

Premiers Alison Redford and Dalton McGuinty might choke on the notion, but they would do themselves a big favour if they decided to channel their inner Preston Manning. Both Alberta and Ontario need top-to-bottom spending reform.

For instance, Alberta does not require pro-active disclosure of expenses for its senior officials. Instead, private citizens must spend a whopping $500 on a freedom of information request to find out that a “public servant” is using their tax dollars to get his Mercedes repaired. If that sounds like the punchline to a joke, in a way it is.

Redford could actually polish this road apple by getting serious about reform. Opening up the government’s books and challenging the Alberta PCs’ clubby atmosphere would take guts but it would be a political winner.

The scandal at Ornge, Ontario’s air ambulance service, is breathtaking in its audacity. Incredibly, the Ornge CEO banked a million-dollar-plus salary courtesy of taxpayers under the nose of a government allegedly battling a runaway deficit. That can’t happen without serious gaps in reporting and accountability. Nor can it be fixed without a major commitment to reform.

Unfortunately, at this point the government is claiming, sigh, that they are the victims.

Jean Charest’s scandal-plagued and debt-ridden Quebec government is seemingly on the cusp of discovering that if you don’t reform government from the inside, eventually voters will reform it from the outside.

Tragically for Canada, Quebec voters are so desperate for a new approach that, despite knowing where this will end, they are once again playing footsie with the separatists. All for the want of reform.

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