By Corrie Sakaluk
Don Drummond is Premier Dalton McGuinty’s invited Chair of the Commission on the Reform of Ontario’s Public Services. He is currently Matthews Fellow in Global Public Policy at Queen’s University, and worked for almost 23 years at the federal Department of Finance (most recently as Associate Deputy Minister co-ordinating the planning of annual federal budgets), and then worked for 10 years as the Senior Vice President and Chief Economist at TD Bank.
In his official message as Chair, Drummond states his appreciation for the “extraordinarily wide mandate” given to the Commission, which he says “makes it much more than a simple exercise in cost-cutting”.
He goes on to say that the mandate has “allowed us to delve into almost every corner of the government’s activities” although it has restricted them in that they were “not able to conduct comprehensive consultations” in such a limited time-frame.
The rest of his opening letter emphasizes the need for a “sharp degree of fiscal restraint needed over the next few years to eliminate the deficit” and is clear that, in his view, “spending simply cannot return to recent trends”.
He uses the language of the private sector to glorify profit-driven ethics and promote low taxes, stating that “It is often argued that governments…lack the discipline imposed by a bottom-line profit imperative and shareholders…But the Ontario government has over 13 million shareholders who do not want their government to run deficits and believe they already pay enough taxes. That should be incentive enough.”
The desire of the Commission to sell off public services couldn’t be clearer in Drummond’s message, though he occasionally includes contradictory statements about providing high-quality public services and wanting Ontario to be the best.
“The government must constantly benchmark its effectiveness and efficiency against the private sector”, Drummond writes “It must make tough decisions on which services are best delivered by the public service and which can be better done by others, in the private sector.”
He fear mongers regarding the ballooning deficit, recommends swift and decisive action and paints advocates of his plan as responsibly doing a hard job that must be done. “None of these choices will be easy and many of our proposals will draw vigorous criticism. But it must be kept in mind that our recommendations can deliver the needed degree of spending restraint to balance the budget by 2017–18 only if all are implemented….There is benefit to moving quickly on many fronts at once. Targeting certain programs or sectors for reform and restraint can generate a sense of unfairness. A wide-ranging reform effort will reinforce the notion that we are all in this together, that all Ontarians can support the reforms because they will benefit in the end from these changes.”
It is hard to believe that Drummond cares much about fairness or what will benefit all Ontarians. His priorities are clear, his views and conclusions are not a surprise given Drummond’s history in the banking sector, and are no doubt why he was invited by McGuinty to Chair the Commission to begin with.
Two of his fellow Commissioners have profiles that closely match his own: positions held at traditionally conservative Ontario universities with strong links to the private sector.
Dominic Giroux is the President and Vice-Chancellor of Laurentian University and sits on various boards including the Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation (CEMI) and the Greater Sudbury Development Corporation (GSDC).
Carol Stephenson is the Dean of the Richard Ivey School of Business at The University of Western Ontario, as well as the Lawrence G. Tapp Chair in Leadership. She currently serves on several boards for top Canadian companies and on important government committees, namely Intact Financial Services Corporation (formerly ING Canada), Manitoba Telecom Services Inc, General Motors Company, the Ontario Research Fund Advisory Board, and the federal Advisory Committee on Senior Level Retention and Compensation.
The fourth Commission member, seemingly chosen tokenistically for her links to the arts and community services sectors (and with no risk to the private-sector friendly tone of the Commission given her strategic outnumbering by the other three members), is Susan Pigott. Pigott is a trained nurse and social worker, and now the Vice President, Communications and Community Engagement at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto. She has worked in the non-profit human services field for over 25 years, with groups such as St. Christopher House and the United Way of Greater Toronto. She is a board member of the Greater Toronto CivicAction Alliance, the Change Foundation and Workman Arts and sat previously on the boards of the Community Social Planning Council, the Hospital for Sick Children and Soulpepper Theatre Company.
These four individuals have, together, carried out admittedly limited consultations with few Ontario stakeholders and come up with a comprehensive cost-cutting plan for all areas of Ontario public services including healthcare, all levels of education (elementary through to post-secondary – please see related article in this issue of the Dialog), child services and tax benefits, immigration, the justice sector, and employment and training services.
It suggests complete elimination of the Taxpayers Protection Act.
It also focuses on changing the degree of public sector unionization, labour market compensation and makes recommendations on environment and natural resources management, government business enterprises, intergovernmental relations (recommending substantially reduced provincial funding for municipalities), liability management, and revenue integrity.
A full copy of the report and related documents, or an executive summary, can be found here: http://www.fin.gov.on.ca/en/reformcommission