Few politicians have any real understanding of how the civil service works. The old British TV comedy Yes Minister, which had a clueless government Minister led around by the nose by a career civil servant was as accurate as it was amusing, and it was indeed both those things.
The civil service always claims it needs more funds, and provides excuses why it does. Politicians who have almost no understanding of how the the money is spent or how the bookkeeping is done almost always grant their requests. The politicians claim the increased money spent translates into advantages for the public, frequently without knowing to what extent, if at all, it benefits anyone outside the civil service and a few people connected to it. In very, very many cases it does not.
So when the head of Ontario's socialist New Democratic Party, Andrea Horvath, or Premier Kathleen Wynne say that the election is about "care over cuts," they speak from either total ignorance or deceit, because nothing could be further from the truth. It's possible to reduce government spending significantly without cutting services or firing employees.
How do I know this? Because I worked for the Ontario civil service for over a dozen years and saw how things work first hand.
The Ontario civil service operates on a fiscal year that goes from April 1 to March 31 of each year. Each fiscal year, every government department is allocated a budget. That budget may in fact exceed the actual needs of the departments' expenditures.
So what happens if a department doesn't spend all of its allocated budget by the end of the fiscal year? The money not spent goes back to the Treasury.
No civil service department head wants to give money back to the Treasury.
They don't want to give money back out of fear that someone higher up, seeing that a department needed less money this year, will then decide that it can make do with less money next year. They also don't want to give the money back because no one likes to give money back if it's in your hand and you can spend it, even if that means spending on things you don't really need.
And that's what they do. Towards the end of the fiscal year, government department after government department go on wild spending sprees. They hire consultants they don't need, they buy equipment they don't need, they do whatever it takes to make sure all the money is used up, so they can apply for the same or a bigger budget next year. I've worked in departments where as much as 15% of the annual budget was thrown away on those last minute, buy-anything-to-use it-all-up sprees.
It's a waste.
When Progressive Conservative leader Doug Ford says that 4% of the budget can be cut across the board without any service or employment cuts, if anything, he's understating the amount of potential savings he'll be able to find. Doug knows this, because he and I have spoken about it.
During her term in office, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has plunged Ontario into debt so huge that it's the biggest sub-national debtor in the world. California, which has a huge debt problem, has three times the population of Ontario and yet its State debt is less than Ontario's provincial debt.
The unfettered government waste in Ontario can't continue without dire consequences. Neither Wynne nor Horvath have any practical solutions to the debt and spending problem. Doug Ford does. That goes to the core of the choice that Ontario has to make on June 7.