Budget a Titanic undertaking

(April 24, 2017)

It is a measure of how bad things have gotten elsewhere that the Pallister government’s recent budget was received by many with relief.

In comparison to Twitter tirades and missile launches, it was measured and thoughtful.

Yet, in comparison to what the province needs at a pivotal point in its economic and environmental history, it accomplished little that was positive and confused inefficiency with problems in systems design.

To use a well-worn Titanic analogy, it sorted out the dinner menu in first-class, reorganized the schedule for shoveling coal, ensured the people in steerage had access to some fresh air and polished the brass. It did nothing to deal with icebergs ahead or ongoing misjudgments about speed, course and design.

Trimming expenditures is a poor way of increasing efficiency. Expectations are never reduced, just the resources for accomplishing them, according to the mantra of “doing more with less.” Reducing program budgets leaves staff nothing to do, which then justifies eliminating staff for not doing anything — undermining the morale that might inspire people to find creative new ways of doing things.

Of course, these cuts also tend to be made by people who are measuring only bottom lines, following through on mandates to cut expenditures or staff such as “by 15 per cent.”

Is there inefficiency in government? Absolutely. Could we get more done by spending less? Certainly. Can it be done by just cutting things? Not a chance — inefficiency is the consequence of poor system design.

Read more

Eco-Policy Must Balance Two Realities

(October 18, 2016)

The flurry of activity around Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s announcement of a federal carbon tax last Monday was followed the next day by the release of the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy. The FSDS received much less attention, because it was not greeted with the provincial petulance about federal decisions that tends to generate headlines.

To be fair, there isn’t a lot of drama surrounding this document. Intended as an open working framework covering the next three years (to 2019), it identifies 13 strategic areas for Canada to focus on in relation to the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

I was glad to see the ongoing intention to revise and extend it — much wiser than attempting a strategy that tried to paper over its inevitable flaws — and there are some interesting tidbits buried in among the some of the unfortunate efforts to encourage sustainable consumption (like suggestions to unplug appliances and not let taps run).

For example, for Manitoba, there is a promise to continue funding the Experimental Lakes Area; another to contribute toward the reduction of phosphorus in Lake Winnipeg; money to fix the Lake St. Martin watershed problem; money for municipalities to fund infrastructure improvements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and so on. There was also the welcome intention to sign on again, as soon as possible, with the global initiative to combat desertification that Canada shamefully abandoned a couple of years ago.

But this strategy, however initial its steps, just does not go far enough. Nor does the $10-a-tonne federal carbon tax do much to save the planet, as critics have complained.

So why bother? Who cares about carbon?

 

Read More

Incremental Choices Can Make Manitoba Green

(October 5, 2016)

The early morning bus had 20 people on it, with room for many more, as vehicles with solo drivers whizzed past in herds. I walked from my stop a few blocks to the Legislature, dodging lines of heavy morning traffic.

It set the stage for the workshop last week on a carbon tax for Manitoba, demonstrating both the problem and what to do about it.

Of course, my taking the bus and walking is not the answer to global warming. Neither is a carbon tax.

But both are places to start, which is how I approached the government’s offer to sit down with an eclectic group of stakeholders and discuss our options for a Made-in-Manitoba solution.carbon

Read more