Rob Ford, the civil service and the rest of us….

After my article about Wheel-Trans and the amazingly inefficient and customer alien service they provide I felt badly that some people might interpret this as an attack on civil servants.

I want to be clear. The basis of a decent and humane civilization is a quality civil service.

We need to pay the taxes necessary to maintain a professional, disinterested (in the best possible use of the word) and empathic civil service. There is no gravy in paying people well to provide quality service to us. The Right is just simply anti-labour and wish to maintain their privileged positions when they claim that good civil service wages are gravy.

But, there is a real problem with the service we are receiving. Too many bureaucrats are arrogant toward and power tripping on ordinary citizens who come to them for help or are trying to access services which they have paid for and, appropriately, feel entitled to. There has been a growing disconnect between the citizenry who pay taxes and the civil servants who provide services.

My best example of this is to look at the Manager of City Parks, Brenda Patterson, who has led the attack on local community run ice arenas in opposition to local groups who want some say in their services. The excuse Ms Patterson gives is that she is trying to equalize services across the City, when in reality the service provided by the very Arenas she is trying to destroy are higher than those run directly by her own (and I think that is how she sees it) bureaucracy. No wonder people balk at taxes when bureaucrats are left to run amok and build their own fifedoms.

There are a number of reasons for this. With the constant attack on public employees (ie: the gravy train), many politicians have sewn dissension between public employees and the citizenry. Too many citizens are snarly toward civil servants and in return they are getting poor service. As the service degenerates citizens begin to wonder why they are paying these people (civil servants) so much money when they get so little back.

It is a revolving door sentiment and the Right is laughing all the way to their ideological nesting places as they then developed the needed public support to cut services. Underfunding and continual attack on the nature of government services has led to deterioration and stultification in the bureaucracy which then ends up in an inadequate service that people figure isn’t worth paying for.

The Right then says we need to run government efficiently …. just like a business. They start talking about citizens as ‘customers’ and civil servants as ‘service providers’. Only problem is, business isn’t so good at providing services either. Take John Tory who ran for Mayor of Toronto and wanted to bring in more business sense to the management of services. Now, if memory serves, wasn’t he the CEO of Rogers? You know that company that provides exemplary services to customers?

I mean, just what company do the Ford brothers want the City to emulate? Would that be Bell, or Rogers? Or perhaps Futureshop is a better model? No, wait, I want my company run like Air Canada or General Motors or Chrysler. Well, I’m sure there is a consumer oriented company worth emulating somewhere.

The problem with the Left is that they have no creativity or critical thought left in them, except to criticize the Right… which people like Adam Vaughan do very well.

Too often the Left simply fights all cutbacks which they see as an attack on the social service network. And while that is what cutbacks usually are about, a simple defence of the status quo won’t cut it. There is something wrong with the status quo and the people can see it.

When Leftish politicians comment on maintaining civil services they often have little credibility. Either they are defending a system that needs real reform (and people aren’t so stupid they can’t see that) or else they are simply too chicken shit to come right out and state they support the collection and spending of taxes to fund a real civil service.

Where the gravy train really lies is in the number of studies and position papers and discussion groups and all the bullshit that goes on. In my field, medicine, there is a paper a day published that talks about the effects of second hand smoke. Who the hell is funding this stuff anymore? We all know second hand smoking is bad for you. It’s been proven already. To find out that it is also bad for brain development in addition to being implicated in bladder cancer, kidney cancer, lung disease and heart disease is not of much further value as far as I am concerned. Enough study. All the money should go toward ways to decrease smoking.

There is a medical/public health/academic ‘research’ industry out there sucking up valuable resources that could be better spent in implementation.

Similarly, there is a huge amount of money spent in the bureaucracy on consultants, studies, papers, discussions, meetings. There is an industry in all bureaucracies established for the sole purpose of maintaining itself. Government and business share this bizarre culture. And they often feed off each other. And with the constant attacks from the Right (as well as ideological concerns from the Left) the bureaucracy has developed a culture of stagnation and a fear of looking at new ideas.

Rob Ford has hired a slew of consultants (the only difference from the Miller administration is that these are his boys) and pissed away huge sums just like all the others. He is riding the same gravy train he claims to despise.

We need to commit to a new approach to the civil bureaucracy. One that provides services to citizens in a manner that is open and transparent, but most importantly useful and what people have been asking for. And we need to have people providing these services who are blessed with less than petty minds. We need to instill a sense of importance in the civil service and re-connect it to the citizenry.

And then we need to ask people to be prepared to pay the taxes to fund the City they want to live in, a situation they should be better prepared to buy into when they appreciate that the real gravy train has stopped.

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