When business comes to play, secrets are here to stay

Post by Eric Mang in ,

2 comments


Do corporate boardrooms really have a monopoly on good talent and sound business ideas?

It gets tiring banging this drum over and over, but corporatizing government is so odious yet so revered by centre-right politicians.

It’s a bizarre and unsubstantiated delusion that business is more efficient than government, that business practices must be embraced in order to serve “taxpayers” better (a term ubiquitous in centre-right political lexicon and one I find demeaning – it strips away citizenship from anyone who doesn’t pay taxes while granting more value to those who do. Another divisive tool employed by those same politicians keen on corporatizing government).

Of course, I’m not saying that all business practices are, ipso facto, bad for the public. But to blindly bow to business as the sage keepers of knowledge and models that streamline spending and offer efficiency is parochial at best and dangerously compromises the public interest at worst. In today’s economic climate, I would hope the perceived infallibility of the corporate world has been laid to rest.

Governments and business have different mandates. The former is for the people and the latter is for its customers and shareholders. The former must focus on the public good and the latter on the bottom line. Quite often they easily work together, but I object to the blurring of lines between these two entities. And I further lament those politicians who cozy up to business and risk the public interest in the process.

And so to my point: the Ontario government (recently angering the public by promising, then withdrawing, then promising, raising the minimum wage) is replacing municipal politicians on the regional transit authority, Metrolinx, with members from the private sector.

I remain optimistic that many of these 15 individuals, who have not yet been appointed, will be intelligent, competent and skilled at understanding public transportation and finance, but they are not publicly accountable. Indeed, all 15 will be appointed by the Ontario Transportation Minister. Do we have assurances that none of these appointees will be friends of the Ontario Liberal Party and how will they serve municipalities?

Robert Prichard has been hired to oversee the transition. He is a tremendous intellect and widely respected. He’s a former law professor, President of the University of Toronto and outgoing head of Torstar, a media company that owns the Toronto Star, but has confessed to having no experience with public transport or municipal affairs or policy; he has also been associated with the Liberals. One can only hope that Prichard was chosen because of his quick mind and not his political associations, but the public should be vigilantly demanding that all 15 of the private sector appointees on Metrolinx aren’t donors or insiders to the Liberals and that each appointee keep the needs of GTA municipalities and Toronto in mind.

Friends and outsiders aside, Metrolinx must be publicly accountable and we have no assurances that it will not become a secretive agency. In fact, tagged on to the end of the Globe and Mail article is a short comment that stirs such fears: new legislation will allow Metrolinx, which held public meetings, to hold closed meetings under certain circumstances.

Odd that centre-right politicians like to crow about transparency and accountability (which are good things) and then lean on businesses, which often choose secrecy to deliver public goods. Must be the same crowd that loves free speech unless it offends them…

2 Comments

Good day Eric. You would do well in BC where the NDP always is positioned as an alternative to the center or center-right party in Victoria or Ottawa. But our experience with the Socialists in Victoria in two separate instances, has not been a happy one. My primary complaint is that each time the NDP arrived in Victoria and proceeded to deplete the treasury. The NDP politicians put the "public need" and the perceived "public good" ahead of proper fiscal management. The result is large deficits and years of debt financing. I offer as a good current example the new left wing political administration at the City of Vancouver. If ever we needed to see an example of a deep disrespect for the taxpayer, Gregor Robertson and his cronies are it. But that does not mean that business experience is by itself a perfect fit for public service. I think of Bill Vander Zalm and his provincial administration as an example. They were simply awful.

Hey Bob,

Thanks for taking the time to write.

I know the BC NDP quite well: I was a political aide with the BC Liberals from 1999 to 2003.

The problem with the BC NDP was due to a variety of factors, one of which was poor leadership under Glen Clark. And the BC NDP are more akin to social democrats; not socialists.

An NDP government that currently works quite well is Gary Doer's in Manitoba. And Roy Romanow and Lorne Calvert were respected in SK.

But all of this is beside the point: I'm interested in policies that place power in the hands of the people, not in secretive, shady dealings. And to keep this whole concept simple (since the column above makes my points) I agree with you that at the crux of this is respect for citizens (I don't dig on the term "taxpayer". See above)

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