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Our Constitution Needs to Assure Government Accountability

Reflecting on failures in the Fisheries, Forests, Health Care, Fast-Ferries, First Nation’s land claims, and with Human Resource Development Canada, etc. - there appears to be a need for more government accountability. Perhaps we need an amendment to our constitution?

BC and Canada are not central planned autocratic ruled economies. Both are democratic parliamentary governed, mixed economic systems. In such systems, quality of life and social satisfaction entirely depend on two interrelated fundamentals:

1) a competitive private business and industrial sector that combines resources into economic production - - distributing wealth and securing the tax base and social satisfaction through (better paid) employment,

2) a government sector that monitors and detects issues in the market and the pricing mechanism – including failures in the government’s own programs - and takes the necessary action before issues become acute, by providing the service that the market/pricing mechanism and private sector fails to provide.

The forest, fisheries, fast ferries, and First Nation’s land claim issues are examples of government failure in monitoring and intervention. Not only did Government fail to provide the service the private sector was unable to provide, but also caused further damage by providing services that are not Government’s role to provide in a mixed economy.

In the BC forest sector, the Government ignored its analyzing and monitoring obligation, failed to intervene and allowed the issues to escalate. In brief, the planned economic tenure system was good for a few companies and their shareholders, but encouraged economic behavior that destroyed the free market pricing mechanism in the forest sector.

During good times, the system failed to encourage industry to invest in analysis of the economy and marketplace, to adapt to the changing conditions, and to make long-term investment in research and training - adding value, and using fewer resources. In bad times, the system stimulated industry to expect and seek government assistance and bailouts. Ignored and unsolved for twenty-five years, the issues have escalated into economic, ecological and social adversity.

This is not the fault of business and industry. As members of the community, many owners and executives privately share concern for flaws in the government system. However, the first obligation of owners and industry leaders is to the corporation and shareholders.

They would be foolish not to utilize available corporate welfare such as forest tenure, tax credits, industrial adjustment funds, government financing, investment and grants - such as those to Western Star Truck in Kelowna. That does not imply criticism toward Western Star management and owners. The question and concern here is whether or not the BC Government’s investment in Western Star passes a test for government intervention in the pricing mechanism -- and whether a test was even done?

It is not industry’s role to set standards for society and make up for shortcomings in our government and economic system. It is also naïve to assume that industry will fill that void. Confusing or mixing government and private industry’s role in our economic system is like mixing apples and pears, it is decorative, yet sooner or later both rot.

A parallel question is why corporate welfare, under banners such as economic development, business retention programs, Community Futures and Forest Renewal BC, is less scrutinized by government and held less accountable to society and tax payers, than welfare and benefit programs for the poorest members of our society.

In the fast ferry project, the BC Government intervened in the private sector and market mechanism with products and services that are not the role and competence of government to provide. The result speaks for itself.

In the First Nation’s land claims issues, Government policies created the problems, and then failed to solve them -- leading to deteriorating economic and social conditions. As always, misery leads to extremism and often fuels solutions that further erode economic production and hence social satisfaction. Unsolved, the First Nation issues are adding to the immense challenges the community is facing to adapt to the end of the resource-driven and Cold War era, and to the shift to a technology-driven rapidly shifting open economy and marketplace. The resource and manufacturing sector is simply no longer fuelling the economy and tax base with less-educated better-paid jobs for Canadians. Segregation is not the solution.

In times of economic and technological shifts, extreme positions and actions always become more prevalent, making good government even more critical. More than ever our future depends on good government that meets its role in a mixed economy and is accountable. An amendment to our constitution along the following line would provide the direction our government seems to need in order to meet its role and provide the accountability we all depend on.

Amendment One: Government from local to federal level shall analyze and identify economic, market, social and ecological issues that face the community, including issues in the government’s own programs, and address the identified issues, before the issues cause adversity.

Amendment Two: government shall provide such products and service that the private sector and pricing and market mechanism fails to provide.

Amendment Three: government shall also provide product and service that the community, in good democratic order, has decided shall be excluded from the pricing mechanism and be provided by government.

Amendment Four: government is obligated to test whether programs meet the standard for government intervention in a mixed economy. Government must prove that it can best provide the product and service in order to assure social satisfaction.

Such amendments applied on the Forest industry, Forest Renewal BC and the Fast Ferry project, and Human Resource Development Canada would compel the Government to implement at least a rudimentary strategic analysis planning and monitoring process.

Forest Renewal BC and the Fast Ferry project can simply not pass a standard test for Government intervention in a Democratically Governed Mixed Economy, nor would numerous other patronage driven government tax transfer programs.

There is too much focus on taxes and tax cuts, and not enough focus how our taxes are spent and in whose pocket the tax transfers end up. Most agree that the economic production of a competitive and sustainable industry that generates well-paid jobs is the best way of generating and distributing wealth and securing social satisfaction. Experience over the past fifty years shows that the alternate method of distributing wealth via tax transfers and individual and corporate welfare is not sustainable.

Treating symptoms does not cure the disease. A child is poor because their family has low income. We need to focus on family income via jobs and not via tax transfers and government welfare programs.

Our future depends on good, capable and accountable government that meets its role in our economic system. The election process too often is a case of replacing one ‘rascal’ with another ‘rascal’ who promises more cuts to budgets, taxes, and red tape.

The problem is that lowering taxes is a different matter than stimulating economic production, real income and social satisfaction in the community by renovating and revitalizing our government systems and programs. It is no wonder that people disregard politics and do not exercise their right to vote.

It is our analysis that we need an amendment to our constitution that would define and promote good government and state government’s role and accountability. That would at least give the ‘rascals’ some direction. Perhaps enough members of our community now have come to the same conclusion, and joining together in good democratic order could give our political establishment the incentive to start reorganizing our government institutions from local to federal level. Join in.

OISD November 1999