Taxpayers are getting sick and tired of huge financial blunders in government and everyone just shrugging their shoulders and moving on
A Grilling Worth Repeating
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Politicians at all levels of government should take note of something a city councilor in Winnipeg recently did - she gave it her all to hold some bureaucrats accountable.
This may not sound like a remarkable feat as politicians are supposed to be looking out for taxpayers. But lately, those in government seem to just shrug their shoulders at significant mistakes and carry on.
Take the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. It’s more than $85 million over budget, but have you heard of anyone getting fired? A pay cut? Stern talking to?
Well, consider the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, a non-profit taxpayers watchdog group, wrote to the federal Minister responsible for the project (James Moore) and asked if a bureaucrat was held accountable for telling the Senate of Canada the project would cost far less than it turned out.
Incredibly, we got a response from Moore that completely avoided the question. In other words, he seemed disinterested about holding anyone accountable for a multi-million dollar mistake.
So what happened at city hall that was so refreshing?
Rookie councilor Paula Havixbeck was chairing a Protection Services committee when three bureaucrats walked in and asked for $2.5 million in funding to pay for cost overruns for a new fire hall. They somehow decided to build the fire hall 33 per cent larger than originally planned, but thought they could stay within budget.
For weeks the media and some on council tried to figure out who authorized the increase in the size of the project, but the bureaucracy refused to fess up – no one wanted to be held accountable for the decision.
Once the discussion started, Havixbeck seemed to channel the public’s frustration over all the incompetence down at city hall as of late and proceeded to grill the trio of bureaucrats for three hours; that never happens at city hall.
Councillors Eadie and Smith chimed in with comments here and there, but it was clearly the “Paula Havixbeck interrogation show” and she refused to give up on the matter.
Don’t feel sorry for the bureaucrats that were grilled publicly. City reports show in 2011, CAO Phil Sheegl made $234,644, Fire Chief Douglas made $122,267 and COO Depak Joshi received $167,934. These guys aren’t exactly “just getting by.”
When the grilling was complete, Havixbeck was able to wean some additional information from the trio, but their answers were anything but adequate; it was clear that they simply didn’t do proper due diligence.
Days after that meeting, the matter proceeded to the entire city council for discussion and the funding was approved. During the debate, Councillor Swandel expressed confusion as to why the bureaucrats would be grilled for three hours at the previous committee.
Here’s why - taxpayers are getting sick and tired of huge financial blunders in government and everyone just shrugging their shoulders and moving on. Similar mistakes would have been met with pink slips or pay cuts at many businesses in the private sector.
Havixbeck showed she certainly understood that. It’s too bad more politicians don’t.
But the question is, what has your politician done about similar blunders to hold people accountable? Maybe you should ask them.
Colin Craig is the Prairie Director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation