I like this Savoie guy! I always fear that I am becoming a professional cynic but there have been a lot of things that this government has done (or at least started to do) that genuinely fill me with hope. This new report to the Premier from Donald Savoie is no exception and may in fact move to the front of the line. The detail of the analysis in the 45 pages is important and the execution even more so but at a 10,000 foot view there were several things that simply made me stop and say wow, I can’t believe it!
1. In this age of government secrecy, redacted releases and overall lack of transparency it was released to the public. It also appears to have been released fairly quickly after it was received by the Premier’s office. Sure he had announced that this was being done and when it would be ready and I’m sure many media and opposition types had this date carved into their calendars but it would not have been the first time that a government refused to release, or quietly shoved under the carpet, a report that didn’t turn out like they wanted.
Why wouldn’t they want this released?
Two main reasons:
a. ) They are NDPers, the ones the private sector thought were as close to communists as you could get without changing the title of Premier to Chairman. This is a very pro-business report and pays more than lip service to the fact that wealth /prosperity /jobs / growth (call it what you want) is generated by the private sector.
b.) some of the recommendations are politically hot, not sensitive, but flaming hot.
2. It openly discusses the issues around urban versus rural. If we had an electrically powered mass transit rail system I would say that the urban-rural issue is the “third rail” for politicians and not have to rely on American TV to make sense of the reference. The issues around urban and rural futures are so contentious that it can determine elections. What is not in contention is the reality that urbanization has gone well past any tipping point and failing to pay sufficient attention to the economic hub of the region, Halifax, puts the whole Atlantic region in jeopardy. This does not have to be done to the detriment of the vitally important rural areas but this is the picture that is too often painted – one of a zero sum, us versus them fight for resources. Unfortunately, in a battle between power and prosperity doing what wins elections often trumps doing what’s right. Equally hot politically but confined to the halls of government was the fascinating discussion and consideration of “turf” and the competitive situation between departments and agencies for power and money. Savoie’s description of “turf” as the public sector’s equivalent of market share was inspired.
3. It is very pro-business. Pro-business does not mean giving all the advantage to business but it does mean not putting business at a disadvantage in order to win political points with “Nova Scotia families” (a euphemism for people who do not feel they are part of the “privileged elite” because they have been told by successive electioneering politicians that they are not and have no chance of ever becoming part, so let’s bring the bustards down to our level). A healthy and competitive private sector creates the wealth that creates the jobs that pay the taxes that supports the programs that we need and want, and ironically want the most when we don’t have a healthy competitive private sector. Admittedly, it can be a hard sell to tell those economically challenged “Nova Scotia family” members that they should be proud rather than jealous of the people who drive the better cars, who have the fancy offices, and who we call boss. Those are the same people who turn ideas into action and action into prosperity utilizing their creativity, knowledge, and money to start the whole prosperity cycle again.
4. Consultations were with experts not the chronically discontented. Public consultations have become a joke in this city. Rather than talk to the smartest people in the room government has a tendency to kill two birds with one stone and invite in the general (read voting) public to vent their spleens about things they have no business talking about with any authority other than personal and uninformed opinions. What happens is that the chattering classes greatly outnumber the informed experts creating the impression that the “people” are opposed to the experts when in fact the silent majority are under the impression that the government will do the right thing over the objection of those whose ideas run in the face of expert opinion. In the Savoie report I did not read one reference to the “Citizens for the Preservation of Illiteracy” or my favourite group “Old Farts for Old Things”. The names and organizations I read in the report were the right ones. Groups like APEC, AIMS, GHP and of course the Halifax Chamber of Commerce. Experts within government and from places other than Atlantic Canada. I also like the fact that in preparation for the report Dr. Savoie read things! Not everything was a public consultation. Reading the already existing body of knowledge allows one to seek the opinion of world renowned experts through the ages for about $40. Unfortunately, unless one was to read the book aloud in public it does not get much respect or credit. Sometimes the smartest people in the room are the people who are reading and applying what is said by the smartest people who are not in the room.
5. Productivity through education and creativity. We think we are so smart! We love to talk about how many post secondary educated people walk the streets of Halifax. What we don’t like to talk about is the large numbers of people who do not have either the basic literacy or numeracy skills to even enter a 21st century knowledge-based job market or the throngs of hard working men and women who need to upgrade their skills to prepare for what’s next. Productivity has always gotten a bad rap from the working population. Improving productivity has always been portrayed as working longer for less when it should be positioned as being able to do more because you are stronger and smarter. The report rightly places the importance of improving productivity at the top of the heap and the start of the process.