Don Drummond, the chair of the Commission on the Reform of Ontario’s Public Services, is certainly not going to become the premier in a government of technocrats in Canada’s most populous province – such as Mario Monti’s in Italy or Lukas Papademos’s in Greece – but the commission’s report amounts to an admirable exercise in technocratic, rationalistic policy-making, which may well be invoked for years to come by policy wonks across Canada.
Mr. Drummond and his colleagues are right to set the bar high – within the mandate set by the provincial government – rather than second-guess what Dalton McGuinty, the Premier, will actually accept or act upon, particularly in a minority government. Consequently, the upshot is likely to be that the provincial government will indeed put some of the Drummond report’s recommendations into effect, but will not return to fiscal balance in 2017-2018 as planned.
The report ranges from extraordinarily sweeping statements to quite detailed ones. The commissioners rightly say, for example, that Ontario does not have a health-care system, but rather “a series of disjointed services working in many different silos,” though a little later they say that Ontario’s health care is one of the best in Canada. The clear implication is that the so-called system should become truly systematic.
A much more specific proposal is that the province’s drug benefit program for seniors should more directly correspond to income – what some would call a “means test” – and not simply on age; British Columbia’s change from an age-dependent program to purely income-based is cautiously found “worthy of study.”
And though the Drummond report repeats the perennially vague call for a greater emphasis on disease prevention, it also goes so far as to tell physicians to be less ready to prescribe Lipitor for cholesterol and more zealous in urging better diet and more exercise.
Physicians are singled out on the public-sector compensation front. On the one hand, the report expresses respect for collective bargaining, and says that drastic, across-the-board wage freezes are all too apt to be reversed a few years later, with generous catch-up pay raises. On the other hand, it advises the government to “aggressively negotiate” with the doctors – for no increase in their total compensation.
There is nothing about aggressiveness in the passages about labour-relations issues. Rather, it urges more objectivity, more study of the government’s – and the taxpayers’ – ability to pay, more evidence-based decisions in arbitrations – and proposes taking away the choice of the arbitrators from the parties.
The prevailing theme of the Drummond report could be stated as “Let’s all be rational from now on.” It is solid technocratic work, though it is by no means advocating a government of technocrats as in Italy or Greece. Yet Mr. Drummond enjoys pointing out that Greece’s public finances were as sound as Ontario’s back in 1984. The main message is that the right things can be done – and that eventually things could get much worse, if not attended to now.