There is no shelter for skeptics.
We want to believe that if a decision is going to hurt, there is no sane alternative. Nevertheless, we have no right to assume that the author of unpleasant advice is automatically smarter, more objective, and has more integrity than others.
The massive restraint program proposed by Donald Drummond offers an obvious duty to the print media, the guardians of calm discussion. One institution that shouldn’t be stampeded is the centrist Globe and Mail.
Profiling the author of such a grand-sounding document as “Public Services for Ontarians: A Path to Sustainability and Excellence” makes journalistic sense. However, it’s hard to think critically about someone who is perfect!
Jeremy Torobin, Drummond’s Globe biographer, didn’t quite create a god, but he certainly made me feel small.
Here’s the profile’s headline: “Parsimony, with a side of courage”
Here’s the lede: “. . . the former Toronto-Dominion Bank chief economist strolls into a restaurant looking every bit a monument to the austere financial discipline he preaches.”
Here’s Drummond’s first passion: “Getting to the bottom of vexing public-policy issues.”
Click on: http://investdb4.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/GAM.20120218.RBLUNCHDRUMMONDATL/GIStory/
Drummond is provided an entire page to tell us who he thinks he is and about the challenge he’s had fixing the second-biggest government in Canada:
“No government in the world has ever done this before," he says.
"I'm calling for a revolutionizing, a radicalization, of virtually everything a government does, to make it focus on efficiency, not just in one area at a time, but simultaneously in virtually everything they do. It'll take unbelievable courage and unbelievable intelligence, and it'll take an unbelievable capacity at both the political level, and the bureaucratic level."
These words weren’t whispered in his ear by an obsequious flack from Premier McGuinty’s Office.
He acknowledges no compromises in his weighty report or any concern over the complexity of his 100-day assignment—essentially, doing to dozens of public organizations what Mitt Romney and his management consultants used to do for profit. He volunteers that even if Ontario revenues were high he’d still do 350 of his recommendations.
Only once does Drummond, the non-partisan analyst from Jean Chretien’s Camelot, patronize the locals. Referring to the problem of keeping up quality services, he asserts:
“. . . during the Mike Harris and Ernie Eves eras, Ontario's public service was rarely 'asked to flex its analytical muscles,' causing them to atrophy.
“As an aside, he warns a similar phenomenon is occurring in Stephen Harper's Ottawa and says the federal Conservatives would be wise to study Ontario's experience.
"The process of re-building that capacity is under way, but it is a long haul," he says.
Canada’s greatest political economist John Kenneth Galbraith once suggested that “no human being” can survive a career in banking. Drummond finally shatters that theory. After 10 years in banking and 23 years in the Department of Finance, with a public pension and a bank pension, Don Drummond is still boyish about Don Drummond.
A boyish ego, however, doesn’t guarantee fresh thinking or the ability to stand outside the professionally cool opinions of the moment. Drummond’s report will make many losers angry. You may see courage in that. However, if you read it carefully you’ll also discover that it will make many powerful interests happy.
The sections on electricity services, for instance, suggest that 80 small municipal distributors be rationalized, presumably to save money. At the same time, Drummond concludes that the provincially owned electricity assets and agencies—85% of the electricity sector and the main drivers of future price increases—need, after years of presumably mediocre governance, a period of reflection.
“A degree of normalcy may very well be helpful for the sector to take stock and reflect on the status quo. Consequently, the Commission has a series of recommendations that are meant to balance the need for stability in the sector with the need to curb costs.”
Torobin reports that Drummond didn’t sound like someone “eager to ride off into the sunset.” More likely, he’ll be a welcome and frequent presence as Ontario’s insiders manage this difficult decade.