Governments of most countries operate fiscal policy in a wildly cyclical fashion. They spend madly when the revenues are flowing in. They allow debt burdens to trend up. Then every 10 years or so they slam on the fiscal brakes, often when the economy is weak. Policy is also calibrated to election cycles with little priority attached to longer-term consequences of decisions. Such cyclical behaviour is detrimental to the delivery of excellent public services at an affordable cost. In good times little attention is paid to the efficiency of public services. In tough times cost cutting without reforms can jeopardize the sustainability of services.
Most countries and most jurisdictions in Canada are now focused on tightening spending growth to return to fiscal balance. The developed countries, including Canada, are not likely to see an early or strong fiscal reprieve from a return to strong revenue growth as happened in the late 1990s. Near-term actions must be calibrated with this longer-term reality in mind. The only ways of offering excellent public services in this context are through achieving greater efficiencies or persistently raising taxes. The latter would probably wear out voter tolerance before long.
The Commission on the Reform of Ontario Public Services presented an application of such a focus on efficiencies in the delivery of public services. In each policy area the recommendations were geared to sharpening program objectives and then on how to achieve them at an affordable cost. The recommendations can be applied to most other jurisdictions.
Through a series of 6 weekly sessions, with time for discussion, the context for present and future public policy challenges and new ways of addressing them will be explored. Much of the focus will be on Canada but international experiences and comparisons will be featured. All sessions will begin at 7:00pm in Room 202, Robert Sutherland Hall (138 Union Street). Parking is available on the Queen’s surface lots after 5:30pm.
Course Instructor: Don Drummond