How are they missing this stuff?

By Ivan Morgan

Consider the paper in front of you.
It’s a great read, and the clever people who write it (present company excepted) write about stuff you want to know. A lot of it is town council business. Why do they write about it? Because it is of interest to the people who read this paper.
Whether it’s funding a park, fixing a Zamboni, or paying for a new bridge, there are plenty of news stories every week on how your municipal tax dollars are being spent. This paper covers the debates of councillors trying to decide how to spend your tax dollars wisely.
If you compare this with how your provincial tax dollars are being spent, these articles seem almost quaint.
I am not making fun of either the councillors, or the journalists who cover municipal matters. They are doing everything right.
My point is how I would love to see the provincial government (or the federal government, or any other group funded by our tax dollars) held up to even remotely similar standards.
The Auditor General (AG) does try. Her office is independent of government (it answers to the House of Assembly) and is charged with auditing government services. I love the AG’s annual report. I read it cover to cover. In a meeting long ago, I told the then AG his report was my favourite publication. He looked around the room at the other journalists, then looked at me shaking his head sadly and said “Ivan. Get a life.”
There was, as they say, laughter.
They can laugh all they like. I love it. The AG roots out ineptitude, waste, and occasionally criminal activity in government. These people do important work, trying to keep government in check.
It’s a cold hard fact that government wastes a great deal of money. Many agencies funded by tax dollars seems to hemorrhage money. What the AG finds can often be eye-popping.
I defy anyone to read this year’s AG report and not get angry.
An example. The provincial government is owed money. The feds don’t always pay on time. They owe us the most. The oil companies like to play games with royalty payments. They also owe us a fair chunk of change. What’s the third largest receivable? The AG says its income support overpayments, to the tune of just south of $100 million, with roughly a third of that fraud. That’s paying income support to folks who didn’t qualify, or don’t deserve it. This isn’t new. It’s been going on a while. The AG says income support overpayments have increased by $37.8 million (65.2 per cent) since 2018.
Had you heard about that?
I have questions. I bet you have too. Is this not newsworthy?
There are many different government entities helping themselves to our tax dollars. I have highlighted a few here in the past. I could write one a week for months, but you’d stop reading and I am working on lowering my blood pressure.
There is one tax source – you and me. We deserve a careful accounting of how our money is being spent and misspent. The AG does her best to present this. It seems that’s as far as it gets. Where’s the journalism?
Where’s the Opposition? They are supposed to hold government accountable. They’re supposed to be the government-in-waiting. Waiting to waste tax dollars like they did the last time they were in?
Government spends a lot of your money hiring communications people to portray themselves as prudent, careful stewards of your money. They aren’t.
City councillors don’t have legions of highly paid communications experts to help spin, ignore or deflect bad news. They have to be themselves, in chambers, with a reporter taking notes. It keeps them honest. It’s a system that works.
I am not silly enough to believe there isn’t waste in big organizations. I just finished a brilliant book on the Allied invasion of Europe in the Second World War. The author outlines not just the bravery, but the stupidity, the waste, and the loss.
We humans are imperfect creatures. But in this case, we are not fighting the Nazi’s on another continent. We are just trying to make sure money gets spent wisely. I want to know when it isn’t, I want to know why, and I want it fixed.
I don’t think I am alone.

Ivan Morgan can be reached at ivan.morga@gmail.com

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