Sunday, March 13, 2011

What does the federal government really need to do?

How much could we cut the federal government?    What would happen if we did not by the F-35s or if we dropped our navy and integrate it into the coast guard?   What would happen if we closed all the federal economic development agencies?   What if the federal government left health care, natural resources and education and left it all to the provinces?

I think there is a strong case to be made for the country to actively reduce the federal government in size by looking at what the federal government really needs to do and how it can do this best.   Since we have all these provincial governments and they all have a civil service already, the more areas the federal government can vacate, the better for the country.

I want to start with the areas of provincial responsibility:

  • Healthcare -  The federal intrusion into this area has only added extra costs and burdens to the system.   All the federal government should be doing is helping to top up healthcare in the poorest provinces, period.   There are a few issues like drug approvals that should remain federal.
  • Natural Resources - since the three territories are not sovereign Crowns in their own right, the Federal government has a role in natural resources in the north.   It does not have a role in the rest of the country in forestry, energy or agriculture.   It makes no sense to have the federal government involved in the most primary issues of provincial authority.   Remember, we have a taxpayer funded Canadian Forest Service that has no responsibility for lands or trees.  It has six large offices with the biggest one in Ottawa.  There are close to 1000 staff and none of them located in the heart of Canada's forest industry, Prince George.
  • Parks - all the provinces are able to run parks, there is no reason to have a separate federal department dealing with parks.   There is enormous duplication here across the country that offers no benefits to Canadians. Transfer all the National Parks to the provinces and offer a 15 year financial transition.
  • Museums - transfer them all to the provinces.   There is no reason for the federal government to by in this field when all the provinces already do it.
  • Policing - the federal government has to reduce the RCMP to a limited national role.   Each province should be responsible for its own policing.
  • Old Age Pension, Canada Pension Plan and EI - all three of these should be devolved to the provinces and operated in tandem with the provincial welfare system.   The nature of how the public interacts with the provincial governments makes more sense than having two levels of government involved with direct payments to the public.   This means each province could set their own terms for pensions and EI.   Full portability is not a huge issue to deal with.   All three should also become fully funded and not be pay as you go.
  • Environment - Given that the provinces are responsible for the land base and natural resources, almost all of what is done by Environment Canada
  • There are more things that could go to the provinces from the federal government

The Economic Development Agencies
There are a bunch of these and no one has been able to show that they have contributed anything of any significance to the economic development of the country.   While I do not have enough data to show it for certain, as far as I can ascertain from the information out there, the economic development agencies provide about $0.25 to $0.37 of value of every dollar spent.   We would be further ahead in the country if they were shut down tomorrow and all the funds given directly to the provinces.

The Territories
The three territories should be moved from their current status as self governing colonies of Canada to full members of confederation.   All three should be made provinces ASAP with the federal government providing a generation long transition period for financing.  

The Military
We have a navy, the coast guard and fisheries and oceans, what would happen if they were combined?   There would be more ships in more locations for all three areas.   You can make the relationship with fisheries and oceans only one of where the navy/coast guard provides the access to the water.  

If you combine all three and have fisheries officers on all naval ships, there could some very interesting research done all over the world by the federal government and a new approach to pelagic fishing.  Someone has to start dealing with the global pelagic fishing problem.

The F-35s - why?   Why?   What possible future role could these planes have for Canada?   We are only a few short years away from having remotely operated drones that can do more than the F-35 and do it better.   If we were to get ahead of the curve and develop the next generation of drones we would have a new industry in Canada (this from a religious pacifist).   A large investment in drones means we would have real arctic sovereignty patrols 24/7.   We could also dramatically improve the ability of our maritime forces to be an effective patrol of all of the national waters.   Imagine a Canadian destroyer in the Somali waters that had numerous drones scanning the sky that had the capability to defend merchant ships.

Can the dream happen?
There is a lot that could be done to reduce the scope and scale of the federal government in Canada and thereby reduce the costs to the public.   A more rational delivery of services, and by this I mean the provinces are the primary contact between the public and the government, would mean we would have more services for a lower cost.  
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