Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Under Staffing in the BC Civil Service - a crisis no one is talking about

I know it is popular to bash civil servants, to say that there are too many of them and that they are paid too much.   It is all part of this mantra of lower taxes and smaller government no matter what.   I am someone that wants lower taxes and a government that is not huge beyond what we need,  but here in BC we have a problem with a longer term systemic under funding of the civil service.   Worst of all we are in election and no one is talking about this.

I think we have reached the point of crisis in many parts of the civil service.  We are short enough in staffing in many ministries that I am concerned about the governance of BC.  Living in Victoria I hear from no end of people in the civil service here and what their work loads are like and how it always is getting worse.  

The ministries I deal with the most are in some way related to lands and resources and I can tell you that they are woefully understaffed.   There are things the government does well in this province, such as the BC environmental assessment process.   The BC process is not a yes or no, it is one in which the assessment process develops the conditions under which a project can go forward - but this requires the ability to monitor the project to ensure the conditions are met.  But the problem is that in most cases we do not have the staff on the ground to make sure the conditions are met.  

I can go through examples from all the ministries.    We do not have enough staff in the civil service to do the work that is needed.   We especially do not have the front line ministry staff needed especially outside of Victoria.

Since I know the land based ministries the best, I can make a rough estimate of how short staffed they are.   Between the needs of forests, lands, environment, parks, mining, energy, and agriculture  we need something on the order of 500 more staff around BC to achieve the basic level of staffing needing to allow the proper regulation and management of Crown Lands in BC.   The cost of 500 new front line staff would be in the range of $500,000,000 a year which sounds like a lot.   I personally think these staff are vitally important because our province has an economy that is primarily driven by the natural resource sector.   For us to continue to rely on this sector in the economy we need to have investment in good management by government.   When it comes to government management we are no longer thinking ten years into the future let alone the 100 years we should be.  

As one single example, BC has large areas of forest lands that need to be replanted by the government but it is not being done.   The loss of new trees growing on the land is not only a problem 100 to 150 years down the road, but ten or twenty years because these trees form part of the calculation of timber harvest levels now.   The amount of harvesting allowed in BC is based on how well the forest is growing.   Areas that are not properly restocked reduce the annual allowable cut because the review considers the age and regrowth in forests from recently replanted to old growth and if there are areas not regrowing the calculations of the long term sustainable yield is lower.

People I know in the social services ministries tell me about case loads for front line workers that are beyond imagination.   The system is now at a point where the people that need access the system are not getting even the most basic care and attention to ensure they can work their way out of poverty.  This problem is most acute with youth aged 16 to 25.   We are creating more social problems for the future because of the under staffing. 

We need a core government services review to find out where we are falling down and then we need a plan to fix it.

The cost to fix the problem will not be cheap and I am not convinced the NDP is interested in addressing it.   If it is not addressed in some substantive way within the next few years we will see more and more people fall through the cracks and we will see government revenues from the natural resource sector decline.  We are setting our province up for failure in the future.

Yes, I did support the BC Liberals in the past, but I was always unhappy with the under funding of the natural resource ministries and tried to get people in government to consider a policy change.   I have never been 100% in agreement with any political party but I have always seen good points of all parties and try to balance that with things I disagree with.




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