Imagination versus the reality of government
There’s a gap, some might say a chasm, between what advocates for new and expanded government programs imagine the government is able to achieve versus the day-to-day reality of government. Recent Canadian history provides no shortage of examples of ambitious imaginative initiatives for government.
The current federal government, for instance, contends it can successfully and efficiently identify and execute support for certain sectors of the economy as a means to improve the broader economy. Last year’s budget contained more than $8 billion aimed at its “Innovation Agenda.”
Finance Minister Bill Morneau in his post-2017 budget comments described the role of his government in allocating investments: “…we’re investing in sectors where we know we can beat the world… we’re definitely choosing places where we can win globally” and “we’re making investments to grow our economy.” Note the unconstrained confidence, that the federal government knows which sectors—and indeed which firms—to support to successfully improve the economy and that is has the capabilities to do so.
Compare that view, that the federal government has the ability to pick winners and losers in the economy, against the ongoing problems the federal government has paying its employees. A recent report by the auditor general found that the federal payroll system remains plagued by problems, with errors in 2018 totalling $615 million, affecting more than 150,000 federal employees.