Friday, August 12, 2011

The Epic Saga of Gary Mar: Part two

It was with a certain amount of dread that I approached the second half of this endeavor, but the response has been so positive that I feel the phrase "Well begun is half done" should be a new mantra, and so, press forward.

Fiscal policy
Despite his earlier plan to use 'resource revenues', Gary Mar feels that government has become addicted to using oil and gas money to pay for day to day spending and so intends to restructure the Sustainability Fund so it is not used as “mad money” for government. He even requires a growing portion of annual budgeted natural resource revenues to be allocated to the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund, to cover our butts, but only for short-term issues. More on that plan in a bit.
Hilariously he pledges to reduce the number of ministries and ministers. Remember those positions he talked about yesterday; The rep in Ottawa and three new boards? Cutting ministers is not a bonus if you turn around and hire other people. Keep this plan in mind as you read the rest of the post - it gets funnier.

His plans for the sustainability fund include:
-Restructure the mandate of the Sustainability Fund so that it is used solely to protect the fiscal plan against short-term revenue downturns. Once the $4.5 billion threshold is established, the Sustainability Fund will be required to have an opening balance of $4.5 billion at the start of any fiscal year. If it does not, the annual budget plan will allocate cash to the Fund to ensure the $4.5 billion reserve is in place before any allocations to operating or capital spending in the budget. However, how we are supposed to determine between short and long term issues is fairly tricky, but repaying any emergencies within a year is a hefty task. Besides, there is no point to a financial backup jar if we can't use it as a soft buffer for long-term.
-All annual spending will be done within the framework of the budget plan. (This is different from the other candidates who plan to operate wildly over budget) In-year operating or in-year capital spending would be prohibited.  The only exclusion to this would be revenues dedicated to specific expenses, such as increases to federal health transfers, as an example, and any unbugeted disasters and emergencies. A budget for disasters and emergencies will be provided for in a contingency reserve. Although where this reserve will come from is unclear.
-Publicly release a Long-term Fiscal Sustainability Report every two years [that no one will read].
-Commence a government-wide performance review of all provincial government operations (This seems to be a common first move for new heads in any area. and rarely leads to lasting changes)

When he speaks of evaluating programs he will evaluate them on three vectors:
1.Is it of measurable benefit to citizens? (Which I have reservations about; what about the immeasurable ones? [see: the Arts])

2. Is there a compelling reason for government to provide this service?
3. If the government did not, would there be a way for the private sector to provide it? (Not a cost-saving measure, except to consider expenses)

He mentions that it is a priority to refill the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund, saying it had been taken from to cover losses, but then points out that it has grown; Only $1.4 billion in 25 years, but growing is not shrinking. Nevertheless he plans to balloon it to $40 billion in 10 years, a plan so foolhardy as to be almost reckless in these economically chaotic times. This will be pulled from the 'projected' budget surpluses. I have a similar plan for my 'projected' lottery win. 

Last, he plans to 'speak more plainly' about the budget, showing the sustainability fund more obviously, but the problem with this plan is that most people don't understand the budget, and don't really care until prompted to. Not to mention the tricky problem of allowing people to figure out your salary - they are so going to resent you for it.

Health policy
Gary Mar is at least committed to reducing the hospital wait time, and I agree there is a problem when dealing with the elderly and mentally ill, but he doesn't outline how he plans to deal with these issues, other than saying it will be a 'common-sense' approach. He does say they should shift focus from care-based to preventative, but this is likely to manifest as a 'nanny' state result, haranguing citizens into eating better and walking more through the pocket of the Wellness Innovation fund, or WIN for short (no, seriously).
The most distressing notion he puts forth, however, is that "We must accelerate the reallocation of existing financial and human resources towards innovative delivery models, disease prevention and better access to care." If there is one notable feature about the health care system, it is that it does not move swiftly, or take to new ideas kindly, possibly to our benefit, since swift change breeds accidents, something we need to absolutely minimize in the health care industry.

With a slight nod to the Raj Sherman scandal, he obliquely refers to workers being frustrated that the government does not listen to them and people being intimidated. He makes it clear that he would address this issue, I assume this means a government review into the corruption that Dr. Sherman spoke of.

Research into health care is apparently also a priority for Gary, also a frank and open discussion about the health care industry. There are some numbers that seem to be pulled out of the air, (how do health care savings come about? The savings from people that attend hospitals for preventable diseases like obesity?) but look really good.

To revitalize the system he plans to spend more on Primary Care Networks, which seem to involve sending a person to specialists for treatment, rather than placing the burden completely on the doctor. But they use $50 per patient to do something I am sure better Internet access could accomplish. He also champions the use of a master wait list for specialist procedures, something that apparently worked with knee procedures, the 'aging in place' strategy for the elderly, which will heighten the need for long-term beds, and better community care for the mentally ill, an unpopular plan that I strongly support.

He also wants to move the Health Quality Council of Alberta  to the Legislature, another reason why the staffing budget will only grow under his plans.
In a bid to encourage rural doctors he plans to excuse student loans for those who specialize in family care and contract to work in rural areas, a move echoed by Daryl Bonar in the municipal election last year, but it did not serve him well. He also wants to train doctors and other health care professionals side by side on occasion to build respect and teamwork, a move that leaves me scratching my head. If working together doesn't help build respect, why would learning together work?

Finally, to improve health care monitoring and trend-spotting, he plans to establish a system that reports statistics while maintaining the anonymity of the actual patients, while also allowing greater access to personal health records online, a risky move with Anonymous still hanging around. (They do have better things to do than lurk Alberta's health care system, but I would still rather not.)

K-12 Education policy
Again, Mr. Mar promises stable funding, but this is still perhaps too much to ask, especially considering the recent spats between the teacher's union and the government. He does plan to sort those out but I am unsure what promises he could offer that won't tie our hands, but still satisfy teachers.

He plans to single out 'at-risk' youths while young and focus on them, although in what fashion is unclear. The hazard of paying too much attention to 'at-risk' youths is that they begin to internalize their issues too quickly, begin to identify as a 'problem child', and it may further push students who would have recovered on their own.

He also supports better language instruction, evaluating the provincial achievement tests, and helping schools, community agencies and service providers work together to deliver services in a coordinated, “reach-around” approach, oh excuse me, "wrap-around" approach.

Municipal Funding Policy
Gary Mar plans to stop the municipal grant program and simply allow them access to the education tax revenues, in a move that blindly trusts municipal decisions. As if we needed further reason to doubt his plan to 'cut staff', he would establish another council to oversee this perilous financial move. Why he would not simply establish a council that would move quickly to address municipal desires is unclear. Considering 20% would come from Edmonton and 20% from Calgary, this would put small communities, like my own sweet hometown, in danger of being crushed by the larger cities who are unable to see (and should not have to accommodate for) the needs of smaller municipalities. This is further exacerbated by the problem of his proposed equality between how much money municipalities collect in education taxes and how much they are allocated in funds. He assures us, however, that it will not result in less or more money. I am unsure, then, what is supposed to change.
(Footnote - confidential to Gary Mar's writers: it is not okay to put all titles in caps. Stop it.)

Progressive Conservative Party Policy
This section seems entirely subsumed by the usual tripe: more open, more accountable, younger, grassroots (A phrase I have begun to hate. It means nothing), family first, international, business leadership, glorious natural resources, etc. and tells us no more than we did before, but it does feel nice to simply skim the last gargantuan section and gratefully close the browser window.

With this, I must confess, I have shovelled more than my fair share of buzz-words, but we have uncovered the secrets of the first candidate! Have a great weekend, I shall have more leadership garbage when I return on Monday.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So interesting! I look forward to reading about (and snickering at) the next candidate. Kind of makes me want to vote on this issue, but I am not sure I am ready to give the conservatives the kind of unequivocal support I feel a party membership implies. Even if it only costs 5 dollars. But as you pointed out, I can put off making that decision until right before the polls close! How convenient.