Saturday, February 18, 2012

A major flaw in mandate of the Drummond report

I was very disappointed to see that the mandate of the Drummond report specifically did not allow them to recommend tax increases. This deprives the people of Ontario of essential information. We're being told that various public services, all of which are valued by some people and some of which are valued by everyone, need to be cut, but we aren't being told what the alternative is.

In life in general, if you want to convince people to do something unpleasant, you have to tell them what the alternative is. For example, if you have a child who needs to get vaccinated, you tell them they have to get a needle so they don't get a big yucky sickness that will certainly make them miserable and might even kill them. But the too-narrow mandate of this report is akin to walking up to that child and saying simply "I'm going to stick a needle into you."

The child may or may not understand, and may or may not accept, the idea that doctors sometimes have to do unpleasant things to you to make you healthy. But, in any case, they'll be far more likely to think it's reasonable to stick a needle into them if you first tell them what you're trying to prevent. Even as an adult who understands the concept of vaccination, you'll want to know what you're being vaccinated against and maybe google the disease if you aren't already familiar with it before you allow a needle to be stuck into you.

But the government isn't telling us what exactly they're trying to prevent with these cuts; they're just taking as a given that the alternative is too expensive.

And, in life in general, if you want to convince someone that something is too expensive, you start by telling them how much it costs. For example, imagine you get the notion of buying a good bottle of real champagne. So you go to the best wine merchant in town ask for real champagne. He looks you up and down and says "You can't afford real champagne."

Is your reaction going to be "You must be right, you know best"? Probably not. Your initial reaction will probably be "WTF do you mean I can't afford real champagne? I can so afford real champagne!" Depending on the kind of pride or stubbornness you have, you might even feel so compelled to prove you can afford real champagne that you buy a bottle of champagne that you can't actually afford.

However, if he said something like "Of course. We have a lovely selection of champagne, starting at $750,000 a bottle," that would dissuade you far more effectively, wouldn't it? And it would make you far more likely to trust the wine merchant's judgement of what you are and are not able to afford in the future.

Of course, the reason why the government gave the Drummond Commission a mandate that precluded recommending tax increases is probably because the government has no intention of raising taxes under any circumstances. However, this is a strategic error. If the government's apparent plan of not raising taxes under any circumstances is even remotely sound, a report that includes information on how much our taxes would need to go up to support current service levels would support and build credibility for that plan. And, knowing that, the fact that they nevertheless mandated the Commission to neglect this key information leads me to question whether their plan is in fact sound.

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