Yesterday, Premier Ball announced his decision to merge 8 existing departments into 4, in an attempt to streamline government and save money. For example, the move reduced deputy minister positions by 5 people, or, 19%.
“Since we took office,” Premier Ball told media, “we have been closely reviewing the structure of government and identifying opportunities to streamline. By implementing this new structure we are continuing to adapt to our fiscal climate, with a goal of setting this province on a stronger economic footing.”
Less than 24 hours later, both Earle McCurdy and Paul Davis — leaders of the NDP and PC parties respectively — are questioning his logic, as opposition leaders are prone to do, and they’re likening the mergers to the lack of logic and foresight that went into Budget 2016.On McCurdy’s end, he says the number one objective of government is the delivery of services to the people of the province.
“[I haven’t] seen any analysis to explain how government made the decisions to cut and consolidate departments. The goal should be to improve efficiency without compromising program delivery. I am concerned by a lack of evidence provided to accompany the changes made to government departments that were announced yesterday.”
In particular, McCurdy does not agree with the decision to move away from Fisheries as a stand-alone department. “It sends the message that fisheries have become a lower priority. The fishery is the number one industry in hundreds of communities with lots of problems that need the attention of the Minister.”
Former premier Paul Davis specifically dislikes the merger of the former Department of Child, Youth and Family Services with the former Department of Seniors, Wellness and Social Development, for fear it’ll impact vulnerable teens and children.
The Department of Child, Youth and Family Services was, after all, created in reaction to the death of Zachary Turner, so Davis says merging this department with another may undo the strides taken in the past to ensure better childhood safety. Ball insists the merger will not jeopardize child welfare.
“It is concerning that, after so much effort was spent creating a separate and functioning Department of Child, Youth and Family Services,” Davis says, “the government is throwing the department into upheaval. Will a larger department undermine the significant progress that CYFS has already made? What advice did the Child and Youth Advocate give about this?”
Additionally, McCurdy is worried in general that expertise from departments might end up lost in this shuffle. “Where costs can be reduced without compromising service, we’re all for it,” he said. “But just as we saw with the spring budget, there is no evidence here of a coherent plan,” he says, citing a lack of background information on why departments were combined.
In retort, Ball is basically saying, expect more government downsizing and streamlining, with an endgoal of saving money. (Even though the severance packages doled out yesterday totaled $852,000, he says that will be recouped in a year.)
Premier Ball says his decision was informed by looking at the size of governments across the country and determining our provincial government was too big and top-heavy at the executive level.
Richard Alexander, executive director of The Newfoundland and Labrador Employers’ Council , is supporting Ball’s decision, agreeing that the province needs to reduce the size/cost of its government.