Most people find it commendable that the federal government is determined to trim the costs of running the country, even if it means some programs suffer cuts and restraints. The Harper Conservatives are adamant that the days of lavish spending are over (for the time being).
Once again the Defence Department will take the lead in cutbacks -- especially now that Afghanistan is on the back-burner. While all this has an inevitable feel, there are aspects that are so bothering that one wonders at the mental make-up of those involved.
What I'm referring to are bonuses -- and thanks to the Ottawa Citizen for breaking the story and exposing what never should have happened. DND is reportedly cutting 1,000 jobs as its part in government austerity -- clerks, kitchen staff, technicians, secretaries, whatever. That said, apparently some 157 DND employees in the executive category are dividing about $2 million in bonuses and extra pay.
Over in Veterans Affairs (VAC), which is continually under fire for apparent short-changing those who come home with life-altering wounds (mental and/or physical) in foreign missions, there are also cutbacks -- and more bonuses. Some 800 VAC jobs are said to be slated for extinction, yet $700,000 or so is headed to 57 executives or senior people in the form of bonuses or extra pay.
First of all, VAC surely does not need 57 executives, if indeed that's who these bonus recipients are. Too many chiefs in both VAC and DND. What's really galling is that the official designation for these payments is "at risk pay." What "risk," one wonders? The only risk these people face is the outrage of citizens at their taxes being wasted, or perhaps the indignation of veterans having what they need diverted to bosses who are already well paid.
Is there no sense of decency, of propriety among these recipients? How in the name of conscience can they accept bonuses when the ranks of workers are being cut? The whole bonus tradition in both public service and the private sector should cease. A good salary should be sufficient. None of us has any control over what the private sector does, but government employees get enough perks as it is without extra money for doing the job they are paid for.
It must have been a bureaucrat with a twisted sense of humour who designated bonuses as "at risk pay." Again, one wonders how soldiers who served in Afghanistan and got extra money as "risk" pay, feel about the stay-at-home managers getting "risk" pay? When Defence Minister Peter MacKay's office was asked about the bonuses, the reply was that this was beyond the minister's control, and an issue determined by the Treasury Board and department managers.
VAC said the same thing applies to Veterans Minister Steven Blaney -- to which veterans advocate Sean Bruyeau was quoted in the Citizen: "He's the minister so isn't he in charge? If Minister Blaney can't manage [his senior managers] maybe someone new should be brought in..."
Blaney, by profession an engineer specializing in water purification and energy efficiency, has been relatively conscientious about cutting red tape and improving benefits and services for veterans. But again, like all cabinet ministers, he is essentially a pawn of the bureaucracy which goes on and on like topsy, while ministers come and go like butterflies.