03/19/2018 14:13 EDT | Updated 03/19/2018 14:18 EDT

Doug Ford Can Win With Vague Promises, But He'll Need Specifics To Lead

It would be advisable for Ford to have a list of a few specific, targeted cuts that he would implement on the proverbial day one of forming government.

Before being elected Ontario PC Party leader, candidate Doug Ford is seen past Canadian flags as he participates in a question-and-answer session at the Manning Networking Conference in Ottawa on Feb. 10, 2018.

During his Ontario PC leadership campaign, candidate Doug Ford promised to cut waste in the Ontario government and save taxpayers money. When asked in leadership debates and media interviews where he intends to cut waste, he did not have a specific answer.

This promise without a proposal was good enough for the leadership campaign.

The supermajority of Ontario PC members believe that waste is ubiquitous in Wynne's Ontario Government — in every department, agency and program. As such, there was no need for candidate Ford to offer specific proposals, and a general promise was sufficient.

And this general promise might be good enough for the general election in June as well.

Generally speaking, most Ontarians believe, regardless of whichever party is in power, governments are inefficient, and there is a plenty of waste.

Furthermore, one may advance the argument that a general promise to cut waste might be better politically than promising specific proposals.

After all, specific proposals, such as promising to cut the public service in 2014, could backfire.

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Exterior of Provincial Legislature building in Queen's Park, Toronto, Ont.

Risks of no proposal

However, not being specific in public should not absolve Ford, now the leader of the Ontario PC party, from privately contemplating and developing specific proposals.

While there is wisdom and prudence in waiting until forming government to look for waste, it would be advisable for Ford to have a list of a few specific, targeted cuts that he would implement on the proverbial day one of forming government (should he indeed be afforded that trust and honour). Otherwise, he may find that cutting waste and saving taxpayers money, and delivering this quintessential Ford win for his constituents, could be more difficult than anticipated for a number of reasons.

One, a significant part of governing a province as large, complex and globally integrated as Ontario is about reacting to intractable, unanticipated and consequential issues. Managing these issues will require an inordinate amount of focus and energy — intellectual, emotional and physical.

As any government before him and certainly after him, Premier Ford and his cabinet may find that they simply lack the time and energy for proactivity and advancing the agenda as they contemplated, such as judiciously reviewing government expenditures line by line and aggressively cutting waste.

This breakneck and pressure-cooker environment does not lend itself to clarity of sight.

Two, the picture may be foggier from inside than from outside the government. From day one of forming government, Premier Ford and his cabinet will be pulled in all sorts of directions, be thrown under all sorts of pressures and be exposed to an overload of conflicting information. They will deal with bureaucrats, external stakeholders and vested interests, the media, and the public on virtually every consequential file, such as reforming a program or policy to cut waste.

This breakneck and pressure-cooker environment does not lend itself to clarity of sight. Where certain programs or policies could reasonably and quasi-independently be viewed as wasteful from the outside in relative peace, from the inside, one could be persuaded to justify — for better or worse — expenditures that would otherwise be considered waste.

Finally, the government can be very slow on cutting itself. Government-mandated departmental, program or policy audits may be tantamount to self-policing, and may take years to conclude. Deciding on who is going to undertake the audits, carrying out the actual audits themselves, reviewing those audits, developing recommendations based on those audits and ultimately implementing them — it can be a painfully long process.

In the intervening period, Premier Ford and cabinet may find themselves waiting and not acting.

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Newly minted Ontario PC Leader Doug Ford in the St. Patricks Day Parade waves to folks sitting on the sidewalk on Bloor Street West.

Auditor general's reports — a good place to start

Fortunately for Ford, most of the work on where waste could be found and cut has been done by the Auditor General of Ontario.

Since the Liberal Party has been in power in 2003, the auditor general has published 14 annual reports, and dozens of special reports.

In every report, there are detailed analyses of whether agencies, programs and policies are achieving their stated goals and providing value for money, with recommendations for efficiency and optimization.

Ford has less than 90 days.

He should use this time to direct his policy staff to sift through all these reports, ask for their top 10 recommendations based on the auditor general's recommendations, pick at least a few recommendations whose savings would at least amount to the difference of not moving forward to a carbon tax (estimated at around $4 billion), and be ready to implement them on the proverbial day one.

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Among many reports, one report Ford's policy staff could consider is the Auditor General's 2014 Annual Report, in which Infrastructure Ontario's Alternative Financing and Procurement, or Public Private Partnerships (P3), was closely examined.

This report reviewed all the P3 projects Infrastructure Ontario has recommended to date, and found that the cost for delivering public infrastructure through the P3 model, as opposed to the public sector delivering these projects, has been $8 billion higher.

The report found major flaws in value-for-money assessments done by Infrastructure Ontario, and external firms it commissioned. Specifically, the risk premiums that private sector consortia estimated, which taxpayers ultimately had or have to pay for, were "not based on any empirical data," but rather on "their professional judgment and experience."

Based on this report, it appears that a clearly defined, accountable and empirically driven value-for-money assessment regime could save taxpayers billions of dollars over the long term. This is just one area that Ford could consider to cut or reform as premier in order to save taxpayers money.

There are many more areas of waste. It'd be wise to look for them now.

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