Wednesday, August 19, 2009

No, Gordon Campbell has not lost his mind

The government's binge of self-destructive, autocratic acts - health care cuts, the HST, killing Tourism B.C., axing gaming grants - might seem an indication that Gordon Campbell is losing touch.
But the always interesting Gazetteer suggested that Campbell "actually sees the current fiscal situation as a game-changing opportunity to shrink the 'ordinary business of government.'"
I'd agree. (Although how do you assess a premier who defines climate change as an enormous threat to mankind, then loses interest within 24 months?)
Creating a crisis - this time through a wildly inaccurate budget - justifies all sorts of radical change.
And there are, as I noted in the Vancouver Sun column below from just after the 2001 election, tactical advantages to sweeping, fast, radical changes.

Taking their cue from a Kiwi, the Liberals have embarked on a tidal wave of change so mighty that opponents won't be able to keep their heads above water
Wed Jun 20 2001
VICTORIA - Anyone who thinks the Liberals' legislated end to the health labour disruptions is dramatic has no idea what's ahead from this government. The Liberals plan to go very far, very fast, at a pace that overwhelms opponents and keeps reform moving at a crisis-drive pace.
Premier Gordon Campbell hasn't developed some new strategy. The Liberals are borrowing heavily from the approach of Ralph Klein. Like the Alberta Conservatives, they are turning to lessons from Sir Roger Douglas, the hard-line finance minister who drove the transformation of New Zealand in the mid-1980s.
If you want a preview of the few years, turn to Mr. Douglas' book Unfinished Business, popular in Liberal circles.
The real insight into the Liberals' tactics comes in Chapter 10, which offers a battle plan for small-government reformers. Douglas outlines 10 principles for successfully pushing through radical change in a way that overwhelms opponents.
Campbell and company have proved to be quick learners. Mr. Douglas's first principle is that for quality policies, you need quality people
It's the second and third principles that reveal just how wild the ride will be over the next year.
``Implement reform in quantum leaps, using large packages,'' advises Douglas in his second commandment. His third is just as dramatic: ``Speed is essential,'' he writes. ``It is almost impossible to go too fast.''
The month since the election shows the Liberals have embraced both pieces of advice. The tax cuts came earlier and went much farther than expected, especially after a campaign in which Campbell emphasized both the poor state of the province's finances and a commitment only to middle and low-income tax cuts. .
Campbell took the same approach in remaking government, moving to an immediate, radical restructuring that left few ministries untouched.
Douglas argues massive changes are needed. Incremental reforms, especially unpopular ones, leave groups within society feeling unfairly treated. If everyone is being affected at once, at least they can't complain of being singled out.
Rapid changes also allow governments to link both the positive and negative aspects of reform. Dramatic tax cuts depend on dramatic action to control costs, the government can argue, like ordering health care staff back to work.
Pragmatically, rapid change overwhelms opponents. Protesters can rally against individual government actions or policies, building a broad base of support and pooling their opposition. But confront them with a tidal wave of change and they can't respond, each group fixed on defending its own area of interest.
``Do not try to advance a step at a time,'' Mr. Douglas writes. ``Define your objectives clearly and move towards them in quantum leaps. Otherwise the interest groups will have time to mobilize and drag you down.''
The restructuring of government proved how well the approach can work. Specific changes -- the loss of a women's ministry, little status for arts and culture, a reduced role for environment -- might have sparked protests. As part of a massive restructuring, each individual change received less attention.
And it relies on a continuous rapid movement toward the government's goals. ``One you build the momentum, don't let it stop rolling,'' Douglas counsels. Governments should pile on the change, so opponents are still struggling to mobilize against the last reform while the newest one rolls out.
It's a prescription for government surgery conducted with a chainsaw or axe, not a scalpel.


Gazetteer said...

Thanks for this Paul.

And it will be very interesting to read what others think about it.

Just to expand a little bit about what brought me to my hypothesis, I first started wondering about this after reading Monte Paulsen's interesting piece that was published in The Tyee during the early days of the election campaign just past.

Then, after the single TV debate that came later in the campaign, I really, really started to wonder.

Finally, when the post-election reports of the deep healthcare cuts first surfaced pretty much simultaneously with all that 'two-tiered is fine'-type talk that was floated by a Campbell-appointed official, which you commented on extensively, well, it was impossible for me to not think of that old saw from noted American uber-conservative Grover Norquist about wanting to shrink the size of government enough that so he could 'drown it in the bathtub'.



Beverly said...

How convenient. I found an old copy of "Future Shock" and am rereading it.
Plays to all mentioned here.

BC Liberals Suck said...

Disaster capitalism at it's core. The purposeful collusion of parties to cause as much public disorder as possible in order to ram through the biggest gutting of a society, or province as demonically possible. To the benefit of the corporations and other assorted empty vessels, or greedy parasites.

"how do you assess a premier who defines climate change as an enormous threat to mankind, then loses interest within 24 months?"

A fake, opportunist, political hack, flaky, self-interested, well-managed? I could go on...

BC Liberals Suck

P.S. You can’t lose something you never had.

Anonymous said...

Poor little me was thinking it was a cynical ploy to short circuit bargaining with all the labour contracts that expire in March 2010 - the Gazetteer has come up with a much more sinister plot.

Gazetteer said...


The two are NOT necessarily mutually exclusive.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Paul and Ross K. for your excellent analysis and observations.

We need to pay attention and take action as citizens to stop government being dismantled. And I think they will try to break unions too.

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:38...I'm a member of the HEU, and I can assure you they are absolutely out to break the unions.
Well...the ones they don't like. Those that are members/shareholders of Concert Properties are quite safe.