Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Gambling, the NHL and the B.C. government

Bob Ritchie is a frequent e-mail correspondent and always interesting. He shared this thought.

"Paul, it is a taboo for sports stars in the U.S. to advertise on behalf of liquor or gambling organizations. President Obama is even calling for tougher regulations with teeth.
Our Canucks' sports hero Roberto Luongo placed his smiling face on a Pokerstars TV ad. Integrity at the lowest level. If his common sense and caring is at such a low point, get rid of the money crabbing bum.
Doesn't he realize that gambling addictions are tearing our society apart bit by bit?
The Vancouver sports writers seem to work within a circle of fear."

There's more on the NHL's ties with the online gambling industry here.

And, speaking of online gambling (and a certain sleazy dishonesty), B.C. Lotteries has been advertising the big 6/49 jackpot heavily this week. The ads have also promised a $5 credit for new gamblers who sign up for online betting through the lotteries' PlayNow Internet gambling portal.
There is something profoundly wrong when a government sets out to recruit new gamblers, especially in the most dangerous forms of betting - like online gambling, available to the desperate or drunk or ill around the clock. And especially when, in opposition, the Liberals were fierce about the need to halt gambling expansion because of the misery it caused. Instead, they introduced online betting, mini-casinos with VLTs in communities large and small and aggressive targets to recruit more gamblers and increase the average amount lost.
The PlayNow FAQ give a good sense of the government's real concern for problem gambling and addiction.

If I choose to exclude myself from PlayNow play, will I still be able to buy lottery products from a lottery store, enter a bingo hall or casino?
When you register, you must agree that BCLC may share your information amongst its various other business units, such as bingo halls or casinos. At this time, if you elect to self-exclude from PlayNow, BCLC is not yet able to automatically exclude you from its other gaming venues."

So, if you've lost way more than you can afford, can't control your compulsion and have decided to have yourself barred from Internet betting with the government, golly, they just can't figure out a way to let you also put your name on casino exclusion lists at the same time.
For a government that claims to be on the tech cutting edge, that is simply not credible.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Government job cuts and services

Some public sector workers are going to be taking one day a week off this summer to help the government cut spending.
And the change is the first of what looks to be a big series of cuts in the government workforce.
So far, it's unclear where or how the cuts will be made, how they will affect services - and their impact on the economy.
The government, after a couple of employee surveys and talks with unions, has announced a 10-week pilot program of voluntary workweek reductions. Eligible employees will be able to apply for approval to work a four-day week, with a 20-per-cent pay reduction. Benefits and pension contributions won't be affected.
The plan makes sense. About half the 32,200 government employees are eligible to apply. The decision, the government says, will be based on the ability to keep up with the work. (That aspect worries the B.C. Government Employees Union, which fears work will pile up when employees are off.)
But it's a small step. The savings would be about $2,500 per person who takes the reduced workweek - if 2,000 people sign on, the savings would be about $5 million.
The government plans much deeper cuts.
Information on the plans, or goals, so far has been unavailable.
The budget projects no major job cuts over this year and the next two. The Attorney General's ministry is to lose 168 people by 2011/12; children and families will lose 267; housing and social development 128.
In total, though the government is projecting 31,872 full-time equivalents by 2011/12, compared with 32,214 this year. That's about a one-per-cent cut.
But other indications suggest a much more dramatic reduction.
On budget day, Jessica McDonald, the deputy minister to the premier and top public sector manager, wrote to government employees.
The memo, quickly reprinted in, said "overall staffing costs will go down substantially in the next few years." McDonald pointed first to "increasing attrition and recruitment lag."
That's consistent with the government's analysis over the last few years. It has projected that a large number of government employees will retire or quit over the next 10 years. At the same time, there will be competition for a smaller number of young people entering the workforce. It could be tough, in that environment, to keep jobs filled.
But McDonald went on to write that "direct staff impacts" - a euphemism for layoffs - could occur as "a last resort."
The memo also the need to "adjust to delivering services as a smaller organization."
And then it suggests that even after retirements, other attrition and a hiring chill, layoffs were possible.
McDonald said the government would work hard to lessen the impact and layoffs would definitely not affect more than five per cent of the workforce.
That's still 1,600 people. And those cuts would be on top of reductions as people retired or quit and their positions went unfilled.
There is slack in any organization, of course. And effective operations are always looking for ways to be more efficient or eliminate tasks that provide little benefit.
But after eight years under the Liberals, you might expect that process to be well advanced.
So what will be sacrificed if, as McDonald suggests in another e-mail obtained by, the public sector sheds 10,000 positions in the next 10 years?
Even with clever efficiencies and new ways of doing things, that represents an enormous reduction in the number of people doing the work of protecting children or the environment or healthy care quality.
And what will be the impact of job losses on communities, particularly during the current recession? Government doesn't exist as a giant make-work program. But it seems puzzling to look for ways to create jobs with stimulus measures while cutting services and employment.
Government workers are already twitchy about what lies ahead. Given the extent of the job cuts, the public should be just as concerned.
Footnote: It's impossible to say when the way ahead will be clearer. Some indication could come when Gordon Campbell appoints the new cabinet, likely in mid-June.