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Run government like a business? Not so fast

McNaughton_Graeme (web)By Graeme McNaughton/The Oshawa Express

Math is not my strong suit.

It’s a pretty cliche trait for a writer – an old joke in journalism school was that journalists are there because they can’t do math – but it’s true. Sure, I can do the basics, but anything crazy and you’ll see my eyes glaze over. BEDMAS? That’s how much the thing I sleep in weighs, right? Trigonometry? More like trigo-not-etry.

That’s why I have a lot of respect for those strong minded business types that can take a look at the numbers, see what’s wrong, and balance things out. It’s definitely not for everyone, but it’s types like these, whether it be the owner of a local mom and pop store or the mastermind behind a multi-billion dollar conglomerate that keep the economy moving.

And as a result, something that has turned into a trend is saying that government should be run like a business. And with deficits going up, along with salaries – just take a look at the thousands of names on the province’s recently released Sunshine List – and it’s understandable why people are getting frustrated. Looking through the list when it was released on Friday, I spent a good time regretting not doing better in school. Maybe I should’ve tried harder in math class.

However, the idea that government should be run like a business is one that, as we’ve seen south of the border, is not going well. President Donald Trump said he was going to make the type of deals for America that he did for his business empire. Instead, our neighbours south of the border haven’t been able to get anything done. His immigration reform has been struck down in court not once, but twice. The repeal of Obamacare and the implementation of the Republican’s version of public healthcare? Didn’t even make it to a vote. Instead, the most Trump has been able to do is improve his golf score, having hit the links more than a dozen times since being inaugurated a little more than two months ago, and spending about a third of his time at Trump branded properties.

Anyways, while I could go on for ages on my misgivings for Mr. Trump, what really stuck out to me lately was the debate over healthcare. The much maligned replacement for the Affordable Care Act, the American Health Care Act, would have seen millions lose their insurance and millions more get priced out of the market. And when the time came to make some changes to the act to help get it a better image, what did the business-minded Republicans look to change? Making sure more people kept their coverage? Nope. Ensuring that health care costs didn’t get out of control? Not quite. No, the biggest issue was the potential deficit it could cause, and they tackled that first and foremost.

And these aren’t just American misgivings. On this side of the border, we’ve seen these rallying cry brought up again and again, most recently with the race for who will be the next leader of the Conservative Party. We’ve even seen one contender, Kevin O’Leary, enter the race to specifically tout his business acumen. One of his favourite lines is to mention how he knows how to read a balance sheet, adding Prime Minister Justin Trudeau does not. While that may be the case, saying that running a country is just a numbers game is far off the mark.

And while it’s not a stretch to say that government bureaucracy can be bloated and cumbersome, O’Leary has voiced his desire to treat elected officials like company managers. If Kathleen Wynne doesn’t do what he wants, he will cut off transfer payments from Ottawa. He seems to forget that, like her or not, Wynne was a civilly elected official, and she – nor any other premier, MP or MPP – does not work for him.

It’s misplaced priorities – and in some cases, quite frankly, a misunderstanding of how government works – such as these that should raise the alarm for those wanting a government run like a business. There are things more important than dollars on a balance sheet. When you run a business, that’s all that matters. And with that comes layoffs and firings, more often than not just seen as numbers on a sheet. However, those people, more often than not, can go out and get another job.

When it comes to government services, it’s a totally different ball game. Looking to bring numbers down greatly affects people and their lives – and in some cases can actually lead to people actually losing their lives.

So while it may not be such a bad thing to incorporate business ideals in the world of politics – I wouldn’t say no to lower debts and getting rid of ballooning public sector wages – there needs to be a balance.

What do you feel is missing from government? Am I on the right track, or is my math off on this one? Send in your letters to the editor to