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Frontier Centre for Public Policy

Federal government’s bloated bureaucracy needs an immediate overhaul

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From the Frontier Centre for Public Policy

By David Leis

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with the Honourable Preston Manning about the ever-growing size of Canada’s federal bureaucracy. Manning, a seasoned politician with an impressive legacy of public service, recently wrote a compelling column urging the next government to rein in the federal bureaucracy.

Our conversation highlighted the need for a strategic approach to managing the state’s size and ensuring efficient and effective government operations and democratic accountability. This issue is relevant to Canadians as the size of government in Canada continues to increase at historic levels and acts as a major impediment to our nation’s productivity, standard of living and quality of life.

The size of the state has also led to a change in our culture. Some assume that the government will do everything, which, of course, has never worked.

During our conversation, Manning highlighted the dramatic growth of the federal civil service, which has nearly doubled during the Trudeau years. This expansion, he said, poses a significant challenge for any new government trying to control this vast machinery by elected representatives. His central argument was clear: a new government must be prepared with a solid plan to manage and, where necessary, reduce the federal bureaucracy’s size to ensure its effectiveness and that it serves the needs of Canadians.

One of his primary suggestions was a return to merit-based hiring. The current emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion, he pointed out, sometimes comes at the expense of efficiency and effectiveness. While acknowledging the importance of a diverse workforce, Manning stressed that competence and capability, not ideology, should be the core criteria for hiring civil servants. This approach, he said, would ensure that the government is staffed by professionals who can deliver high-quality public services.

Privatization also came up as a key theme in our conversation. Manning pointed out that certain government functions could be better managed by the private sector. He said that by contracting out services that the private sector can deliver more cost-effectively, the government can reduce its size and focus on its core responsibilities. This shift would not only decrease public expenditure but also enhance the efficiency of service delivery to the public.

We also discussed the issue of federal encroachment into provincial jurisdictions and the need for it to focus on its own responsibilities, many of which are underperforming. The Trudeau government has been overstepping its constitutional boundaries in areas like healthcare, natural resources, and municipal governance. By respecting provincial jurisdictions, the federal government could reduce its role and the size of its bureaucracy while empowering those levels of government closer to the people. This decentralization would enable the provincial governments to manage their affairs more effectively, leading to a more balanced and efficient federation.

Building public support for reducing the size of the government was another crucial point in our conversation as Canadians struggle with high taxation and affordability. Survey after survey suggests a low level of trust in government as they witness high levels of deficits and debt as their standard of living continues to fall. Manning pointed out that, during the formation of the Reform Party, there was initially little public support for balancing the budget. However, through persistent efforts, public awareness and support for fiscal responsibility significantly increased. Similar efforts are needed today, he said, to educate the public about the importance of controlling government size and spending to serve Canadians better.

Our conversation also delved into the rule of law and the need for greater transparency to the public to ensure stronger accountability. Canada has one of the most secretive approaches to handling government documents in the Western world. Many documents are held indefinitely when they should be released publicly. Ironically, this secrecy has created a challenge for historians who seek to research past government decisions and can find few original documents because they are not public.

Manning also recommended periodically reviewing programs and either renewing or discontinuing them based on their effectiveness. This approach, he said, would enhance accountability and prevent the perpetuation of ineffective programs that no longer serve any purpose.

A particularly striking part of our discussion was the concept of a vertical political culture, where an elite class wields significant power, often at the expense of ordinary citizens. Manning argued that this description of elites and power is more relevant today than the traditional left-right political spectrum. The public must elect representatives committed to empowering citizens rather than perpetuating elite control, particularly within a massive, complex state bureaucracy.

Manning urged voters to ask candidates specific questions about how they plan to reduce the size of the federal civil service and manage public spending. By holding elected officials accountable, citizens can ensure that their concerns are addressed and that the government remains responsive to their needs, he said.

My discussion with Preston Manning highlighted the urgent need for strategic planning and public engagement in managing the size of Canada’s federal bureaucracy to ensure democratic control. His call for a return to merit-based hiring, increased privatization, respect for provincial jurisdictions, and greater transparency offers a roadmap for a more efficient and effective government.

As Canada faces increasing fiscal challenges and public dissatisfaction, his insights provide a timely reminder of the importance of prudent governance and active citizenship.

David Leis is the Frontier Centre for Public Policy’s vice president for development and engagement and host of the Leaders on the Frontier podcast.

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Frontier Centre for Public Policy

‘Hottest Year in History’ Alarms are False

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From the Frontier Centre for Public Policy

By Ian Madsen

It’s that time of year for breathless reports about planetary heating. Multilateral institutions, including the United Nations, recently made worldwide headlines, proclaiming 2023 as the hottest year in history.

The increase in average temperature, versus the longer-term average from 1850 to 1900, was a rise of 1.48 degrees Celsius. However, with the considerable difficulty of having truly comparable sets of measurements (from different sites in different years), one should treat such claims carefully.  Interested parties use them to promote ‘solutions’ that could do more harm than good. It is notable that this new ‘high’ temperature was only 0.17 degree Celsius higher than in 2016.

NASA notes five factors explaining higher temperatures.  Only one is the ‘usual suspect,’ greenhouse gases (mainly carbon dioxide, ‘CO2’). The other four are:  the El Niño Southern Oscillation, ‘ENSO’, cycle; aerosol levels (such as smoke, dust and air pollution); volcanic eruptions; and general ocean temperature level and trends. NASA says the first and last of these affect current overall temperature.

The world has been in what meteorologists call an El Niño phase, which brings much higher temperatures to most of the world when it prevails.  The oceans have also been gradually warming for decades, with occasional pauses, as  in the period 1998-2013.

There are other major reasons to make an observer skeptical of extreme claims. The first is that this is a ‘history’ that is relatively short; i.e., the past 150 years (or even, in practice, much less).  A second reason is that wide-scale, reliable global satellite temperature measurement has only been possible since the 1970’s. Before that, temperature monitoring was not systematic.

Until the 1880’s, temperature recordings were mostly in either North America or Europe, and hence show major data biases.  Another crucial bias was that many weather stations are in or close to cities, which grew and warmed as they burned more coal (and, later on, more oil and natural gas), causing the heat island effect.  The cities, growing gently warmer, also grew toward the weather stations, usually located on the outskirts of cities, especially the stations at airports.

For example, there are two weather stations in Winnipeg – one at the wind-swept airport and the other in the heart of downtown at the Forks.  An analysis back in 2007 showed the temperature difference between the two locations to be 1.57 degrees warmer at the Forks.  So closing or ignoring the airport temperature measurement location would “on paper” show warming in Winnipeg. It will be the same with most major Canadian airports.

Another valid way to challenge an assertion that 2023 was history’s hottest year, is to examine other time periods to see if one was hotter. The most well known such period came in the 1930’s, which was hotter and drier than the decades before or after. High temperatures set many new records that remain unbroken. The 1970’s were cool, despite rising COemissions.

The Medieval Warm Period, approximately AD 750-1350, was much warmer than today. Farming was commonplace in Greenland, and vineyards grew in Britain.  Industrialization began in the 1750’s, so, increased levels of greenhouse gas emissions could not and did not cause ancient warming.  Nor did lower CO2 emissions cause the subsequent cooling of the Earth’s atmosphere, which culminated in what is now called the Little Ice Age, AD 1350-1850, from which we are still emerging.

According to interested parties the past year may have set records, but  there is no evidence that it was the ‘hottest’.

Its summer time. Enjoy the hot weather.  Ignore the climate doomsters.

Ian Madsen is the Senior Policy Analyst at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy

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Energy

Trump and Energy

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From the Frontier Centre for Public Policy

By Terry Etam

Did you know that the United States Secret Service has a Chief of Communications? Does that not seem a little odd? To excel at his job, would he be perfectly silent?

Well, he’s not…Over the weekend the Chief of Communications of the United States Secret Service took to Twitter to start acting not very secret at all. How is this for a tweet: “…three charter flights filed with @SecretService agents, technicians, officers & mission support personnel safely arrived in Milwaukee.” He included a picture of one of the planes and all the debarked people standing on the tarmac.

I guess my definition of “Secret Service” is not that of the government’s, but then again, I’m not caught up in the same civil war-esque brouhaha over just what sort of curtain of madness would have descended over the world if Trump hadn’t turned his head that instant. Indeed, the past few days have been astonishing, watching players from across the spectrum and around the world reorient to accommodate what has happened.

Things are so complex, tense, and volatile that even the secret service feels the need to point out what it is doing, in great detail (though I’m sure the Director is muzzled re: the juicy stuff). In this environment predictions seem unwise, but hey that issue has never stopped me before, so here goes with a few observations of relevance to the energy industry.

As a building block of discussion, it is now highly probable that Trump will win the upcoming election. That ridiculously iconic photo of his bloody self with fist raised in front of the US flag is creating new Trump supporters out of not-insignificant online commentators that have spent years bashing him. Even Trump’s vice-presidential nominee, J.D. Vance, once expressed dislike for the big goofball (yes, he is: Exhibit A would be his tweet of a photo-shopped Trump tower in a Greenland village with the plea: “I promise not to do this to Greenland!” Of course he was many other things as well, but who could forget that…).

On the energy front, we know where Trump stands – drill baby drill. He wants to unleash American energy to drive down prices for consumers and increase competitiveness for US business. One aspect that goes unnoticed in this general discussion though is that there are material differences in what this means to the oil business/market versus the natural gas business/market.

He will focus on oil first. It will be symbolically important at a minimum for Trump to lower gasoline prices; they are a flashpoint because of the incessant visibility, the constant updating to a fraction of a cent in huge neon font as one drives down the road. Lowering gasoline prices will not be as easy as many think; for example, opening federal lands to drilling activity will not have any influence on gasoline prices for a long time, if at all.  Trump could lower some forms of taxes in a bid to lower prices, but the effect of that would not be huge.

His main goal would be to expand oil production in a bid to lower prices, but this is where things get complicated in the modern age. The US is now a net exporter of oil, some 1.6 million b/d in 2023, a reversal of the situation of prior years. Now, the US still imports significant quantities of oil because its refineries require certain grades in greater quantities than it produces, and exports the grades it cannot utilize (mostly light oil).

This dynamic will make it tough for the US to drive down global prices on its own (oil is very much priced on the global stage), no matter what Trump does in the short term. A drilling frenzy, even if he could orchestrate one, would simply result in more oil exports until the quantity was large enough that it made a new global impact. But at that point, OPEC would be involved and pulling whatever strings it wanted to get the price where it wanted.

So, under Trump we should expect a flurry of feel-good vibes for the oil sector, with more friendly legislation, rules, and land leasing opportunities, but the impact on oil production will take time to achieve any price reductions. All other potential levers to reduce gasoline prices will be on the table, including existing federal regulations that are negatively impacting any downstream activity.

Natural gas is going to be more interesting. It is the unsung hero of industry; a vital cog that is critical to many industries and real estate ventures, but one that gets scant attention until something weird happens, like a shortage.

Natural gas shortages have historically been short term phenomena related to extreme weather events, and the price mechanism fixed the problem in a big hurry. Gas drillers are very good at what they do.

What has made natural gas so beneficial tot he US economy over the last decade is the fact that producers have reliably glutted the market, giving the US (and Canada) the lowest sustained natural gas prices on the planet. The economic benefit of that is hard to overestimate, since cheap natural gas enables so many beneficial industrial processes and keeps power and heating bills reasonable for consumers.

But if all that LNG export capacity is built, and if all the proposed AI data centres are built as planned, there will be significant strain on North American producers to meet that surge in demand. New LNG capacity and expected data center demand could, by 2030, add 20-30 bcf/d of new demand, in a 100 bcf/d market. Adding those volumes will be an enormous challenge and will require higher prices to incentivize producers to make it happen.

But higher prices will be exactly what Trump does not want. So, one can safely assume he will be pushing hard on US producers to expand output and will make it much easier to build infrastructure. That will help, but it is going to be a tough balancing act to ensure production increases sufficiently while at the same time keeping the cost of the vital fuel low. Natural gas markets would most certainly benefit from the relative stability of oil prices, however that is much harder to do in a “just in time” market which natural gas essentially is.

And then on top of it all, despite the importance of energy prices and availability, all will be background noise compared to the circus that will accompany his second run at presidency. The world is becoming more bifurcated and the US’ position in it is changing. There are enough active wars to make any human sick, and the US has to balance where to be involved and where not, which is as far from simple as can be. Additionally, the world is tectonically drifting into the wealthy west, the golden billion, and the ‘rest of the world’, the 7 billion that aspire to live like the west does.

On top of that, the people that hate Trump really, really hate Trump. One reason the west is in such turmoil is because of the polarizing nature of not just Trump, but of the reaction to Trump.

We will see though – at time of writing, Trump, in a post-shooting interview, said that he had ripped up his planned speech for the Republican National Convention. It was going to be a “humdinger” (his word, or course) attacking Biden’s record. However, his latest version will focus on unifying the nation. Let’s hope it works, rooting for you my American friends. No one will be better off if the US does not regain its footing.

Terry Etam is a columnist with the BOE Report, a leading energy industry newsletter based in Calgary.  He is the author of The End of Fossil Fuel Insanity.  You can watch his Policy on the Frontier session from May 5, 2022 here.

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