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Fraser Institute

Scathing auditor general reports underscore political realities

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From the Fraser Institute

By Jake Fuss

Nearly 20 per cent of the SDTC projects examined by the AG were in fact ineligible (based on the government’s own rules) for funding, with a total price tag of $59 million. There were also 90 instances where the SDTC ignored conflict of interest provisions while awarding $76 million to various projects. Indeed, the AG found 63 cases where SDTC agency directors voted in favour of payments to companies in which they had declared interests.

If you needed more proof that the Trudeau government is misusing taxpayer money, the auditor general (AG) just released two scathing reports about improper contracting practices, conflict of interest, and funding provided for ineligible projects. Clearly, politicians and bureaucrats in Ottawa do not always act in the best interest of Canadians.

According to the first AG report, Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC), the federal agency responsible for funding green technology projects, demonstrated “significant lapses… in governance and stewardship of public funds.” Nearly 20 per cent of the SDTC projects examined by the AG were in fact ineligible (based on the government’s own rules) for funding, with a total price tag of $59 million. There were also 90 instances where the SDTC ignored conflict of interest provisions while awarding $76 million to various projects. Indeed, the AG found 63 cases where SDTC agency directors voted in favour of payments to companies in which they had declared interests.

The second AG report focused on 97 contracts totalling $209 million awarded by the federal government to the McKinsey & Company consulting firm from 2011 to 2023. According to the AG, the government demonstrated “frequent disregard for procurement policies and guidance and that contracting practices often did not demonstrate value for money.” About 70 per cent of these contracts were awarded non-competitively—meaning no other companies were permitted to bid on the contracts.

These findings also follow an earlier report in February that found the federal government “repeatedly failed to follow good management practices in the contracting, development, and implementation” of the ArriveCAN mobile app, which cost Canadian taxpayers at least $59.5 million.

While the Trudeau government’s record-high levels of spending have made it clear that taxpayer money is being dished out left and right without much regard for the consequences for future generations of Canadians, the AG reports reveal chronic mismanagement, little accountability, and decision-makers acting in their own interests.

Government officials are handing huge sums of taxpayer money to people or companies who spend it without proper transparency or oversight. When considering these findings, Canadians should be skeptical of any politician or commentator who downplays government excesses or says we can’t reduce federal spending.

It’s also naïve to think that politicians and bureaucrats are benevolent civil servants who simply want to make the world a better place. In reality, like most people, they’re human beings motivated by self-interest.

James Buchanan, who won the Nobel Prize in economics in 1986, explained these concepts when pioneering a branch of economics called Public Choice Theory, which pays particular attention to the incentives policymakers face.

Politicians do not always act in the best interest of their constituents, and bureaucrats do not always act in the best interests of the public.

Why? Because it’s often in their interest to make decisions that benefit themselves, family members, friends or other cronies. If you decide to give money to companies despite a conflict of interest or if you award contracts to friends, you’re not making decisions in the best interest of society. People don’t suddenly become selfless when they enter the government sector. They respond to the same incentives as everyone else. The latest AG reports underscore this reality.

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Fraser Institute

Enough talk, we need to actually do something about Canadian health care

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From the Macdonald Laurier Institute

By J. Edward Les for Inside Policy

Canada spends more on health care as a percentage of GDP than almost all other OECD countries, yet we rank behind most of them when it comes to outcomes that matter.

I drove a stretch of road near Calgary’s South Health Campus the other day, a section with a series of three intersections in a span of less than a few hundred metres. That is, I tried to drive it – but spent far more time idling than moving.

At each intersection, after an interminable wait, the light turned green just as the next one flipped to red, grinding traffic to a halt just after it got rolling. It was excruciating; I’m quite sure I spied a snail on crutches racing by – no doubt making a beeline (snail-line?) for the ER a stone’s throw away.

The street’s sluggishness is perhaps reflective of the hospital next to it, given that our once-cherished universal health care system has crumbled into a universal waiting system – a system seemingly crafted (like that road) to obstruct flow rather than enable it. In fact, the pace of medical care delivery in this country has become so glacial that even a parking lot by comparison feels like the Indianapolis Speedway.

The health care crisis grows more dire by the day. Reforms are long overdue. Canada spends more on health care as a percentage of GDP than almost all other OECD countries, yet we rank behind most of them when it comes to outcomes that matter.

And we’re paying with our lives: according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, thousands of Canadians die each and every year because of the inefficiencies of our system.

Yet for all that we are paralyzed by the enormity and complexity of the mushrooming disaster. We talk about solutions – and then we talk and talk some more. But for all the talking, precious little action is taken.

I’m reminded of an Anne Lamotte vignette, related in her bestselling book Bird By Bird:

Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report written on birds that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books about birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”

So it is with Canadian health care: we’ve wasted years wringing our hands about the woeful state of affairs, while doing precious little about it.

Enough procrastinating. It’s time to tackle the crisis, bird by bird.

One thing we can do is to let doctors be doctors.  A few weeks ago, in a piece titled “Should Doctors Mind Their Own Business?”, I questioned the customary habit of doctors hanging out their shingles in small independent community practices. Physicians spend long years of training to master their craft, years during which they receive no training in business methods whatsoever, and then we expect them to master those skills off to the side of their exam rooms. Some do it well, but many do not – and it detracts from their attention to patients.

We don’t install newly minted teachers in classrooms and at the same time task them with the keeping the lights on, managing the supply chain, overseeing staffing and payroll, and all the other mechanics of running schools. Why do we expect that of doctors?

Keeping doctors embedded within large, expensive, inefficient, bureaucracy-choked hospitals isn’t the solution, either.

There’s a better way, I argued in my essay: regional medical centres – centres built and administered in partnership with the private sector.

Such centres would allow practitioners currently practicing in the community to ply their trade unencumbered by the nuts and bolts of running a business; and they would allow us to decant a host of services from hospitals, which should be reserved for what only hospitals can do: emergency services, inpatient care, surgeries, and the like.

In short, we should let doctors be doctors, and hospitals be hospitals.

To garner feedback, I dumped my musings into a couple of online physician forums to which I belong, tagged with the query: “Food for thought, or fodder for the compost bin?”

The verdict? Hands down, the compost bin.

I was a bit taken aback, initially. Offended, even – because who among us isn’t in love with their own ideas?

But it quickly became evident from my peers’ comments that I’d been misunderstood. Not because my doctor friends are dim, but because I hadn’t been clear.

When I proposed in my essay that we “leave the administration and day-to-day tasks of running those centres to business folks who know what they’re doing,” my colleagues took that to mean that doctors would be serving at the beck and call of a tranche of ill-informed government-enabled administrators – and they reacted to the notion with anaphylactic derision. And understandably so: too many of us have long and painful experience with thick layers of health care bureaucracy seemingly organized according to the Peter Principle, with people promoted to – and permanently stuck at – the level of their incompetence.

But I didn’t mean to suggest – not for a minute – that doctors shouldn’t be engaged in running these centres. I also wrote: “None of which is to suggest that doctors shouldn’t be involved, by aptitude and inclination, in influencing the set-up and management of regional centres – of course, they should.”

Of course they should. There are plenty of physicians equipped with both the skills and interest needed to administer these centres; and they should absolutely be front and centre in leading them.

But more than that: everyone should have skin in the game. All workers have the right to share in the success of an enterprise; and when they do, everybody wins.  When everyone is pulling in the same direction because everyone shares in the wins, waste and inefficiencies are rooted out like magic.

Contrast that to how hospitals are run, with scarcely anyone aware of the actual cost of the blood tests or CT scans they order or the packets of suture and gauze they rip open, and with the motivations of administrative staff, nurses, doctors, and other personnel running off in more directions than a flock of headless chickens. The capacity for waste and inefficiencies is almost limitless.

I don’t mean to suggest that the goal of regional medical centres should be to turn a profit; but fiscal prudence and economic accountability are to be celebrated, because money not wasted is money that can be allocated to enhancing patient care.

Nor do I mean to intimate that sensible resource management should be the only parameter tracked; patient outcomes and patient satisfaction are paramount.

What should government’s role be in all this? Initially, to incentivize the creation of these centres via public-private partnerships; and then, crucially, to encourage competition among them and to reward innovation and performance, with optimization of the three key metrics – patient outcomes, patient satisfaction, and economic accountability – always in focus.

No one should be mandated to work in non-hospital regional medical centres. It’s a free country (or it should be): doctors should be free to hang out their own community shingles if they wish. But if we build the model correctly, my contention is that most medical professionals will prefer to work collaboratively under one roof with a diverse group of colleagues, unencumbered by the mundanities of running a business, but also free of choking hospital bureaucracy.

I connected a couple weeks ago with the always insightful economist Jack Mintz (who is also a distinguished fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute). Mintz sits on the board of a Toronto-area hospital and sees first-hand “the problems with the lack of supply, population growth, long wait times between admission and getting a bed, emergency room overuse,” and so on.

“Something has to give,” he said. “Probably more resources but better managed. We really need major reform.”

On that we can all agree. We can’t carry on this way.

So, let’s stop idling; and let’s green-light some fixes.

As Samwise Gamgee said in The Lord of the Rings, “It’s the job that’s never started as takes longest to finish.”


Dr. J. Edward Les is a pediatrician in Calgary who writes on politics, social issues, and other matters.

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Economy

ESG rankings have no significant effect on investment performance of Canadian public companies

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From the Fraser Institute

By Steven Globerman

Despite claims to the contrary, the ESG rankings of publicly-traded Canadian companies have no significant effect on investment returns, finds a new study published today by the Fraser Institute, an independent, non-partisan Canadian
public policy think-tank.

“While government regulators and some industry executives promote the benefits of ESG investing, there’s no evidence of significant advantages for investors,” said Steven Globerman, senior fellow at the Fraser Institute and author of ESG Investing and Financial Returns in Canada.

Environmental, social and governance (ESG) is a movement designed to pressure businesses and investors to pursue larger social goals. In Canada, due to government securities regulation, publicly-traded companies must disclose ESG-related
information on a range of issues including environmental impact, human rights, and equity and inclusion.

ESG advocates claim that government-mandated ESG disclosures improve the financial performance of companies.
However, the study—the first empirical analysis of the relationship between changes in the ESG rankings of Canadian publicly-traded companies and equity returns— tracked 310 companies on the Toronto Stock Exchange from 2013 to 2022 and found no significant relationship between changes in ESG ranking (upgrades or downgrades) and financial returns, as measured by the price of shares and dividend income.

In other words, advocates for greater ESG disclosures cannot accurately claim—based on Canadian evidence—that requiring companies to provide more information for ESG rankings will significantly affect the financial performance of Canadian
investors.

“Better performance on ESG rankings simply does not translate into better financial performance for Canadian firms,” Globerman said.

  • ESG investing incorporates environmental (E), social (S), and governance (G) considerations into investment decisions. Until recently, ESG-themed investing comprised an increasing share of investments made by professional money managers and retail investors.
  • Financial industry executives and regulators who have promoted ESG-themed investing argue that it will enhance investment performance either by increasing asset returns and/or by reducing investment risk.
  • However, empirical studies, on balance, find no consistent and statistically significant evidence of a positive relationship between the ESG rankings of individual companies or portfolios of companies and the financial performances of those companies or investment portfolios.
  • Most empirical studies have focused on US-based publicly traded companies. To our knowledge, this study is the first to focus on returns to ESG-themed investing for Canadian-based public companies.
  • Using data from MSCI, a leading ESG ratings provider, we estimate the statistical relationship between changes in ESG rankings of companies and changes in equity returns for those companies using a sample of 310 companies listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange between 2013 and 2022.
  • Our study finds that neither upgrades nor downgrades in ESG ratings significantly affect stock market returns.

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