News that Sebringville-based Woodcock Bros. is being forced to lay off six employees as a result of losing a decades-old laboratory courier contract with the Huron Perth Healthcare Alliance (HPHA) should come as no surprise. It is, after all, budget season — from the federal Finance Ministry right down to our close-to-home municipal governments (St. Marys hosts a Public Meeting into its proposed 2013 budget on Tuesday, April 3, 6 p.m. at the Pyramid Centre), and the clarion call from taxpayers is: “keep those deficits in check.”
Sure, there are the anomalies among public sector budget watchers. About last week’s federal budget, David Macdonald wrote on the website of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives that he utilized some “economic multipliers handily provided in the (Harper government’s) 2009 budget” — a “stimulus” document — and applied them to this year’s version, which is identified as an “austerity” budget. From these multipliers, “it is possible to calculate the economic and job impact of this austerity. In 2014-15,” he predicted, “austerity” will reduce real GDP by 0.84 per cent. “Now that may not seem like a lot, but since growth in 2014-15 is expected to only be 1.6 per cent, it’s a pretty big deal.”
But in large part, as reflected in recent electoral results as well as in the deficit-cutting arguments proffered by politicians of all stripes, at all levels of government, Canadian taxpayers want governments to provide services in the most cost-effective manner possible.
And that’s exactly what the provincial Health Ministry was doing when it created a list of contracted-out jobs for which healthcare service providers that benefit from Ministry funding are now required to send out requests for proposals. Laboratory courier services is on that list; a Kitchener-based company can do it for less money, so Woodcock Bros. will have to refine its cost structure and come back to the HPHA with another proposal, whenever the next RFP goes out a few years hence.
If Woodcock Bros. is still around by then, that is.
The situation mirrors that faced across the province by small companies running school buses. These businesspeople are being forced out by the Education Ministry’s RFP requirements.
In the private sector, consumers have the opportunity to pay a premium price for something if they feel it will support small-town or rural communities. People pay more for a Halloween pumpkin or a pork chop at a roadside farm market than they might at a grocery store, but they’re willing to do so because they know less of the price goes to the pocket of a middle man.
It’s possible to pay premium prices for products or services normally provided through taxpayer funds. You can send your kid to private school, or cross the boundary (international or psychological) into private sector healthcare. But you still pay your taxes into the universal system.
The danger at budget time is governments getting involved in a race to the bottom. Can the provincial government’s RFP rules be justified, despite damage to rural communities? So far, the Liberals haven’t given any hint of backing off. But with new Premier Wynne installing herself at Ag Minister, perhaps that day will come.