“We can perhaps shoot for a grander goal – a province that provides the best public services, delivered in the most efficient manner, in the world. If this sounds impossibly ambitious, put the question another way: Why not?”
- The Drummond Report
The vast majority of media attention the Drummond Report has received relies heavily on superlatives like “profoundly gloomy” and well-worn phraseology like "tighten your belts" and “calls for cutbacks.” The pundits tell us we must be ready for a “battle over the report” at Queen’s Park. It seems to me that there is an underlying theme here that most folk are missing, which I’ll get into shortly. First, some background.
Along with the gloom and doom and austerity, there was a sidebar story about how much Drummond himself got paid to do the report, with NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo tweeting messages like “Drummond paid 1500 tax $ a day says "Don't spend tax $" This passes as economic expertise.” and “Amazing! Drummond (paid 1500 tax $ a day) says cut services not tax gifts to the rich Who knew?”
Yet, it turns out that Don Drummond, the man behind the report, only charged the government for 51 days of work, although he did much more. In essence, Drummond’s take-home was about half what it would have been if he’d charged commiserate with the work he did.
Why? Why did Drummond cut back his own benefits? It could have been a fear of public reaction, but quite frankly, the average bear on the street has no idea what he looks like – even now, Drummond can walk the streets of Ontario with anonymity intact. It might have been out of altruism, setting the example he lays out in his own report; this would be real leadership on his part.
I think there’s something more going on here, something that sparks my optimism.
When talking about the report itself, Don Drummond called it the “culmination of everything I’ve done in my professional career.”
With this statement, combined with everything else he has said publicly and even the content of the report itself, one is left with an impression not just of a fulfillment of contractual obligations, but of legacy. Drummond believed that his report represents a turning point in Ontario’s history, therefore setting precedents that will be followed by other provinces and jurisdictions around the world. That’s a heck of a mark to leave behind.
You can interpret this as blind ego and might not be off the mark, but take that thought a bit further down. What is ego? Ego is about meaning, establishing personal value in a social context. We all want the work we do to mean something; we want to know we’ve raised our kids well, that our bosses appreciate our projects, that our friends value our contribution to their lives. Altruism, by its very nature, is about creating meaning through personal sacrifice.
I believe that Don Drummond – wealthy man, powerful man, economist, opportunist – turned down extra cash from the people of Ontario because his work, in and of itself, had meaning for him. It creates value for his society, etching his name into history. Making it about the money would have detracted from the purity of his social legacy.
You can dismiss this as idealistic – (here’s a piece I wrote to give more credence to the theory); feel free to look up “work and meaning” on Google. You’ll see that there is an increasing focus on what people want their job to mean even over how much they get paid for it.
Which brings us back to the report itself. Yes, there are calls for cuts and a great deal of focus is given to Ontario’s red ink, which is as it should be. The single greatest theme of the report, though, is about integrative collaboration – of breaking down Ministry and Service silos, of reducing the competition between players that provide similar resources, of creating aggregate service portals and above all, about specialized collaboration between players.
Competition is about what you get back. Under the existing social model, services competing for resource dollars will dedicate percentages of that funding to fighting the other guy. This results in duplication, gaps and overlaps in services that leave some Ontarians out of the loop and ultimately, cost us more through inefficiencies. So focused on their own piece of the pie, it’s a challenge for any player to proactively seek out partners doing similar or related things and find ways to work together. This competition extends itself to government – there can be only one governing party, so the resources of all Parties go into hyper-competition, often at the expense of potential collaboration.
Meaning, however, is about what you leave behind; leaving your mark on the world, healing a patient, teaching a student, helping an employee find new work, helping a neighbour shovel their driveway. It’s why the best politicians get into their business in the first place. The money, fine, it’s good to make a decent living, but you can make a lot more in the private sector. What you can’t get from the private sector as much as you can from public office is public legacy. To leave a legacy, you have to do things. To dedicate yourself to an ideal so entirely, it has to have meaning for you.
Politicians are ideologues. They all have at least a glint of legacy in their eye. Ultimately, though, their whole reason for being is the meaning of what their work accomplishes. When work has meaning for you, it becomes bigger than self-actualization. You might want to work with others to achieve it – in an association, for instance, or in a Political Party, or perhaps, as a society. This, then, is the message I have taken from the Drummond Report, a reflection of the vision of the man who authored it.
Ontario is internally competitive, rewarding some disproportionately more than others. Services exist in silos, which are inefficient; it’s not a question of less being more, but of redundant duplication being more. To realize Ontario’s maximum potential, we need each Ontarian at their best – which means better access to training in accessible formats and working conditions and environments that are tailored to eliciting the best from Ontario’s workforce. A proper focus on the front-end – making Ontarians stronger – will keep them out of hospitals; we can help that further by realigning systems like health care, social service and justice to work in a coordinated, integrated, specialized way. Collaborative specialization will be more efficient and certainly reduce the gaps, but more than that – the integration of services will allow for greater cross-pollination of ideas, which is the essence of innovation. Making this happen won’t be easy, but it will be impossible if politicians, unions, associations, profits and not-for-profits and the average person on the street dig in their heels and look to their individual interests first.
That, then, is the deeper meaning of the Drummond Report. Ontarians can achieve great things – but only if we work with each other. The future lies not to the left, nor to the right, but forward, together.