Thursday, August 21, 2008

Holy Crown Crap.... I think he's right

It's been my experience that most Crown Corps particularly Provincial ones are set up with good intentions but it doesn't take long before they start to sway outside their mandate or terms of reference as is the case with the Charlottetown Area Development Corporation, Summerside Waterfront Development Corporation, etc... and it's time Government took a serious look at winding up quite a few of these dinosaurs and put them back into private hands or close them out and save our taxpayers a ton of money...
Crown corporations: what purpose do they really serve?
This past spring, during the time of the great Non-Clean-Up, I was pedalling my bicycle in my own private 'tour de subdivision'. The trees were bare, no flowers were in blossom, but everywhere I travelled, the one thing that was blooming was a regular riot of those rejection stickers the garbage police must carry by the box-load in their trucks. And seeing these bright blossoms appear again and again as I pedalled, I came to two realizations: first, I realized how profoundly weary I am of the never-ending proliferation of new and more Draconian garbage rules; second, I realized that I can't even complain about it because between me and any possibility of effective action, there lies something called a 'Crown corporation' (IWMC-Island Waste Management Corporation.) Now for those who may be a bit fuzzy as to what a Crown corporation is, a Crown corporation is a phoney imitation of a private business. From the outside, it looks like a private business. It will have a president, vice-president(s), a board of directors and so forth. It will behave like a private business, even down to the rhetoric. (So that, for example, the spokesperson for Canada Post, a Crown corporation, will exult about returning a profit to its 'shareholder' - the Government of Canada, which, according to our theory of popular sovereignty, is the 'people' of Canada, including those rural people Canada Post is currently abusing in order to return that profit.) But it is created by, and loosely tied to, government. What's even more to the point, though, Crown corporations are treated as though they were private businesses by others, including other levels of government. Now, actually calling governments to account, or moving them to do the sensible thing, is difficult at the best of times (the Cornwall Town Hall.) However, governments are bound by laws, regulations and policies, which can be invoked. Private business are far less bound, and this extends to Crown corporations as well. An example of this is presented in my soon-to-be-published study of the City of Charlottetown. In it, a comparison is drawn between the two 'farms' (the Experimental Farm and the Upton Farm) in terms of the public reaction, and the relative success of the groups opposing development of those properties. In the case of the Experimental Farm, the property remained within the jurisdiction of Public Works Canada. Public Works Canada is a government agency, and as far as any disposal of assets goes, it is bound by Treasury Board Policy. This is precisely why, as soon as there was a hint of a Mi'kmaq land claim, the whole process of potential sale and development of the property came to a skidding halt. Treasury Board policy is quite clear as to the priority to be given to aboriginal claims. The situation is different in the case of the Upton Farm. While there is a kind of moratorium on development at the moment, this is more of a temporary concession or courtesy to the opponents of that development. The most that they will be able to bring to bear will be some kind of moral persuasion, and it is questionable as to how far that will carry them in the end. The reason for the difference is this: before any opposition managed to get itself established, the Upton Farm property had been 'sold' to something called the Canada Lands Corporation. This is a federal Crown corporation and as such it is, of course, actually government in business' clothing. But players such as the City of Charlottetown will tend to treat it as no different from any other private developer. That is, its business dealings will be private and protected from public scrutiny, its decisions will not subject to oversight, and it will not be bound - as Public Works was in the case of the Experimental Farm - by policies or laws to which citizens can easily appeal. The opponents of Upton Farm development face a far more difficult fight than confronted the 'Friends of the Farm', and the only reason for this is the involvement of a Crown Corporation. Governments establish Crown corporations for a whole host of reasons. Some, like the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation are noble (extending broadcasting to the whole of the country.) Some fill an economic void (DEVCO in Cape Breton, for example). But a great many Crown corporations are established so that governments can divest themselves of their responsibilities. As in the specific case of solid waste collection, which is a government responsibility (municipal) in all of the rest of Canada. It's time, then, to demand that governments actually be accountable. Time to revisit the whole question of Crown corporations and demand that those which are simply attempts to evade that accountability be dismantled. And an excellent place to start would be the Island Waste Management Corporation.
David Bulger teaches political studies at the University of Prince Edward Island and has conducted municipal research as part of a national and international study.

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