Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Way too good to be true

From CBC
He said a competing network will lead to other benefits, but "it is not possible to quantify the benefits exactly because the number is so huge and so enormous that you cannot quantify it. It is in the hundreds, and hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars," Williams told the legislature.
If even a fraction of this is true then it truly is hard to pass up a deal like this.

And if all of it is true then there are too many inconsistencies just on the face of this whole matter to accept easily. The fact is that claims like this raise more questions than they answer.

First, if a government can’t quantify the benefits of a public policy decision then government has no business making a decision to proceed. The only numbers too big to quantify are in rarefied and obscure corners of cosmological physics and even those practitioners can give you a number of some kind.

The fact that Premier Williams is willing to stake his reputation for good business judgment and his government’s reputation for competence on a public policy decision whose benefits are unquantifiable is hard to accept. He must make the effort to quantify the benefits otherwise it’s just gut instinct – a spectacularly bad way to spend public money.

Second, to whom do the benefits accrue? If they accrue to the 3 firms involved, then his decision to put public money into this project directly benefits, to the tune of hundreds of millions, his former business partners.

If this is the case then, protestations about legalities notwithstanding, this is an ethical conflict of interest on a monumental scale.

And if the benefits are so humongous as to be unquantifiable, then why did the partners need public money when private investors would have been lined up around the block for a small piece of this project given the enormous potential returns.

But if the benefits are to accrue to the public at large, how will they do so and where is the analysis showing this to be the case?

I’ve worked on public policy for prior provincial governments and I have had a hand in preparing materials for cabinet decisions. One this is for sure – nothing is left to chance and all claims of benefits are analyzed, researched and documented.

If the Premier says there are hundreds of millions of dollars of potential benefits, then that claim too has been analyzed, researched and documented by either outside analysts or internal resources.

So the question is this: wouldn’t it be worth releasing that analysis which outlines the millions upon millions of dollars of benefits, and to who they accrue, in order to put this matter to bed?

What could be sweeter, from the government’s perspective, than to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt and to show the province that the complaints of Gerry Reid and the Opposition are hollow, politically motivated, empty and meaningless noise?

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