April 12, 2002 Halifax Herald

Observations about this and that

DURING THESE times of cutbacks and restraint, the news that Nova Scotia judges were awarded hefty raises of $20,000, bringing their salaries to $163,300 by 2004, raised eyebrows, especially among the 25 or so per cent of the province's population who live on annual net incomes of $20,000, or far less. Methinks it's time to freeze these salaries for an indefinite period of time.

Don't panic! Such a move wouldn't dry up the well-qualified pool of applicants hoping for judicial appointments. In fact, if it was even lowered to a reasonable $100,000 per annum, a fair share of the province's well-qualified legal practitioners would jump at a chance to have a very good, secure annual income in that range. And with a take-home pay of close to $70,000, I don't believe they would have to resort to selling apples on the street to make ends meet.

Then we have the suggestions that top federal bureaucratic positions need to have salaries "adjusted" to the $300,000-$400,000 range. Wow! We're told by the powers that be that this is necessary to attract top-quality candidates. I beg to disagree. There are literally thousands of well-qualified individuals who would willingly take these jobs for far less than what the federal deputy ministers and directors are now being paid.

Anyhow, what should be happening in the federal service is that the pool of well-qualified individuals who make a career of the service, entering it early in their working lives, with excellent educations, should have first opportunity for top jobs. This makes sense because these individuals don't have to undergo months of training on the job, and don't make costly blunders while learning. The government probably won't buy this kind of logic because it makes common sense. What the present practice amounts to is a gross misuse of tax dollars.

However, the waste doesn't end with this. Uncountable millions are spent annually by the three levels of government hiring high-priced employee-search firms, usually owned by individuals with the same political affiliation as the government, to conduct national searches to fill high-profile positions. Why make expensive searches when well-qualified individuals are already available? Helping out friends in need?

If anyone wants to take issue with my assertion that well-qualified and very competent employees are available within the civil services, have a look at how Halifax Regional Municipality filled its CAO position. After Ken Meech departed, council named his deputy as acting municipal manager; then, after observing and assessing his work, made him full-time. From all accounts, he is one of the best managers around. This bit of common sense saved ratepayers a bundle of money in search fees and got us a manager who will likely stay with HRM until retirement.

Now I'll jump into the hornet's nest: Sunday shopping. I can't for the life of me figure out what all the fuss is about when the subject is raised. It's been so long since we didn't have Sunday shopping in Nova Scotia that I don't remember when. It's possible today to buy practically anything seven days a week. If you can't get it at drugstores and other small shops, many of which resemble scaled-down department stores, you can shop till you drop on the Internet.

The argument against it - alleging we need to have a set day of rest - doesn't wash. For decades now, many production plants and service firms, including casinos, have been going full blast 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with barely a peep from anyone, except special-interest groups. Labour laws have been amended to assure that these people are treated fairly. If these laws aren't inclusive enough to cover store employees working Sundays, I'm sure they can be made inclusive in very short order. It's time for us to join the rest of the world and permit large stores to open and serve the majority who want Sunday shopping now.

Now politics. What would a writer do without it?

Just when the separatism thing in Quebec has settled down, the separatists' government has come out with something that will surely give the old, established political parties heartburn: democratic political reform.

It plans to introduce legislation that will see the head of government elected, with an executive-style cabinet, and an independent legislature. Wow! Real democracy taking root in Canada.

Perhaps Quebec's initiative will shame the rest of the provinces and the feds into following suit. Imagine being free of the current king of Parliament and legislature system now in place. But being a skeptic, and knowing that they enjoy tremendously the perks that come with the present archaic, autocratic, imperial-style system, I would confidently advise: don't bet your boots on it.

Who else should I pick on? Doctor? Dentist? Plumber? No, I think I'll close on a positive note.

The new grass is appearing, the bulbs are sending up stems to bloom into beautiful flowers, tree buds are ripening, and governments are doing their predictable thing: increasing taxes.

Well hey, I didn't say I'd be 100 per cent positive, did I?

Daniel N. Paul


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