Strategies for Public Sector Transformation 2000
September 26-27, 2000 - Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
Transcript of a speech by
Leader of the Official Opposition
Strategies for Public Sector Transformation Conference
September 27, 2000
There is probably nothing more important than building public literacy about the opportunities that technology presents to us. There is nothing more exciting to me than to think about what we can do with the new technologies in providing better service to the people we serve, opening up government and creating new opportunities for people across this incredible province.
To have people come together and hear about the opportunities that are there, the tools that are available to them and to talk about success, and some failures, is a great thing for all of us.
As we look at the world today, there is no question that things are changing. And they are changing at an incredibly rapid rate. In British Columbia, we simply can't afford to be left behind and have the quality of life we've become used to.
The problem we face is not that the private sector isn't out there. It's not that we don't have talented individuals in our province who are working, creating and thinking about the things they can do to expand opportunities in the province. And the problem isn't in the public service where people have been working for a decade now trying to bring their ideas forward about how to provide better service; how to provide better connectivity to people across the province of British Columbia. The problem, and I hate to admit this, has been politicians. We've been stuck at the starting line.
I want everyone across the province to know that there is no reason for us to stand back and wait. Waiting won't work. We have to explode out of those starting blocks. We have to move forward and catch up to the competition. I know that if we work together, if we build on our strengths, if we use the talents of the people that we have who are working in government and living across the province that we can not only catch up to the competition, we can surpass them.
To do that, we have to understand in our province there are places where we have a strong foundation to move forward and there are places where we are lagging behind. Let's start by thinking about where we're competitive.
We have a highly skilled, highly educated work force in British Columbia. We have people who are ready to adapt, ready to learn and ready to move forward. Over 60% of the province is already connected to the Internet. As well as that being an asset, we have to recognize that when 60% are connected there's another side to that - 40% aren't connected. That's something we're going to have to deal with.
We have a great education infrastructure - five universities, more than a dozen colleges, schools in every community of the province that we can build on, that we can use to bring people forward and provide them with the opportunities they need.
And we have an exceptional place to live and work. There aren't very many places where you can ski in the morning on what is recognized as one of the greatest mountains in the world - Whistler - and if you get tired, drive back home and sail in English Bay in the afternoon. There aren't many places that have as good fishing. There aren't many places that have as good coastal areas, lakes, rivers and parks as British Columbia. People love to live here.
It's because of that that we have built an exceptional, private sector infrastructure that's ready to move forward. That wants to move forward. We want those successful, globally leading private companies to build their future campuses right here in the province of British Columbia.
Unfortunately, that hasn't been as easy for them as they would have liked. That means we have to look at the reasons why our major successful corporations and entrepreneurial activities are showing a lot of their growth outside of our province. I think one of the reasons if that we're lagging behind in a whole series of government frameworks that we've put in place.
I've been talking to people from the technology sector for some time and they have been consistent in telling us what we need to do to create an environment that allows them to really flourish.
- It's straightforward -our taxation and regulatory framework. We have to have more high speed Internet access across this province in every region.
- We have to build a research and development framework and foundation that allows people to carry out those activities, knowing they can come to fruition and they can be successful.
- Finally, we have to change the very institution of government to use the new technologies to create a whole new sense of connection, service and restored participation and democracy throughout our province.
If you listen to any politicians, in any jurisdiction throughout North America and probably in Europe as well they're going to tell you they want their government to lead in the new technologies.
I was at a convention in the spring and we heard the Governor of New York telling us that he was the best and the Governor of South Carolina saying we're the best and the Governor of Washington saying we're the best. In British Columbia, we want to say that we're the best. We just have to know that this is a huge competition.
And the competition is for people. We can put the infrastructure in place. We can build the hardware but without the people the software doesn't work that well. Without the people wanting to be here - know that they can work hard here and get ahead - we're going to lose. Unfortunately, we've seen that happen in our province over the last number of years. It's people who make the difference.
There are lots of times when you go out in public life and you'll heard different messages from different people at different times, in different parts of the province from different walks of life. But there's one thing that every single person I've talked to in the technology industry is worried about and that is the brain drain.
We, in the technology sector of the province of British Columbia, know that high income taxes are driving away the best and brightest that we have here. We have to recognize in our country, not just in our province, that the same thing is happening.
Nortel's John Roth tells us the brain drain is happening and Canada should be worried about it and we should be listening. It's not very hard to figure out why. I have a son who's 24 years old, who is fortunately much brighter than his dad. After graduating from university, he went out and got a job. You know what he was thinking about when he went out to get his job? What will I be paid? What can I take home? How will I be able to build my future? How can I pay off my student loans so I can build a future as fast as possible? He thought about what he was taking home with him. I know there are hundreds of young people who have left our country asking that same question.
I was in the Silicon Valley a couple of years ago and went to one company that had 50% of their employees from British Columbia. I want them to know they can move home if they want to.
We are going to act boldly, quickly and decisively following an election because the solution to the high income tax problem is very, very simple - cut income taxes.
- Within 90 days of a BC Liberal government being elected, there will be a dramatic cut in personal income taxes. By the end of our first term in office, we intend to have the lowest based personal income tax of any jurisdiction in Canada.
I know what happens when politicians say that and I can hear that little mumble going on out in the room. Right? We've heard that before and somehow it didn't work. I want to tell you why we're going to do this because this is critical for us. We all have to get our heads into the future and forget about the past for a minute. In the future, if we don't have people here we lose. In the future, if we are not the place that attracts the talented and capable, the creative, the energetic and the entrepreneurial, we all lose in British Columbia.
If we have a huge hurdle that's blocking people from coming here we are not going to prosper in the technology industries like we should or any other industries for that matter. We're not going to get the investment we would like. We're not going to get the energy from people in our province into creating wealth and new ideas if they don't think they're going to benefit from that hard work. That's pretty simple stuff.
How many people in this room would like to go out and work a whole lot harder and a whole lot longer and not get paid any more? That's exactly what we're dealing with here. The great thing about cutting personal income tax is that it works in terms of the government as well. It generates more revenue into the economy because when you cut personal income tax what you create is more people who work.
In Ontario, between 1995 and 1999 the personal income tax rate was cut by 20 points. Revenue to government went up by over $2 billion. In the United States, the joint Houses of Congress did a study of 20 separate states. Ten cut personal income tax and 10 kept them the same or increased them. In every single case, the 10 states that cut personal income tax had greater economic growth, greater job growth and greater revenue growth from income tax to government.
If we want to make government more cost effective to have the resources we need to protect health care and provide for great public education then let's get people to work and know that in British Columbia if you work hard you can get ahead. That's why we're going to cut personal income taxes. That's the only way we're going to create the most important natural resource we have; a pool of human capital, of people who want to work and live here knowing they can build a future for themselves and their families.
I'm sure you know that it's not just the income tax. There are a whole bunch of high tech startups that tell their employees they can't pay them that much right now but they offer them options. The way we deal with options in Canada and British Columbia doesn't work. What we have to do is recognize is that creating a new enterprise is a high-risk endeavor. People are willing to take high risks if they get high returns. Options are a way of making sure your employees will work with you.
- Our treatment of our options in Canada is a disadvantage for our high tech firms. We have to change that and we will. We should base our taxes on the difference between the value of option shares issued and the actual value of shares sold. That does not happen today.
We all have to recognize, in the province and at the federal level, that the way compensation in stock options is dealt with in taxation is a critical cornerstone to creating an environment we need so the private sector technology industries can flourish in our country. We will advocate that. We will work for that and I believe we will succeed.
There's another thing we have to remember about people. They're creative, they're different. We have to encourage that creativity and innovation and to do that we have to get our minds out of the industrial age model that is about control and regulation. It's actually about a social model that says employers and employees do not work together.
In today's world, and the world of the future, the most valuable asset you have is your employees. I often talk around the province and people will talk to me about the bureaucracy. I will tell them the most valuable asset we can create in the province of British Columbia is a professional, non-partisan public service.
- Should we be elected government, what we will do over the next three years is cut regulation that is imposed on business by one-third.
We're going to give all workers and all employers greater flexibility in building their own lives and creating their own work environments through the Employment Standards Act. We are going to tailor the Act to different industries so that people recognize there are different frameworks that have to be created for different environments, different activities and different endeavors.
- We're going to restore balance to labour laws. We're going to open tendering. We're going to scrap fixed wage legislation.
All of those things are ways of creating more openness, flexibility and opportunity for people to build their own future and to recognize that their job in the workplace is something both employers and employees value and they should be able to work together to do the best they can possibly do.
If we do those three things - reduce taxes, reduce red tape and fix the way we deal with options there are a lot of people in the technology sector who would say they're getting ready to take off. But there's a whole framework of public sector activities we have to fix as well.
One of the critical things I've noticed over the last while as I've traveled around the province is that we are in danger of creating a major digital divide in the province of British Columbia. It's a new great wall that's building up. It's a wall that holds people back from opportunities, services and educational opportunities in many cases. And it's being created in rural British Columbia.
What we should all know is that the new technologies create a huge opportunity for people in rural British Columbia if we will just meet their needs. It's also a barrier that's created around any home or school that can't be connected to the Internet in a way that's exciting and energizing to all of them.
It's a growing gap in computer literacy and that's a generational gap in many ways. I'm sure everyone in this room is computer literate and technologically literate but we should all understand that the institutions we work in, whether they're in government, social institutions, those institutions are watching as a generational gap builds up.
We look at our nursing force, our teaching force, the public service it's average age is probably 45-50. They're not thinking about becoming computer literate. We have to encourage that and make sure they have the opportunities to become computer literate.
We have to make sure youngsters who may not live in a family that can afford computers can actually be connected in some way as well. We have to look at how we can reach out to people across this province and connect them all. We have to bridge that digital divide as soon as possible because speed counts here. A year lost is a year that's gone forever. And all of us know in technology that a year is a lot longer time than it used to be.
As we bridge the digital divide there are a number of things we have to remember. First, the provincial government can be an active partner in making sure the opportunities are available to expand our fiber optic network across the province. Government itself is an area where we should be doing everything possible to encourage the private sector to come in and expand our network capacity - our bandwidth - in the province of British Columbia.
We can do that. We have to do that by negotiating fairly but we have to negotiate for rights of way across this province quickly. We can't afford a three-year negotiation period. We have to know what we're doing. Why we're doing it and then pursue that with some gusto and some aggressiveness so we can move as quickly as possible to connect people.
We have to make sure we work in partnership with private sector companies to make sure we have high speed Internet access across this province. I know there are major problems in terms of last mile connections etc. but I also know there are lots of people at work on that. Let's be out there and encouraging that solution to be brought forward to people as quickly as possible. But there's more that we have to do to bridge the digital divide.
We're going to have to make computer literacy an educational priority for people of all ages. Certainly we're going to have to connect all our schools and make sure there's an availability of computers throughout our school system. We have to build on the software development we've seen taking place in the province which is certainly leading the world in many ways.
I think it's important we move forward and give teachers the training they need. I could put computers in every classroom and connect every classroom but if the teacher doesn't feel comfortable using that tool then we're not going to get very far. At the end of the day, without that teacher making that connection for that child we're not going to have the opportunities and create the educational opportunities that we want to. I want those kids connected no matter where they're living in this province and I want a level and a standard that's available to them and I want their teachers encouraged to make sure they can connect in. We will do everything we can to help teacher training with regard to that.
Finally, we can move beyond the education system and look directly at e-government. Someone said to me about e-business that e-business is a nice label for us to get through this transition but in 10 years it's going to be called business again. E-government is a nice way for use to talk of the transition we're going to go through but in 10 years it's going to be government.
It's going to be government that's open, servicing people, is transparent and accountable. Technology creates a whole series of tools for citizens to hold government and political leadership to account and we're going to take advantage of that.
It creates a huge opportunity of service provision for people across the province. We intend to take advantage of that. I know there are some challenges we face. We have to make sure we provide for security and privacy for people. There are many things government does that are intrusive in people's lives. We all know that.
We have to be careful as we move forward with this but I don't think that should hold us up. We should continue to move forward by keeping focused on our objectives and I believe we can create the kind of government that we all used to hear about in school. Government that was open, accountable, providing services to people, thinking about how life can be made better.
Technology provides us with huge opportunities to create new value in government to create the value for money that taxpayers are yearning for. Here's a tool we can use, if we work together throughout government, to make sure people do get the best value for every tax dollar they spend.
It gives us an opportunity to create more collaborative decision-making models. It gives us an opportunity to reach out to people and deal with them in real time. It gives us an opportunity to change that service distance we have, those hours and weeks and months that we think of in government and shrink that right down in terms of procurement and simple administrative things like drivers' licences. There are major things we can do that will give citizens, who we serve, better service for less cost.
I believe that if we have an aggressive, exciting technology platform that we're working with in government we will create better and more exciting jobs for people who are working in government. We will be able to retain and keep the talent we have.
Everyone should remember this: talent is not something that's just for the private sector. You need the most talented people you can get in the public sector to make sure we can reach our full potential and promise. We have to provide them with the technology infrastructure they need to make sure they can pursue their goals of public objectives as well as aggressively, and with as much imagination, as someone in the private sector.
One of the things we should remember about e-government is that it allows us to share information. It allows us to revitalize debate and it allows us to restore democracy. There's more to e-government than just administration. What e-government allows us to do is to reconnect our citizenry with the people we're supposed to serve.
- We will be the first government in the Commonwealth that actually has open Cabinet meetings. Our open Cabinet meetings we intend to broadcast live on the Internet.
- I'm not recommending you watch those open Cabinet meetings but you do have the option.
- We believe that by creating a common platform across government we can eliminate an estimated 1,800 to 2,000 paper forms.
That's a huge cost saving to everyone. We believe that by going to electronic submission and collection of all taxes, resource revenues, fees, fines, MSP premiums we will create far more value for your tax dollar and provide far better service to the people we are elected to serve.
I don't think there's anything more exciting than thinking of the potential and the promise of applying the new technologies to the government in the province of British Columbia. I know that the people who are at work in the province of British Columbia have worked hard for a long time. They've come forward with a plan they call "Infosmart." I think that plan is based on sound principles.
The question now for all of us is are we going to put the resources and commitment behind it and are we going to have the leadership to execute it with the kind of speed and aggressiveness that we must.
The future is just a click away. In the new economy speed is critical and service is critical. The race that we are in can be won and it's not optional - we're in the race. It will be won or lost over the next five years.
I can tell you that taking little steps and acting timidly, worrying about the past isn't going to get us there. We are going to have to be bold, decisive and excited about what we can do and we're going to have to move to bring all British Columbians together as we move forward.
I know that we can do it. It starts at the end of the day with leadership. I intend to be accountable for moving this agenda forward. Leadership starts at the top. In British Columbia, it starts in the Premier's Office.
- Under a BC Liberal government our Chief Information Officer is going to report to the Premier.
We're going to create a platform that goes across government. We're going to create standards for all of government that we can all build on and move with together. We're going to create an environment that is exciting for every single person that works for the people of British Columbia in the public service.
We're going to create an environment that allows us to move back into the leadership position that we should have. A leadership position not just in our country and this continent but also around the globe. I want B.C. to be setting the example that others follow.
I want British Columbians to be proud of the work that our public sector does and our private sector does as we move forward to a new era of technological excellence and excitement in the province of B.C.
Thank you very much.