Saturday August 30, 2014

Marble Palace syndrome hits Sask. Party


The world outside the Saskatchewan legislature is a very different than the world inside the Marble Palace.

This is obvious to most people who don’t spend an excessive amount of time under the legislature’s dome — a place where politicians deceive themselves in believing and saying things they might not normally believe or say.

It’s called Marble Palace syndrome and the Saskatchewan Party government seemed to develop a bad case of it this spring.

Before we explore this notion much further, however, there are a couple points worth making.

First, most every government (and every opposition, for that matter) falls victim to the Marble Palace syndrome at one time or the other. And in fairness to the Sask. Party, it doesn’t yet seem quite as obsessed with winning every meaningless battle within the legislature as, say, the last NDP government.

Second, it does seem obvious by both the population and job growth that what’s going on outside the Marble Palace is far more significant to Saskatchewan than much of what is going on inside. The Sask. Party generally recognizes this.

But judging by some of silly games, government priorities and explanations this session, the Sask. Party clearly struggled this spring to differentiate between what was important to government and what was important to people.

Consider, for example, the $40-million-plus that the government has spent on the lean health care initiative — or, better put, the government’s justifications for spending that amount of money for a program that sometimes seemed more about the Japanese terminology than improving health care delivery.

Of course, we should all strive for efficiencies and sometimes that requires spending a few extra bucks to bring someone in from the outside to take a look at whether your organization is spending its time and money as efficiently as it could.

But does the efficient placement of bedpans and hospital linen help rural Saskatchewan with its biggest problem of finding doctors or having to shell out thousands to entice them to live in smaller and more remote communities? Is it as big a priority to worry about nurses’ time or should be thinking a little harder about why the system that must hire back fully pensioned nurses who then collect full salary?

Well, when a government is being held captive by the Marble Palace, it’s sometimes easy to lose sight of what the real problems are because you have to spend so much time justifying the things that might not be quite so important.

Or sometimes it’s the opposite — justifying what you are doing as really important when it really isn’t. The time and energy the Sask. Party has spent this year justifying retiring Social Services Minister June Draude’s trip last year to London and the accompanying $200 lunches or the $1,100 a day limo services would be a prime example of such lost priorities.

That it was actually the politically appointed bureaucrat that ordered the limos and lunches or that he ultimately wound up footing the bill for both when it was discovered he put them on the taxpayers’ tab was not really the point. The point was: Why was this trip deemed necessary in the first place?

By session’s end when we found out that what supposedly came out of the trip was a new private funding model for a home for single mothers — a program very similar to one Ontario.

Going to London didn’t seem all that necessary after all, but in the Marble Palace it sure became necessary to find ways to justify it.

By the end of the spring sitting affords government MLAs time to get back to their ridings and recalibrate as to what’s really important.

Nothing cures a bad case of Marble Palace syndrome quicker than getting away from the root cause of it.

Murray Mandryk has been covering provincial politics for over 22 years.



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