Having responsibility without authority is not a good thing. Since running in the Langley City municipal election, I’ve been thinking about responsibility without authority when it comes to the provisioning of government services.
In the context of government services, downloading is when one level of government with the authority to provide a service, transfers the responsibility to another level of government.
A classic example is the enforcement of the criminal code. Back when Canada was founded, and government authority was being divvied up, the power to make the criminal code was given to the federal government. The responsibility to enforce the criminal code was given to the provinces.
I’m sure the original thinking was to protect provinces from being taken over by a federal police coup, but it is an early example of one level of government’s decisions having financial consequence on another level of government.
Today when the feds trumpet criminal code changes to “get tough on crime”, it’s actually provincial governments, and in BC, local governments that have to pick up the tab for added policing costs.
In BC, the provincial government dumps its policing responsibilities onto local government. Before 2007, rural areas or municipalities under the population of 5,000 didn’t have to pay for policing services. Municipalities between the population of 5,000 and 14,999 had to pay for 70% of policing costs, while larger municipalities had to pay 90% of the costs.
Under the guise of fairness, the BC government in 2007 started charging a police tax in rural areas and municipalities under the population of 5,000, to recover 50% of the cost of policing.
In my hometown of Langley City, policing is the single largest item in the municipal budget. Local government has to pay for police whose primary purpose is to enforce federal and provincial laws. Local bylaws are enforced by bylaw enforcement officers, generally not the police.
If you happen to live in West Vancouver, it really doesn’t matter if the federal government, provincial government, or local government pays for policing services. But not all communities have the financial resources of communities like West Vancouver. Langley City is a working class community. Every dollar spent on policing at the local level means less money to fix sidewalks or enhance parks.
Having services paid for at the federal, or even provincial level, spreads the cost of providing services out equally. This ensures that all Canadian have access to similar levels of service whether they live in a wealthy community or not.
So while the federal and provincial governments lower income tax and sales tax, proclaiming they are cutting government waste, it is more likely that the feds and province are actually downloading the responsibility to provide even more services to local government. The irony is that for most people when the feds or province downloads responsibility to local government, it ends up costing them more.