Thursday, June 13, 2024

Ontario Government’s Public Survey Fail

Dear Editor,

I came across an Opinion column in the Globe and Mail this week written by someone who was one of my MBA school profs. I thought to myself, “Cool. I wonder what Professor Borins has been up to since – seriously? – really? – Pierre Trudeau was PM then? Wow.”

Undeterred, I dove right in.

Oh my. Oh no. No! What? That can’t possibly be true!

It seems the Ontario Ministry of Finance posted a survey seeking input from the people of Ontario. Wanting to know what our priorities were for their upcoming Budget. What matters most to Ontario residents when it comes to spending our budget money? The People need to be heard! And Ford Nation wants to listen!

Strangely, the Ford Government did not publicize the survey widely. Did you fill one out? Hear about it at all? Despite that, about 8,400 concerned citizens responded to the survey.

Even more strangely, the Doug Ford Government refused to publish the results of their own Budget Survey.

Dr. Sandford Borins is Professor Emeritus of Public Management at the University of Toronto. (On an only slightly related note, I prefer to think he moved there for career advancement reasons. Not because York was making him teach students like me.) He is a Harvard PhD. An expert in Government and Management. Dr. Borins is a professional at what he does. So, he knows what comes next even if we don’t.

Dr. Borins knows that is OUR data. That data does NOT belong to Doug Ford. He files a Freedom of Information request. It is quickly granted. He receives the raw data for all 8,400 respondents. He discovers some very disturbing things that more people in Ontario really should be aware of.

From the article:

The survey found that respondents have strong preferences, but they aren’t reflected in current government policies.

When asked for their three top priorities for the government, 79 per cent identified investing in the health and long-term care sector workforce and 64 per cent selected support to deal with the increasing cost of living. On the other hand, only 16 per cent wanted additional support and tax incentives for small business and 17 per cent wanted to eliminate Ontario’s deficit.”

Also from the article:

Often in a survey, what isn’t asked is as important as what is. The survey does not include any of the following words or phrases: climate change, environment, renewable, green energy or Greenbelt. The word education also never appears, even in a question about filling labour shortages and investing in workers. Clearly, the questions were run through an ideological filter at the political level.”

Putting aside that you neglected to actually ask me for my input, Mr. Ford, how could you ask for my input but not include all of my top priorities in the only answers you made available in your survey? What is up with that?

To better evaluate people’s true priorities Dr. Borins was forced to slog through the only way the Ford Ministry of Finance allowed people to record them. He looked at all the responses marked “Other” and what the respondents who chose “Other” had to type into the little box. In order to have their priorities that Doug Ford really, really wanted to hear, heard.

I’d like to but I won’t reproduce the entire piece. It confirms what most people no doubt already guessed. We didn’t get what we think is important in the Budget. We’re getting what Doug Ford wants to do. With a healthy dose of what his developer supporters want in there. Which I guess are really the same things if you lay one over top of the other.

60% of respondents wanted to build and improve public transit. Only 19% wanted highways (The 413), and just 12% wanted improved access to the 400 Highway (the Bradford Bypass).

Over twice as many people who replied to Doug Ford’s Survey wanted infrastructure improved for BIKING than those who wanted new HIGHWAY infrastructure. Two times more!

The most likely Survey responses were ignored. Imagine leaving out “Education”? The least likely responses were included in “your” options to reply.

I imagine most people can see why Doug Ford didn’t want the results released now?

I’ll leave the last words to Dr. Borins:

Public surveys about priorities could become a powerful tool in budget-making if there were several improvements over this one. First, the survey would be unbiased in that it would include all relevant policy areas, without an ideological filter. Second, the survey would be widely publicized to increase participation. Finally, a Freedom of Information inquiry would not be necessary to make the results public.”

Bruce Mason, Meaford

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