Role Of City Government
With Eddie Francis seemingly taking seriously his title as "Young Entrepeneur of the year" and with him wishing to play with taxpayer money as Mayor to operate a Tunnel and maybe a new bridge, I thought the remarks were interesting.
Just remember what Mayor Daley of Chicago said, "running a toll road is not a core function of city government."
City business; The role of government
Windsor Star 11-28-2002
Windsor Canada Utilities Ltd. is the new city-owned company that now holds the Enwin properties. Since it is owned by the city, the company's operations are ultimately the responsibility of city council and the mayor.
At its last meeting, Windsor city council debated the allowable amount for discretionary spending at Windsor Canada Utilities Ltd., for among other things, new lines of business. Any proposed spending above the limit would have to come back to city council for approval.
Amounts of $2 million and $5 million were thrown about and in the end it was decided to have the administration review the matter and come back with an amount that made sense.
But as far as spending on "new lines of business" goes, it shouldn't have been that difficult.
Every initiative that involves "new lines of business," whether there is spending or not, should have to go back to council for approval.
There are two reasons for this. The first reason is that a new business may have little spending at first, but may involve larger losses down the road and those losses would ultimately be the responsibility of taxpayers. Council should be obligated to examine all current and future risks before any commitment is made.
But the second reason is even more basic and relates to the legitimate role of government.
At a very basic level, citizens create government to help them go about their business and enjoy their personal pursuits. The government is there to make it easier for people to conduct their personal and business affairs.
The government is not there to compete with the very people for whom it was created to represent.
The only time government should be getting directly into business is when they are dealing with a "public good." A public good is one where it is impossible to limit its consumption to the person who would be paying for it. If one person pays for it, the public benefits. Thus, no individual will pay for it and therefore private businesses won't supply it.
The classic example is the military. Once it is paid for, we all benefit, so individuals won't pay for it and business can't supply it. Another example is public roads, although this is becoming less true as technology makes toll roads more feasible.
But if government gets in the business of supplying products which are not public goods, then government may end up in competition with its own citizens, which is an unacceptable role for government.
As a result, all new ventures at city-owned Windsor Canada Utilities Ltd. should have to go back to council for review. Hopefully, council will then have the wisdom to say no.
But when it comes to Windsor Canada Utilities Ltd., the bigger question that should be asked is why city government is involved in the energy distribution business in the first place.
It is not a public good and the city has no business being involved in it.
But given the way Premier Ernie Eves has mismanaged Ontario Hydro privatization, it is doubtful that this situation will get remedied any time soon.
In the meantime, all we can hope is that city government shows restraint when it comes to approving "new lines of business."