More Speech for Money

The BC Liberal government is changing the Elections Act to allow unlimited party and candidate spending within one month of election day and meanwhile, as usual, the media are transfixed by the shiny object in the corner.

The political pundits are making a great deal of noise (see V. Palmer’s inside baseball assessment if you care) about an amendment to the Elections Act that says that:

“the chief electoral officer must provide … to a registered political party, in respect of a general election … a list of voters that indicates which voters on the list voted in the general election”

At the same time, they are ignoring the BC Liberals fundamentally changing the money dynamic of the fixed election date by eliminating the 60-day “pre-campaign” period.

“Section 198 is amended (a) by repealing subsections (1) and (2) and substituting the following: (1) In respect of a general election, the total value of election expenses incurred by a registered political party during the campaign period must not exceed $4.4 million.”

The Elections Act currently divides up the election period before a fixed election into two “halves”: the 60 days before the official campaign, and the campaign period itself (about 28 days if I recall correctly). In the first 60 days, candidates can spend a maximum of $70,000 and parties a maximum of $1.1 million. In the campaign period, candidates can spend another $70,000 and parties as much as $4.4 million.

The intent of the “pre-campaign” period is clearly to focus campaigning on the campaign period itself, by limiting the amount of early spending by parties. The “money density” of the pre-campaign period is about $18,000 / day in party spending; in the campaign period, it is almost $160,000 / day.

This is all very public-spirited, and contributes to a nice focussed election period. But (BUT!) the BC Liberals currently have more money than they know what to do with, so it is in their interest to be able to focus all that money as close to the event as possible. And rather than simply raising the pre-campaign spending limit they went one better: they removed it all together. They can spend unlimited amounts of money as close as 28 days before election day, 21 days before the opening of advance polls.

Let me repeat that: they can spend unlimited amounts of money.

So in British Columbia now, it is legal to both raise unlimited amounts of money from corporations, unions and individuals in any amounts at all (and some individuals and corporations have donated to the BC Liberals, individually, over $100,000 a year), and it is legal to spend unlimited amounts of money, right up to within 28 days of the election day.

See any problems with that?

GIS "Data Models"

Most IT professionals have some expectation, having received a basic education on relational data modelling, that a model for a medium sized problem might look like this:

Why is it, then, that production GIS data flows so consistently produce models that look like this:

What is wrong with us?!?? I bring up this rant only because I was just told that some users find the PostgreSQL 1600 column limit constraining since it makes it hard to import the Esri census data, which are “modelled” into tables that are presumably wider than they are long.

Magical PostGIS

I did a new PostGIS talk for FOSS4G North America 2015, an exploration of some of the tidbits I’ve learned over the past six months about using PostgreSQL and PostGIS together to make “magic” (any sufficiently advanced technology)

Making Lines from Points

Somehow I’ve gotten through 10 years of SQL without ever learning this construction, which I found while proof-reading a colleague’s blog post and looked so unlikely that I had to test it before I believed it actually worked. Just goes to show, there’s always something new to learn.

Suppose you have a GPS location table:

  • gps_id: integer
  • geom: geometry
  • gps_time: timestamp
  • gps_track_id: integer

You can get a correct set of lines from this collection of points with just this SQL:

SELECT
gps_track_id,
ST_MakeLine(geom ORDER BY gps_time ASC) AS geom
FROM gps_poinst
GROUP BY gps_track_id

Those of you who already knew about placing ORDER BY within an aggregate function are going “duh”, and the rest of you are, like me, going “whaaaaaa?”

Prior to this, I would solve this problem by ordering all the groups in a CTE or sub-query first, and only then pass them to the aggregate make-line function. This, is, so, much, nicer.

Deloitte's Second Act

Hot off their success transforming the BC social services sector with “integrated case management”, Deloitte is now heavily staffing the upcoming transformation of the IT systems that underpin our natural resource management ministries.

Interlude: I should briefly note here that Deloitte’s work in social services involved building a $180,000,000 case management system that the people who use it generally do not like, using software that nobody else uses for social services, that went offline for several consecutive days last year, and based on software that basically entered end-of-life almost five years ago. I’m sure that’s not Deloitte’s fault, they are only the international experts hired to advise on the best ways to build the system and then actually build it.


*So many shiny arrows!
Smells like management consultants...*

Anyhow…

The brain trust has now decided that the thing we need on the land base is “integrated decision making”, presumably because everything tastes better “integrated”. A UVic MPA student has done a complete write-up of the scheme — and I challenge you to find the hard centre inside this chewey mess of an idea — but here’s a representative sample:

The IDM initiative is an example of horizontal management because it is an initiative among non‐hierarchical ministries focused on gaining efficiencies by harmonizing regulations, IT systems and business processes for the betterment of the NRS as a whole. Horizontal management is premised on joint or consensual decision making rather than a more traditional vertical hierarchy.  Horizontal collaborations create links and share information, goodwill, resources, and power or capabilities by organizations in two or more sectors to achieve jointly what they cannot achieve individually.  

Sounds great, right!?! Just the sort of thing I’d choose to manage billions of dollars in natural resources! (I jest.)

Of course, the brain trust really isn’t all that interested in “horizontal management”, what has them hot and bothered about “integrated decision making” is that it’s an opportunity to spend money on “IT systems and business processes”. Yay!

To that end, they carefully prepared a business case for Treasury Board, asking for well north of $100M to rewrite every land management system in government. Forests, lands, oil and gas, heritage, the whole kit and caboodle. The business case says:

IDM will improve the ability of the six ministries and many agencies in the NRS to work together to provide seamless, high‐quality service to proponents and the public, to provide effective resource stewardship across the province, to effectively consult with First Nations in natural resource decisions, and to contribute to cross‐government priorities.

Sounds ambitious! I wonder how they’re going to accomplish this feat of re-engineering? Well, I’m going to keep on wondering, because they redacted everything in the business case except the glowing hyperbole.

However, even though we don’t know how, or really why, they are embarking on this grand adventure, we can rest assured that they are now spending money at a rate of about $10M / year making it happen, much of it on our good friends Deloitte.


*Not that Secretariat...*

  • There are currently 80 consultants billing on what has been christened the “Natural Resource Sector Transformation Secretariat”.
  • Of those consultants 34 are (so far) from Deloitte.
  • Coincidentally, 34 is also the number of government staff working at the Secretariat.
  • So, 114 staff, of which 34 are government employees and the rest are contractors. How many government employees does it take to change a lightbulb? Let me take that to procurement and I’ll get back to you.

The FOI system charged me $120 (and only after I bargained down my request to a much less informative one) to find the above out, because they felt that the information did not meet the test of being “of public interest”. If you feel it actually is in the public interest to learn where our $100M on IT services for natural resources are being spent, and you live in BC, please leave me a comment on this post.

Interlude: The test for whether fees should be waived is double barrelled, but is (hilariously) decided by the public body itself (soooo unbiased). Here are the tests I think I pass (but they don’t):

  1. Do the records show how the public body is allocating financial or other resources?
  2. Is your primary purpose to disseminate information in a way that could reasonably be expected to benefit the public, or to serve a private interest?

I’m still digging for more information (like, how is it that Deloitte can bill out 34 staff on this project when there hasn’t been a major RFP for it yet?) so stay tuned and send me any hints if you have them.