Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Canada's bureaucrats: Time to grow a pair



The papers and social media today are filled with stories about abuses of power by the Harper government.

The first story I read was an investigative piece by Canadian Press concerning the Conservative government's obsession with branding everything with "The Harper Government".

Apparently, many announcements are delayed because of interference by the PMO and Privy Council office. Government bureaucrats have done their best to resist putting "The Harper Government" in the body of their press releases but have been told to surrender or else by the PCO.

Columnists are complaining about the branding of the Grey Cup game with Defence Minister Peter McKay standing on the field accepting thanks for Canada's success in Libya while military bands play in the background.

All Peter needs is a curly wig and gold braid and he's set.

There is another story about the military being hogtied by the politicos, forced to suppress costing information about the department's move to the old Nortel campus.

Finally, Lawrence Martin is railing today about the PM's freakish control, his total disregard for the democratic process, and his iron fisted clutch on all things communications.

We shouldn't be surprised, of course. We've had Harper as PM for more than five years now. As a psychologist observed on Dexter last night, people don't change. You can't make expect a table to change into a chair.

I personally lay the blame in the puffy laps of the deputy ministers whose responsibility it is to defend the public service against the undue politicization of the process. The public service has a long tradition of defending its integrity.

It's this kind of pride of purpose that has attracted some of the best minds on the planet to serve the Canadian public.

In the past, at least.

Years back, when I worked as a communications professional in Trudeau's PMO, we worked closely with the PCO to roll out the government's agenda. Communications was always a sensitive area and the PCO was there to ensure that programs and policies were delivered not sold as Liberal propaganda.

Many times, I remember deputies or assistant secretaries in the PCO standing up to the political operatives, effectively shutting them down when things got too blatantly political.

For their part, the politicos would just grin and shrug saying: "Well, you can't blame us for trying."

Political operatives used to have grudging respect for bureaucrats. The two didn't always see eye to eye, but they respected one another.

Not today. Today, the PCO seems to be just another wing of the Conservative Party strong arming public servants into subservance. Anyone with integrity who tries to fight back risks their careers and their promotions.

But most are too concerned with protecting their gold plated pensions -- especially deputy ministers.

It's a terrible predicament for the talented people in government who have worked hard to get their C levels in French and earn those masters degrees.

To do what?

Shuffle the blue and white bannered paper with the C swirling logo?

Find new and creative ways to delay access to information orders?

What a mess.

The public service is always talking about renewal.

Maybe they should grow some balls instead.

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