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11/02/2015

Deputy ministers gathered in May to discuss 'creeping politicization' of federal public service

By Dean Beeby, CBC News Posted: Nov 02, 2015 

As a new Liberal government takes the reins this week, Canada's top bureaucrats are looking for ways to purge partisan politics from the shell-shocked public service.

The highest echelon of the bureaucracy met in the spring, before the election was called, to discuss ways to insulate public servants from intense pressure to be "promiscuously partisan" instead of neutral in carrying out the government's agenda.

The May 13 meeting of deputy ministers was asked by Canada's top civil servant to consider how Canada's Westminster parliamentary system needs to be "re-set and if medium-term planning could provide the opportunity."

 

The group was provided with one paper for backgrounding — dating from 2010, by the late scholar Peter Aucoin — describing how partisanship has damaged Westminster systems in Canada, Britain and Australia.

The new reality "is characterized by integration of governance and campaigning, partisan-political staff as a third force in public administration, politicization of appointments to the senior public service, and expectation that public servants should be promiscuously partisan," says a summary provided for the meeting by the Privy Council Office, the central organ of government .

The group was urged to consider how the damaged system could be fixed "during periods of transition and government formation."

One proposal called for clarifying the job description of Canada's top public servant, the clerk of the Privy Council.

'Confusion and mistrust'

"Without a set of guidelines to clearly determine which of the clerk's roles should be given primacy in situations where duties may conflict, confusion and mistrust can arise during periods of government formation."

Meeting documents, some heavily censored, were obtained by CBC News under the Access to Information Act. They represent a candid acknowledgment by the bureaucracy that partisan politics have radically changed the nature of their work, especially under the Harper government.

A spokesman for Janice Charette, appointed clerk just last year, declined to respond to questions, including what actions were taken arising from the meeting. "We are not able to provide details of meetings of senior executives," Raymond Rivet said in an email.

The so-called "creeping politicization" of the public service dates as far back as the 1970s, under Liberal governments, but the Harper administration has come under special criticism from some scholars.

Ralph Heintzman, a research professor at the University of Ottawa, has cited the example of a communications directive requiring bureaucrats to refer to the "Harper government" in news releases, rather than the government of Canada.

Other examples include a request last year that departments send retweets promoting a family-tax measure not yet passed by Parliament, including a hashtag with the Conservative slogan #StrongFamilies, and public servants working overtime to create promotional videos about child benefits, spots that prominently featured Pierre Poilievre, the employment minister.

"For anyone who cares about the condition of our federal public service, this is a very depressing story," Heintzman wrote about the "Strong Families" tweets last April, a month before the deputy ministers' meeting.

"It seems to confirm the widely reported slide of too many senior public service leaders from their traditional and proper role as non-partisan professionals to a new and improper role as partisan cheerleaders for the current political administration."

New Zealand solution

Aucoin's paper proposed a New Zealand solution, where a panel independent of government makes appointments to the senior public service. A Canadian research group, the Public Policy Forum, last week called for legislation to more clearly define the roles and responsibilities of deputy ministers along with other measures to counteract an era of "permanent campaigning" by parties.

"Permanent campaigning subverts sound governance.… It blurs the lines between political messaging and public policy for the non-partisan public service," said a forum report, calling for a "reboot" of democratic institutions.

Donald Savoie, a professor of public administration at the University of Moncton, said the timing of the deputy ministers' discussion is no surprise."Public servants tend to be much more daring in the dying months of a government," a period when ministers are preoccupied with a pending election campaign and make fewer demands, he said.

Savoie said a former Liberal minister has already contacted him about the issue of keeping politics out of the public service.

The appointment of Peter Harder, a career public servant, to head the Liberals' transition team is an "extremely powerful signal" that the new government values a non-partisan public service, Savoie said in an interview.

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11/02/2015

CET ÉCRAN A ÉTÉPARTAGÉ À PARTIR DE LA PRESSE+Édition du 31 octobre 2015

Des mesures peuvent être prises pour assainir le fonctionnement des institutions démocratiques

Le Canada peut être fier de sa démocratie et de son système de gouvernance et d’institutions publiques solide. Source de grande fierté, certes, mais sans prétendre étendre à la perfection. Le processus de gouvernance du secteur public n’est pas à la hauteur des attentes des Canadiens et peut être grandement amélioré. Il est essentiel d’assurer une pratique soutenue de bonne gouvernance dans notre système parlementaire pour maintenir la santé de notre démocratie.

Par ailleurs, le Canada n’est pas seul. Les piliers du système de Westminster ont été affaiblis dans les régimes parlementaires tant de l’Australie et de la Nouvelle-Zélande que du Royaume-Uni. Dans chacun de ces pays, nous avons été témoins d’une centralisation croissante – voire extraordinaire – de l’autorité et d'une transition vers une campagne permanente et une politique à court terme.

Au Canada, le cabinet du premier ministre et les conseils des premiers ministres provinciaux exercent dorénavant un pouvoir considérable sur la législature du gouvernement et ses services publics. Nos institutions publiques – le Parlement, le cabinet et les services publics – ne jouent plus les rôles pour lesquels elles ont été conçues initialement, et elles ont vu la confiance des Canadiens en elles s’éroder.

Les raisons qui expliquent cette situation ne sont pas inconnues. Notre monde maintenant axé sur la technologie, qui évolue à un rythme accéléré et où les actualités se bousculent, ainsi que notre population de plus en plus engagée ont façonné cette politique à court terme qui s’est enracinée dans l’ordre du jour de nos élus.

Trop souvent, la gestion des enjeux vole la vedette aux stratégies et à l’élaboration des politiques à long terme.

Cette centralisation excessive est de grande envergure. Elle a réduit le rôle et l’efficacité des membres du cabinet, en confiant une part de plus en plus importante aux conseillers politiques. Il en va de même pour l’indépendance et l’efficacité des commissions parlementaires qui se sont affaiblies, ébranlant l’un des outils les plus efficaces du Parlement pour scruter les autorités exécutives et veiller à ce qu’elles rendent des comptes. Le service public a été remplacé par une « fonction politique » composée de membres non élus, qui n’ont pas à rendre de comptes. Et, même s’ils occupent un rôle important au sein de notre système, ils sont appelés trop souvent à trouver des solutions rapides correspondant à un parti pris politique.

L’évolution naturelle du système de Westminster repose sur un certain degré de centralisation et de concentration. En outre, compte tenu de la révolution opérée dans les communications et les médias, ce changement est en partie inévitable, voire légitime. Mais lorsque le débat démocratique en souffre, notre capacité à traiter les enjeux à long terme de façon ouverte, transparente et appréciable s’en trouve ébranlée. Des questions cruciales sont mises en veilleuse, comme les coûts des soins de santé intenables, l’expansion de notre commerce international et la coordination des stratégies environnementales et énergétiques, pour ne nommer que ces trois-là.

À la lumière de ce qui précède, le Forum des politiques publiques a mis sur pied un groupe d’experts indépendants afin de déterminer la meilleure façon de rétablir l’équilibre et le respect au sein de notre système politique et de garantir que le pouvoir et l’autorité soient efficacement partagés parmi les institutions qui forment notre démocratie. Nous avons notamment posé les questions cruciales suivantes : comment pouvons-nous restaurer le rôle du Parlement et des commissions parlementaires ? Comment permettre aux ministres d’assumer leurs responsabilités de ministres ? Comment faire pour rétablir la capacité du service public à offrir des conseils politiques astucieux, indépendants et fondés sur la recherche ? Et, enfin, comment favoriser une plus grande responsabilisation au cœur d’un service politique si étendu ?

Nous avons tiré une conclusion principale de notre étude : le renouveau est à notre portée. En nous basant sur les diverses expériences sur la scène internationale et en examinant les faiblesses de notre système, nous avons formulé neuf recommandations. Présentées dans le rapport intitulé Un redémarrage s’impose : 9 moyens de rétablir la confiance dans les institutions publiques canadiennes, les recommandations sont non partisanes, pratiques et facilement réalisables sans avoir à adopter de changements constitutionnels. Elles ciblent les commissions parlementaires, le Cabinet, la fonction publique et la « fonction politique ». En prenant des mesures pour redonner à chaque élément son rôle originellement prévu, nous pouvons retrouver l’équilibre qui a si bien servi la démocratie de style Westminster.

RECOMMANDATIONS

Le rapport recommande le renforcement des commissions parlementaires en leur donnant une plus grande indépendance à l’égard de la discipline de parti, en réduisant le nombre de commissions, en permettant à leurs membres de convenir de leur propre calendrier de rencontres, et en les dotant des ressources nécessaires pour leur permettre de remplir leurs mandats. En outre, le rapport propose de redonner le pouvoir aux membres du Cabinet en permettant aux ministres d’agir en ministres et de les rendre plus responsables de leurs portefeuilles. De plus, il faut redonner à la fonction publique son rôle initial en inscrivant dans la loi les principes, les rôles et les responsabilités d’une fonction publique professionnelle et non partisane. Pour finir, il convient de mettre en place des principes de responsabilisation similaires dans la « fonction politique », notamment à l’aide d’un code de conduite et de mécanismes officiels de surveillance, ainsi que d’une formation en gouvernance destinée au personnel politique.

Ces mesures peuvent renforcer nos institutions publiques et mieux leur permettre de jouer les rôles pour lesquels elles été conçues. Elles porteront leurs fruits en offrant un système politique plus productif, responsable, équilibré et transparent au Canada. Avec le nouveau gouvernement en place à Ottawa, le temps est maintenant venu de faire preuve de la prévoyance et de la volonté requises pour effectuer ces changements.

La bonne gouvernance sera profitable pour tous les Canadiens et fera progresser le Canada sur la scène mondiale. Le temps est venu d’agir. Le renouveau est à notre portée.

*Le groupe d’experts formé par le Forum des politiques publiques sur les questions de gouvernance est composé de l’honorable Jean Charest, de M. Jim Dinning, de Mme Monique Leroux, de l’honorable Kevin Lynch et de Mme Heather Munroe-Blum.

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10/30/2015

Contributed to The Globe and Mail

Friday, Oct. 30, 2015 11:34AM EDT

Jean Charest, Jim Dinning, Monique Leroux, Kevin Lynch and Heather Munroe-Blum are members of the Public Policy Forum’s panel.

Canada is a proud democracy with a strong system of governance and public institutions. While we have much to be proud of, our system isn’t perfect. Our public sector governance process is falling short of what Canadians expect and want. There is significant room for improvement. The sustained practice of good governance in our parliamentary system is vital to our democratic health.

And Canada is not alone. The pillars of the Westminster democratic system have been weakened in parliamentary systems from Australia and New Zealand to the United Kingdom and Canada. In each jurisdiction we have witnessed increasing – indeed, extraordinary – centralization of authority and a shift to permanent campaigning and short-termism.

In Canada, the office of the prime minister and the premiers’ offices now exert tremendous power over the legislative branch of government and their public services. Our public institutions – Parliament, cabinet ministers and the public service – no longer play the roles they were designed to play. Canadians’ trust in them is eroding.

The reasons for this decline are not a mystery. Short-termism, driven by a fast-paced, technology-driven, round-the-clock-news-cycle world and an increasingly engaged citizenry, has taken root in the agendas of our elected representatives. Too often, issues management trumps longer-term strategies and policy-making.

The excessive centralization of power has a far-reaching impact. It has reduced the role and effectiveness of cabinet ministers, with the traditional role of cabinet increasingly devolved to political advisers. Similarly, the independence and effectiveness of parliamentary committees have been weakened, undermining one of Parliament’s most effective tools for scrutinizing the executive branch and holding it to account. The public service has been supplanted by a “political service” of unelected and unaccountable appointees who, while an essential part of our system, are too often relied upon for ready-made political solutions to policy issues.

Some degree of centralization and concentration is a natural evolution in our Westminster-style system of government. And, given the revolution in communications and media, some of it is inevitable and even justifiable. But when it comes at the expense of democratic debate, it undermines our ability to address long-term challenges in an open, transparent and substantive way. Critical issues – unsustainable health-care costs, expanding our international trade, coordinating environmental and energy strategies, to name just three – get pushed to the policy back-burner.

Recognizing this, the Public Policy Forum established an independent panel to examine how best to restore balance and respect to our political system and ensure that power and authority are effectively shared among the institutions of our democracy. We asked critical questions: How do we restore the role of Parliament and parliamentary committees? How do we enable ministers to fulfill their responsibilities as ministers? How can we refurbish the public service’s capacity to offer astute, independent, research-based policy advice? And how can we build more accountability into a much-expanded political service?

We drew one critical conclusion from our work: Renewal is within our reach. Drawing on international experiences and examining how our system is lagging, we developed nine recommendations. Outlined in Time for a Reboot: Nine ways to Restore Trust in Canada’s Public Institutions, the recommendations are non-partisan, practical and easily implemented without any constitutional changes. They are focused on parliamentary committees, cabinet, the public service and the political service. By taking steps to restore each element to its intended role, we can restore the balance that has served Westminster-style democracy so well.

The report recommends strengthening parliamentary committees by giving them greater independence from party discipline, reducing the number of committees, allowing them to determine their own meeting schedules and providing them with the resources needed to fulfill their mandates; empowering cabinet by allowing ministers to be ministers and making them more accountable for their portfolios; restoring the public service to its role by enshrining in legislation the principles, roles and accountabilities of a non-partisan, professional public service; and building similar accountability principles into the political service, including a code of conduct and formal oversight mechanisms, as well as governance training for political staff.

These measures can strengthen our public institutions and better allow them to play the roles they were created to play. They will pay dividends in the form of a more productive, accountable, balanced and transparent political system in Canada. With a new government in Ottawa, now is the time to exercise the foresight and the will required to make these changes.

Good governance benefits all Canadians and advances Canada on the world stage. The time to act is now. Renewal is within our reach.

 

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10/29/2015

By BEA VONGDOUANGCHANH 
Published: Thursday, 10/29/2015 

Canada’s public institutions are no longer effective or serving the purposes for which they were designed which is contributing “to an erosion of trust” in them and the political system, says a new report.

“Our political system clearly needs a reboot if it is to 
fulfill citizens’ expectations and serve the purposes of advancing our provinces and our country—and Canada’s place in the world,” says the Public Policy Forum report, Time For a Reboot: Nine Ways to Restore Trust in Canada’s Public Institutions, released yesterday. “The problem is that our public institutions are no longer playing the roles for which they were designed, nor with the authority to be effective. And they are still using processes created a century or more ago for a very different world.”

The report was written by a panel of eminent Canadians and chaired by former Alberta treasurer Jim Dinning. The other panelists included former Quebec premier Jean Charest, Desjardins Group president Monique Leroux, former Privy Council Office Clerk Kevin Lynch, and Canada Pension Plan Investment Board chair Heather Munroe-Blum.

The report notes that the centralization of the power in the Prime Minister’s Office, the decline of the public service, the increase of the ‘political service’ and permanent campaigning have eroded public trust in institutions such as Parliament and entities such as the Cabinet.

“The centralization of Canada’s political system means that our prime ministers have become far more than ‘first among equals.’ In fact, they wield more power than their counterparts in other Westminster-style Parliamentary systems. As Gordon Robertson, former clerk of the Privy Council, put it more than a decade ago: ‘With the lack
of checks and balances, the prime minister in Canada is perhaps the most unchecked head of government among the democracies,’” the report says. “Today, the PMO functions as the ‘real’ cabinet. It develops and screens government policy, decides on appointments, devises communication strategies and writes speeches for the prime minister, ministers and others. Its reach and influence extends into almost every corner of government.”

The centralization of power in the Prime Minister’s Office is at the expense of the Cabinet which was designed to provide a forum for high-level discussion, policy direction setting, and decision making. “Executive governance has evolved to the point where cabinet ministers no longer play the vital role they once did,” the report says. “In the past, prime ministers would delegate responsibility to ministers for policy initiatives, and those ministers were expected to bring to cabinet important subjects for examination. They were also expected to be knowledgeable about their own portfolios as well as those of their colleagues. Today, by contrast, the measure of a minister seems all too often to be his or her ability to avoid controversy.”

Similarly, the non-partisan public service has turned into a bureaucracy used only to enact legislation and carry out day-to-day service rather than act as an arena where advice is sought and public policy created.

“The public service in Canada is today in danger of becoming an ‘administrative service’ whose sole
task would be to execute the orders of politicians and their aides without informed policy advice, question or discussion. In theory, these political advisers complement the
public service, rather than compete with or displace it. Regrettably, there is little evidence of it working that way in practice,” the report notes. “The permanent public service is increasingly supplanted by the ever-stronger ‘political service,’ made up of political appointees who provide support, typically at the behest of the PMO and provincial premiers’ offices. Elected officials now rely heavily on political appointees for advice, marginalizing the important contributions of the senior ranks of the public service and eroding the complementarity of their respective roles.”

While “political staff are an essential part of our system of government,” they should not be doing the public service’s work, the report says.

“Some concentration of authority is arguably a natural evolution in Westminster-style Parliamentary systems such as those in Canada,” the report says. “However, this should not come at the expense of stifling democratic debate. The unbalanced centralization of power now evident in Ottawa and many provincial capitals does not serve the public interest.”

In addition, the report says that non-stop electioneering is blurring “the lines between political messaging and public policy for the non-partisan public service” and “reinforces the power of the political service.”

The report makes nine recommendations on how to improve this new reality. The first is to strengthen Parliamentary committees by allowing the full House of Commons to elect committee chairs by secret ballot, allowing the chairs and members to sit on the committees for the life of a Parliament, allowing the committees to determine their own meeting schedules, and reducing the number of committees in order to “provide them with effective resources to fulfill their mandates.” In addition, ministers and deputy ministers should regularly appear before committees.

“Our parliamentary committees can play a key role through broader, more imaginative tools of public engagement,” the report says.

In order to restore trust, Cabinet government must also be restored. “Ministers should be accountable for their political staff and should appoint their own chiefs of staff,” the report says. “When a minister’s political staff are appointed by the PMO or premiers’ offices—and not by the minister—there is a misalignment of responsibility. A direct channel of communication with centralized first ministers’ offices is essential; however, this shouldn’t be the primary linkage, because such arrangements carry a risk that ministerial staff are thereby undermining the minister’s authority and accountability as stewards of their departments.”

And finally, the public service must be allowed to fulfill its intended role and more public accountability needs to be built into the political service.

“A clear public statement by the prime minister and government is needed regarding the ‘conventions’ underpinning the public service in Canada and its role with respect to policy advice and implementation, administration of programs, and delivery of services to Canadians,” the report says. “The principles, roles and responsibilities of the public service, including specific accountabilities for deputy ministers, should be enshrined in legislation. … The political service will continue to be an important part of our system. However, its uncodified standards of accountability and transparency are inconsistent with the demands of a modern democracy.”

Mr. Dinning said in a release that these issues are “critically-important” and the recommendations are “readily implementable” and will benefit the country.

“If adopted, our proposals stand to reboot Canada’s public institutions, fortifying them so they can perform the roles for which they are intended. Canada would then benefit from more productive, more transparent and more accountable public institutions and governance that matters,” the report says.

Editor's note: This article originally appeared in The Hill Times .

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10/29/2015

By  | Oct 28, 2015 

A new report by the Public Policy Forum warns of the weakening of key pillars of the Westminster system, and outlines a number of parliamentary reforms to “reboot” the system.

The report – made with input from a panel of prominent Canadians that included former Quebec Premier Jean Charest – recommends that governments in Canada adopt smaller and stronger cabinets, reform their committee systems and clarify job descriptions of various public service and government positions. In the case of deputy ministers, that would need to be done with legislation.

A week ahead of the swearing-in of Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau and his cabinet, the report suggests that ministers have lost their influence, that large cabinets are “generally not in the interests of good governance,” and points to the size of cabinet in the UK government, which has only 22 ministers – roughly half the size of Harper’s last cabinet.

At a news conference the day after the election, Trudeau suggested he was going to appoint a cabinet of “deciders,” and not just representatives of their ministries. He also said that cabinet would be smaller, although didn’t specify by how much.

The report also decried the “extraordinary” centralization of power in the PMO and premiers’ offices as a key source of the problem.

“Today, the PMO functions as the ‘real’ cabinet. It develops and screens government policy, decides on appointments, devises communication strategies and writes speeches for the prime minister, ministers and others,” the report reads.

It blamed “digital-age technologies, big data, micro-targeting and social media” as a reason why prime ministers don’t need to rely on their ministers’ advice as much to determine reaction to the government’s agenda. Another issue is that ministerial chiefs of staff are appointed by the PMO and report to it, which, the report says, shows “an unusual degree of centralization and results in confusion over accountabilities.”

Beyond the size of cabinet, it singles out strengthening committees as a priority – one change that would “strike a more effective balance of power between the executive and legislative branches.”

That would mean letting the House elect committee chairs by secret ballot, allowing chairs and members to keep their positions for the full term in parliament, pick their own meeting schedules, shrink the number of committees and give them more resources to fulfill their mandates.

Jim Dinning, the former Alberta finance minister who chaired the panel for the report, is optimistic that as the federal Liberals implement their platform, they could easily bring in some other recommendations – noting that committee elections by secret ballot were in the Liberal Real Change platform. But he wants provincial governments to heed that call as well.

“This isn’t just meant to be a one-shot wonder. It’s not addressed just to the Government of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 1B1. It’s addressed to all governments across the country, but the timing — because of the transition — couldn’t be better right now.”

The report also pointed to fixed-term election dates, which it says have brought rise to the “permanent campaign,” as another issue confronting the government,

“The public service itself is not constructed in a way that they thrive in that sort of environment,” Dinning said. “Being in a constant campaigning state is not a high comfort zone for public servants. That’s why it should be codified, in legislation, laying out those principles of non-partisanship and evidence-based professionalism so that public servants do their job and the political service does their job – but they’re not the same.”

Editor's note: This article originally appeared in iPolitics .

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10/29/2015

MARK KENNEDY, OTTAWA CITIZEN

Published on: October 28, 2015 

Canada’s key public institutions — the Prime Minister’s Office, cabinet, Parliament and the public service — need a “reboot” to restore the trust of Canadians, says a report released Wednesday.

The report by the Public Policy Forum is authored by a panel that includes former Quebec premier Jean Charest, former Alberta treasurer Jim Dinning, and former federal Privy Council clerk Kevin Lynch.

The report warns that as the PMO and political staffers have become more powerful in Ottawa, cabinet ministers and members of Parliament have lost influence and the valuable role of public servants as advisers has been diminished.

“The problem is that our public institutions are no longer playing the roles for which they were designed, nor with the authority to be effective,” warns the report by the independent think tank.

“An extraordinary centralization of power with
 our prime minister, provincial premiers and 
their political advisers has become a defining characteristic of government today, frustrating elected representatives and career public servants.

“There is a troubling antipathy toward the public service, raising the risk of long-term damage to the institution.”

The report notes that if cabinet, parliamentary committees and the public service were able to “function as intended,” they could better respond to “critical longer-term challenges facing Canada.”

Among those challenges: the need to diversify and expand international trade, co-ordinate environmental and energy strategies, address “unsustainable” health-care costs compounded by an aging population, and build a more innovative economy.

“Like those of other democratic nations, Canada’s public institutions have failed in some important ways to keep pace with global changes,” says the report.

“Good governance is not an end in itself, but a means towards achieving a robust democracy for the benefit
 of all citizens. This is important to Canadians both for reasons of transparency and ensuring trust in public institutions.

“Given the above-mentioned shortcomings, our political system clearly needs a reboot if it is to 
fulfil citizens’ expectations and serve the purposes of advancing our provinces and our country — and Canada’s place in the world.”

The panel has issued nine proposals for reform. Among their ideas:

– MPs should elect the chairs of Commons committees.

– There should be fewer of those committees and they should be better funded.

– Ministers and deputy ministers should regularly appear before the committees.

– Ministers should appoint their own chiefs of staff and they should be “accountable” for their political staff.

– The prime minister should make a clear statement about the “conventions” underpinning the public service and its role with respect to policy advice.

– The roles and responsibilities of the public service should be enshrined in legislation.

– The role of the “political staff” that work for the prime minister and cabinet ministers should be clarified and measures should be put in place to provide “appropriate accountability and transparency,” including a code of conduct.

The report comes just days before prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau forms a majority Liberal government. Trudeau has promised a range of democratic reforms to restore credibility to Parliament, make government more open, and treat public servants as partners instead of adversaries.

Dinning, chair of the panel that wrote the report, said the timing of the report’s release this week, as Trudeau prepares to take office, is “just good luck” — adding that he hopes the prime minister acts on all the recommendations.

He said millions of Canadians went to the polls last week and elected MPs they hope will have clout.

“It isn’t just about the Prime Minister’s Office or the political staff. I want to know that my parliamentarian has a say in the affairs of the nation,” Dinning said in an interview Wednesday.

In addition to Dinning, Charest and Lynch, others on the panel were Monique Leroux, CEO of the Desjardin Group, and Heather Munroe-Blum, chair of the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board.

Among the problems cited by the report:

The PMO

The office now functions as the “real” cabinet on Parliament Hill, as its staff “develops and screens government policy, decides on appointments, devises communication strategies and writes speeches for the prime minister, ministers and others.

“Its reach and influence extends into almost every corner of government.”

The cabinet

The dominance of the PMO has come largely at the expense of the cabinet.

“The notion of cabinet government is now questionable. Executive governance has evolved to the point where cabinet ministers no longer play the vital role they once did.”

Parliamentary committees

The committees of MPs are weakened with “constant pressure” from party whips and House leaders to follow “narrow partisan agendas.”

“Working productively across party lines is becoming the rare exception.”

The public service

It plays a “core role” in our system.

“It is non-partisan, professional and permanent, serving governments of any political party with equal loyalty and effectiveness. Its appointments are merit-based.

 

“However, the public service in Canada is today in danger of becoming an ‘administrative service’ whose sole
 task would be to execute the orders of politicians and their aides without informed policy advice, question or discussion.”

Editor's note: This article originally appeared in The Ottawa Citizen .

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10/29/2015

Public Policy Forum suggests electing committee members by secret ballot and creating a code of conduct for the public service.

Canada’s public institutions are being undermined by an “extraordinary degree of centralization” leading to an erosion of trust in the political system, according to agrim new report by the Public Policy Forum.

But fear not: renewal is possible.

Time for a Reboot: Nine Ways to Restore Trust in Canada’s Public Institutions was written by a five-person panel, including former Quebec premier Jean Charest and former Clerk of the Privy Council Kevin Lynch. It paints a dismal portrait of the country’s political institutions.

Its premise, said panel chair and former Alberta treasurer Jim Dinning, is that the public service, the cabinet ministers, the prime minister’s office, Parliament and the political service (staffers) are like five legs of a stool.

Those legs have gotten unbalanced, primarily due to the centralization of power in the prime minister’s office at the expense of cabinet, Parliament and the public service, he said. A similar trend is occurring in the provinces.

“Our objective is to reboot the five legs so that they each play a valuable role, and not one at the expense of any of the others,” Dinning said.

It’s the first time the Public Policy Forum has enlisted such a panel to examine a public issue.

“All five of us are heavily experienced, and have suffered the highs and lows of some of the things that we described in this report,” Dinning said. “And we all know that Parliament and our governments can run so much more effectively.”

 

Five of the recommendations have to do with the functioning of Parliamentary committees. The report recommends that the full House of Commons elect committee chairs by secret ballot; that they retain their positions for the full term of Parliament; that committees determine their own schedules; that the number of committees be reduced; and that ministers and deputy ministers appear regularly before them.

The report also provides recommendations around clarifying the role of the public service, such as enshrining it in formal legislation and creating a code of conduct.

The panel worked on the report for months earlier this year, but released it during the transition so “the new government in transition can pick up some of the good ideas,” Dinning said.

“We’re hopeful that the report will have legs; that it’s not a one-shot wonder,” Dinning said. “We think these nine recommendations will fuel that improvement in how all of our governments across this country could run.”

Editor's note: This article originally appeared in Metro Ottawa.

 

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10/28/2015

A new report from the Public Policy Forum points to a better way to run Canada’s legislatures

Jim Dinning says it would be a major challenge to find 10 private members in any provincial or federal Parliament who could put their hands on their hearts and say, “Everything is running exactly as I hoped it would on the day I was elected.”

“There are too many marching orders,” the former Alberta finance minister says. “[There are] too many prescriptive directions on what you say, where you say it, when you say it, how you say it, and that has eroded the role of a parliamentarian.”

And this isn’t just an issue in Ottawa, Dinning stresses, because there are 13 legislatures in provinces and territories across the country where members have given up authority—be it consciously or unconsciously—while increasingly more power over the legislative branch has trickled up into the offices of premiers or the PMO.

The good news, according to a paper released on Wednesday by the Public Policy Forum (of which Dinning was the panel chair), is that Canada’s Parliaments are not beyond repair. The report, entitled “Time for a Reboot,” offers nine recommendations in the pursuit of restoring trust in the country’s public institutions. The panel also included former Quebec premier Jean Charest.

One major step, recommended by the Public Policy Forum, would be to strengthen parliamentary committees. This could start by having the entire House of Commons elect committee chairs via a secret ballot. It’s not an unfamiliar idea; this is how they elect the Speaker of the House. Not only would a secret ballot incentivize MPs to reach out for support outside their own party, it would solidify that a committee chair’s mandate came from the House, not necessarily thanks to the backing of a party leader. And to stave off the threat of losing a committee position by not toeing party lines, the report explains these positions could instead be set to last a full-term, with the ability to set their own meeting schedules, even if the House is not in session.

The second major step outlined in the report would be to restore the “relevance and importance” of cabinet, which could get off to a good start by simply letting ministers appoint their own chief of staff. As it stood recently in Ottawa, a minister’s political staff was appointed by—and reported to—the PMO.

But with 338 MPs coming to Ottawa, and various numbers of MPPs depending on the province, Dinning admits things could get messy as power is decentralized. However, “if they’re honest and don’t promise to be right all the time,” he says, “I think there’s a high tolerance to wade through that messiness.”

After all, the public’s tolerance for the status quo is fading. Only 40 per cent of Canadians reported trusting  that what their MP does is right, according to a recent report from Samara Canada, a non-partisan advocacy group for civic engagement. Political parties as a whole didn’t fare much better, with only 42 per cent of Canadians placing some trust in them.

And yet, attempts to score political points are often what Canadians see in parliaments, especially in an age of 24-hour news cycles. If any mini-scandal erupts, “citizens are engaged far more than ever before and expect an instantaneous response,” Dinning says. “The time for more thoughtful, deliberative policy work gets trumped by what we call ‘short-termism.’”

When it comes to public accountability, the Public Policy Forum points to a report from the Integrity Commissioner of Ontario that states: “There is a need for balance and sober second thought to ensure that the actions of minister’s staff are consistent with fulfilling the government’s mandate and they are not focused predominantly on how an issue will affect the political party’s standing.” As such, the Public Policy Forum recommends parliaments introduce a Code of Conduct for Political Staff—which exists already in the U.K., Australia and, B.C.—and establish formal oversight mechanisms of political staff.

None of the recommendations are revolutionary, nor are they as easy to implement as it might seem. “If it was easy it might have been done by now,” Dinning says. But it’s likely he’d be able to find more than 10 private members in parliament who would put their hand on their heart and say this is what we should aspire to become.

Editor's note: This article originally appeared in Macleans.

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10/27/2015

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Some ideas on what UBC and Telus could have done differently after dealing with unexpected leadership changes this summer

It was a perfect summer storm. Arvind Gupta, a mathematician and professor of computer science, was 13 months into a five-year mandate as UBC’s president. Then, on August 7, a hot and sunny Friday, the university’s board of governors “regretfully announced” that Gupta had “resigned to return to the pursuit of his academic career.”

There was no further explanation for the departure—just the usual media relations bromides applauding Gupta’s “hard work, integrity, and dedication.” The board of governors pleaded nondisclosure, while Gupta, who will receive his $446,750 president’s salary next year on academic leave from UBC, also remained silent. The international executive search—which UBC public affairs says came in at $351,000 for Gupta, including the costs of the recruiting firm, travel, accommodation and advertising—would have to begin again.

Over at Telus, just three days after Gupta’s departure, B.C.’s corporate titan issued its own media release stating that, following “an extensive review” by its board of directors, CEO Joe Natale would be stepping down after slightly more than one year at the helm. The CEO, who earned $9.4 million last year but worked out of Telus’s Toronto office, “indicated that a move to Western Canada would not work for him and his family for several years,” according to the August 10 statement. Natale remains with the company as an executive officer until the end of next month; details of his departure package were not disclosed.

For some observers, it is difficult to interpret either Gupta’s or Natale’s exit as anything less than a failure. There are direct costs in packaging out a CEO, and UBC will have to shell out for another executive search. But the impact on reputation and branding–more difficult to quantify–may be higher. While no one wants to admit they erred in their leadership selection, organizations the size of Telus and UBC must still be held accountable to stakeholders for such decisions.

Mark Wexler, professor of management and organization studies at SFU, argues the wall of silence following Gupta’s parting isn’t acceptable from the public’s standpoint. “It seems to me that when a university spends that much money in a search that takes a long time, hires someone for five years then lets them go in 13 months—that requires a little more explanation, not just to the faculty but the taxpayer.” Wexler adds that much of the controversy could have been averted if Gupta and UBC board of governors chair John Montalbano had given a “sit-down” press conference together. This needn’t have contravened the nondis-closure agreement. “Even if only 30 per cent of what happened was revealed, most people would have said, ‘OK, there’s an explanation.’ It doesn’t have to be a hell of a lot of information—it has to be a handshake and a smile.”

As for Telus, Natale’s departure a year after being appointed CEO “raises questions of what’s going on” at Canada’s third-largest telecommunications company, according to Jim Hoggan, president of Vancouver PR firm Hoggan & Associates. This, in turn, creates uncertainty about the company’s governance capabilities. When change occurs, he says, stakeholders must be assured that “the situation is being managed well, and you want to be communicating this in a really clear way.”

To many boards, a CEO’s reluctance to move to head office would immediately signal a lack of commitment to the organization. But part of the blame also lies at the board’s feet, says Matt Fullbrook, manager of the Clarkson Centre for Board Effectiveness at UofT’s Rotman School of Management, who notes that sharing power with his former boss might have proven untenable for Natale. “Darren Entwistle’s position as executive chair immediately following his tenure as CEO is not common and presented a
risk that the lines between his position and that of the new CEO could become blurry.”

Hoggan believes that Telus could have been more upfront about its misstep with Natale, admitting candidly what went wrong in order to alleviate uncertainties about the company’s succession planning. However, what ties a company’s hands in these cases are nondisclosure agreements, he notes. “When dealing with human relations issues, there are lots of sensitivities and privacy issues and things that you can’t talk about—even though you want to—and that can influence what is said publicly or not.”

Now, of course, both ships are in new hands—or rather, old-new hands: former UBC president Martha Piper (1997-2006) has regained control of Canada’s fourth-largest university for a one-year term as UBC’s board searches for a permanent placement, while at Telus, ex-CEO Darren Entwistle (2000-2014) is back in his old chair for what he promises is a “long-term basis,” quieting succession talk for the foreseeable future.

Wexler says that Entwistle’s return as CEO was the perfect antidote to any concerns Natale’s departure might have raised about company management. “Investors will love it,” he says. “In the midst of urgency, you want one decision maker.”

The challenge at UBC is greater. Julie Cafley, vice-president of the Public Policy Forum in Ottawa, who has studied public sector governance, says the university should take advantage of the year ahead to do a “significant governance review.”

At the end of its soul searching, UBC should be ready to ensure that the new president will have the strong backing of the board and executive in order to prevent another “derailment.”
Perched at the top of the ivory tower, a president can get pretty lonely, says Cafley, and it’s in the interests of all stakeholders—the board of governors, executive, faculty and even ex-presidents—to ensure the leader doesn’t become even more isolated than he or she already is. And that, she says, is a lesson for any organization of UBC’s size.

Editor's note: This article originally appeared in BCBUISNESS .
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10/22/2015

Can Canada's new PM undo the central control his father favoured?

By Epoch Times | October 21, 2015
 

For prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau, winning the election may have been the easy part. Now he must fulfill the high expectations he raised, including a pledge to open up government—something that runs counter to one of his father’s lasting legacies.

For the younger Trudeau, it will be a major test of his character and tenacity. It will mean going against his own self-interest as prime minister to give up some of the control that previous prime ministers have concentrated in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Former prime minister Pierre Trudeau made notable contributions to that trend by centralizing decision-making in the PMO and in central agencies like the Privy Council Office and Treasury Board.

Centralization can make government more efficient, but majority governments have a tendency toward one-man rule, which became a major election issue this time around. For many of his critics, Harper epitomized overreaching PMO authority.

Trudeau promised to be the antidote.

Both before and during his campaign he pledged transparency and openness. Where Harper kept his caucus on tight message control, Trudeau said he will grant free votes and voices.

He also pledged to revoke restrictions on government scientists who were prohibited under the Conservatives from speaking about their work to the media.

And, in a notable shift from the bitter partisanship of previous parliaments, Trudeau says he will not just work with the 184 MPs in his own caucus, but also with the 154 opposition MPs.

“I am committed, as I have been for a long time, to leading a government that focuses on bringing Canadians together and actually listening and respecting the 337 other voices that are in the House of Commons that were chosen by Canadians yesterday,” Trudeau told Parliamentary reporters in Ottawa Tuesday, Oct. 20.

That press conference finished with another pledge—to actually take questions from reporters.

“I’ll be back, I promise,” he said.

Harper had a difficult relationship with the Parliament Hill Press Gallery and used a slow and sometimes tedious public relations system to channel media requests through the PMO, often resulting in previously published talking points delivered to reporters days later.

Parliament Hill reporters were commonly offended by Harper’s methods, and offered up frequent and biting criticism.

Trudeau has made a point of saying he will change that relationship, even silencing hecklers within his own ranks who took offence to a question he was asked by a CTV correspondent during the campaign.

“Hey! We have respect for journalists in this country,” he told supporters standing next to him. “They ask tough questions and they’re supposed to, OK?”

A Price to Pay

But there’s a cost to Trudeau to dismantling the apparatus his predecessors built. A majority government in Canada has a certain efficiency and functions as a kind of benign dictatorship, though one that is kept in check by the courts, a free press, and numerous watchdogs.

“With only modest hyperbole we can describe it as one-man government. This is where we are after 40 years of centralization of power—hyper-centralization of power,” Dan Gardner, editor of Policy Options, told the audience of a Public Policy Forum panel discussion in Ottawa on Wednesday, Oct. 21.

Stepping into that kind of power can be seductive, illustrated Gardner, by quoting Stephen Harper circa 1997.

“Only in politics do we still entrust power to a single faction expected to prevail every time over the opposition by sheer force of numbers. Even more anachronistically, we persist in structuring the governing team like a military regiment under a single commander with almost total power to appoint, discipline, and expel subordinates,” Harper wrote at the time.

The fact that Harper would come to epitomize a system he was so critical of speaks to the challenge Trudeau will face.

There are obvious reasons that Trudeau would not unravel centralization, noted Gardner, chief among them expediency and an ability to execute a vision that centralization allows.

But there are also costs. Among them is the fact that centralized control means it is easy to make bad decisions. Getting advice and listening to others means better information.

Challenges

But despite a long list of previous prime ministers who have pledged similar reforms, Gardner is among those who believe, in this case, it could actually happen.

Liberal statements promising these changes have been bold, constant, and unequivocal. So far, Trudeau has lived up to his pledge by letting his senators run free and by being open and accessible throughout his campaign.

But sincerity only goes so far. Personality is also a factor. Harper was more inclined toward introverted methods than the relatively outgoing Trudeau, who seems more interested in what others think, said Gardner.

Harper, as Gardner and others have noted, also had a relatively inexperienced cabinet, many of whom were new to the political arena, which made tighter messaging more important.

Trudeau faces the exact opposite challenge, says political analyst and government relations consultant Peter Landry, a principal at both ENsight Canada and Enterprise Canada.

“He has the good fortune of having some candidates who are used to running companies, who are very senior people, who are not the type who will be talking heads for pre-scripted messages,” said Landry in a telephone interview.

Trudeau’s caucus also includes 13 MPs with the “Honourable” prefix, the calling card of those who have previously served as cabinet ministers.

The bigger challenge for Trudeau in that regard will be keeping his campaign pledge to shrink his cabinet to around 25 ministers.

But if Trudeau has any challenges figuring out where to let go of power and where to keep it, he has a team of experienced political operatives who just helped him pull off a nearly flawless campaign.

“There are a lot of experienced people coming in who know the balance they are going to need to find,” said Landry.

Finally, Trudeau has little choice but to make major changes.

“He was elected on not being Stephen Harper,” said Landry.

While Harper was propelled to power on a pledge clean up government, which he largely did, Trudeau was propelled to power on his promise of open government, said Gardner.

The Liberals know that if they don’t deliver that to some extent before the next election, they will be in trouble.

If Trudeau does not follow through, he also risks disillusioning the people he has brought in to work with him—capable people looking to bring their own visions to fruition.

‘Easier Said Than Done’

There are, however, reasons to doubt. Chief among them is that Trudeau could create the perception of change without actually delivering.

Simply rolling back Harper’s excessive message control would give the appearance of more open government without ever addressing the overwhelming power of the PMO.

Second, Trudeau is far more comfortable in front of the camera. Harper’s cool demeanour was partly to blame for voter perception and Trudeau could use charisma and face time with the media and voters to substitute for real transparency.

In addition, unravelling the system he has inherited will be hard.

“It is easy to institute procedures, it is hard to take them away again. So I think it is going to be easier said than done,” said Landry.

There is also the question of how Trudeau understands the issue of open, collaborative government.

His father had an admiration for Chinese Communist Party founder Mao Zedong, a man responsible for tens of millions of deaths in China and one of the most repressive regimes in human history.

Trudeau seems to think that China today benefited from that system, noting at an event in November 2013 that he admired China’s “basic dictatorship” for its ability to “turn their economy around on a dime.”

While it is likely Trudeau has since gained a fuller picture of the deep structural problems of the Chinese economy and the often brutal repression faced by the Chinese people, he has never disavowed the statement or clarified his position.

Finally, there are the problems that collaborative open governments must deal with: criticism over seemingly excessive spending; quotes taken out of context and used unfairly by the opposition; and the time it takes to consult and collaborate before actually making a decision.

Fortunately, as Gardner and many others have noted, collaborative decisions are almost always better decisions.

And if Trudeau is going to fulfill the high expectations he raised, he’s going to need to make a long series of really good decisions.

Editor's note: This article originally appeared in Epoch Times .

 

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