New report calls for 'reboot' of Canada's public institutions

SHARE THIS:
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.