Robyn Benson, PSAC

Politicization of the Public Service

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“Mr Bond, they have a saying in Chicago: “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it’s enemy action.” ~Auric Goldfinger

The Harper government once again has been caught putting up partisan propaganda on government websites. And once again it has taken down the offending material, and cried “Whoops.”

At this point, I find it hard to think it’s unintentional. In January of this year, then-International Development Minister Julian Fantino posted two antagonistic, politically partisan letters on the CIDA government website. One attacked the NDP, another, the Liberals.

As most know, former Toronto police chief Fantino is a ham-handed kind of guy who has not been doing well in his second career. Currently Minister of Veterans Affairs, his poorly-stated Conservative talking-points and puffed-up comparisons of himself to veterans have merely antagonized those he is supposed to support. But he’s bumbled along, it must be said, in every Cabinet post he’s held.

When the partisan CIDA posts were discovered and complained about, they were quickly taken down. At the time, Fantino took the old “it wuzn’t me, it was the bureaucrats” line. But later this year, information came to light that casts serious doubt on his story. It seems that a senior member of his own office staff was in the know when those partisan posts were approved for publication. Yet somehow Fantino wasn’t. Sound familiar?

Once upon a time, the more open-minded among us might have been able to accept that the fellow simply didn’t know the rules when he posted those letters, being the bull in a china shop that he evidently is. Since 1908, the federal Public Service has been non-partisan, by design. It’s a principle of the first importance. Public workers are hired on merit, not political affiliation, and are expected to do their work conscientiously in the public interest, not act as political assistants to the party in power. It’s why this other story, of direct political activity by members of the Canadian military on behalf of former Defence Minister Peter McKay, caused such controversy at the time.

It’s just not done. In particular, senior officials in the Public Service, who make high-level policy decisions, are supposed to speak non-partisan truth to power, not be its instruments.

Now Finance Canada has been caught at it as well. “Whoops,” says Meagan Murdoch, identified as spokeswoman for Minister of State for Finance Kevin Sorenson. She was identified back in January as Minister Fantino’s spokeswoman too. “Whoops,” she said then.

Add to these odd incidents of blatant partisanship the recent astounding announcement that, henceforward, Ministers of the Crown will no longer be accountable for what goes on in their respective departments. The buck, it seems, may now stop somewhere, anywhere (or not at all), but not here. What does this mean? Well, henceforward, if improper doings are happening in departments, Ministers no longer have to say they didn’t know anything about it—a claim that has its risks, as we have seen in the case of Fantino. Now all Ministers have to do is to point out that they aren’t responsible. There! Problem solved.

Welcome to Harper Canada. Well, in fairness, maybe the following is just a typo—as they said when somebody noticed:

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[Photo Credit: Canadian Press]

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This page contains a single entry by Robyn Benson, PSAC published on December 11, 2013 8:35 AM.

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