Union wants top bureaucrat to help restore public service ‘neutrality’ | Ottawa Citizen

Various commentary on the decision by unions to play a partisan role in the election. I agree with the overall message that this harms the overall public service-political relationship:

This wasn’t the first election in which unions opposed the government of the day but many say it was the most aggressive.

“The decision of unions to campaign against Harper … was unfortunate and harmful because it legitimizes the Conservative view that the public service is a partisan institution. I don’t think it is, but the actions of unions certainly makes it appear to be,” said Ralph Heintzman, a University of Ottawa professor who has proposed various reforms to restore public service neutrality.

He said a Liberal or NDP government would have to wonder about whether the public service could turn on them.

“No party can rejoice in public servants becoming actively involved in electoral politics against the government,” said Heintzman. “Mulcair and Trudeau … can’t be thrilled with unions campaigning against the Conservative government because it suggests that if unions don’t like what you do, they will become partisan again.”

That trust was further called into question when a secret policy briefing, prepared by the Department of Foreign Affairs for deputy ministers on Canada’s shrinking international clout, was leaked during the election campaign. Charette called in the RCMP to find the leak. In a separate incident, the deputy minister at Citizenship and Immigration called the Mounties to track down who leaked that the Prime Minister’s Office had directed bureaucrats to stop processing Syrian refugees pending an audit.

Donald Savoie, a Canada Research Chair in Public Administration and Governance at Université de Moncton, said leaking information to embarrass the government in an election is such a breach of the public service’s ethos that the clerk had to play hardball and call the Mounties.

“They hurt the institution they service. What is the opposition supposed to think if they do this to the government of the day; what will stop them from leaking when we’re the government?” said Savoie.

But Daviau is convinced the public service will have the trust and respect of the Liberals or NDP because both parties were “forthright” in their promises and consulted with unions on their proposed reforms months before the election.

“I feel confident that with the declarations of the other parties to revert back to the traditional way of doing business, that the genie can be put back in the bottle, but now comes the work to get us back to where we were,” said Daviau.

But Heintzman said the eroding neutrality of the public service goes much further than unions’ electoral activism and the system needs a structural overhaul.

He said the Conservative government “exploited all the ambiguities of the parliamentary system for its own partisan advantage,” pushing public servants over the line that used to be drawn between politics and public service.

A big problem, he said, is that deputy ministers didn’t challenge this politicization of the public service, particularly “turning the PCO into a partisan communications machine.” The most talked-about example was a video Employment Minister Pierre Poilievre had public servants produce with department funds to promote the Conservatives’ universal child-care benefit.

“The clerk is part of the problem. (Her) role corrupts the public service by creating a hierarchy of power that no deputy minister will challenge. The deputy minister is appointed by the clerk, looks to the clerk as boss and won’t challenge directions from PCO,” said Heintzman.

David Zussman, the Jarislowsky Chair on Management in the Public Sector at the University of Ottawa, has written a book on transitions from one government to another called Off and Running. He said questions about neutrality will have to be dealt with but they won’t be on the priority list of a new government.

But the public service is the key player in managing a transition, giving it a “chance to shine” – which can go a long way to rebuilding trust, Zussman said.

Source: Union wants top bureaucrat to help restore public service ‘neutrality’ | Ottawa Citizen

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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