Public service full to bursting with deputy ministers

Alan Freeman on the growth in the number of deputies, picking up on some themes of Donald Savoie:

Here’s a quiz. How many deputy ministers are there in the federal government’s Treasury Board Secretariat?

If you answer “one,” you’ll get a point for logic. After all, as you learned in your first-year university Canadian politics course, a deputy minister is the top public servant in a government department — the boss — whether it’s Transport or Global Affairs or Treasury Board.

But this being Ottawa in 2019, “one” is the wrong answer. How about six? That’s right. The Treasury Board actually has six top officials in the deputy minister (DM) category. Five are full deputies and a sixth is an associate deputy. They’re all appointed by the prime minister to their jobs, and get better salaries and more generous pension benefits than other executives, all for being part of the (once) exclusive club of Ottawa mandarins.

Treasury Board is just one example. Deputies are popping up throughout the federal government like potholes in March. Global Affairs has four, at last count, National Defence three. But it’s Innovation, Science and Economic Development (the old Industry department) that wins the Oscar for best performance in deputy overkill. It’s got four deputies, plus five other DMs, if you include the heads of the five regional development agencies the department supervises. That’s a total of nine.

Of course, the same department has four ministers, including full ministers for science, tourism and small business. A mini-government of its own.

It’s an extraordinary phenomenon that’s the result of political expediency and bureaucratic empire-building. As of today, there are 83 deputies in the federal government: 38 deputy ministers and 45 associate deputy ministers, an increase of 11 positions in the past decade. Since the Trudeau government was elected, nine have been added.

The number of executives in the government has been growing like topsy for years, at twice the growth rate of the public service as a whole. The deputy explosion is just another symptom of a system that’s out of control.

This growth has not just added people, it’s added new layers to the top bureaucracy. Where once there were a group of assistant deputy ministers with specific responsibilities reporting to a deputy at the top of the departmental bureaucratic hierarchy, there are now senior assistant deputy ministers, associate deputy ministers, and even senior associate deputy ministers, all adding to the general confusion.

“It’s huge. It’s cumbersome. They’ve created a whale that can’t swim,” says Donald Savoie, the New Brunswick academic who has studied the federal bureaucracy for decades.

“All of these people have to be relevant, so they create work for themselves. They slow everything down.”

How did we get here? As Savoie notes, the position of associate DM developed a few decades ago. Part of it was classification creep. Then was the desire to reward public servants who may have been very competent, but didn’t have the “gravitas” to make it to the deputy level.

Another reason, according to Savoie, was that promotion to associate DM was seen as a way of getting around wage freezes imposed on senior bureaucrats. If you can’t give a trusted official an annual increase, promote him to a higher-paying job. First it was only the big departments that got an associate DM. Then they spread everywhere. Even a small department like Veterans Affairs now has an associate deputy minister, both appointed by the PM, both with DM salaries.

Politics have also intervened, particularly since the Liberals returned to power. Remember that first Trudeau cabinet, the gender-equal one with 15 men and 15 women? When people found out that five of the women were actually “junior” ministers of state, all hell broke loose and Trudeau was forced to make them all full ministers, with higher salaries. But that also meant they needed a deputy or an associate to help them out with their “portfolio.”

So we have a weird kind of deputy minister, who reports to a minister but doesn’t really have a conventional department to take care of. There’s Guylaine Roy, who became a deputy last summer when Mélanie Joly was demoted from Canadian Heritage and was given the smorgasbord job of Tourism, Official Languages and La Francophonie. The actual public servants (it must be a tiny number) seem to have stayed in their home departments, so it’s hard to know what exactly a deputy is in charge of in those circumstances.

Likewise, a new deputy was appointed for Status of Women when that became a full cabinet position and department again.

And there’s now a deputy minister for public-service accessibility, who was appointed in July when Public Services Minister Carla Qualtrough was given the additional responsibility of improving access for people with disabilities in the federal sector. At the same time, the chief information officer, Alex Benay, was promoted to a DM-level job. Both are part of the Treasury Board gang of six.

Improving accessibility may be a laudable goal, but why is there a need for a full deputy minister? Using the same logic, you could argue that there should be a deputy minister to encourage women in the public sector, or visible minorities or Indigenous people. There’d be no end to it.

And of course, there’s now an associate deputy minister at Public Services and Procurement whose sole responsibility is the Phoenix pay system. That seems a guarantee that the job will be around long after the system is fixed or replaced.

Is there any end in sight? Not really. This week, there was another cabinet shuffle and another newly minted minister, this time for Rural Development. Bernadette Jordan got the job, largely because Trudeau needed an MP from Nova Scotia in the cabinet and there seemed no other place to put her.

By Friday, a new breeze of austerity had clearly blown in from the Privy Council Office, which now says Jordan will be supported by the existing deputy minister at Infrastructure for some of her files, and by the Innovation deputy for the rest. A bit of a respite from the DM tsunami, but you can be sure it won’t be long until another new deputy minister is created.

Source: Public service full to bursting with deputy ministers

Provinces need to nix immigrant-investor visas

Nothing really new here in Alan Freeman’s commentary but well stated:

It’s time Canadian provinces stopped selling visas to the highest bidder.

They’re known as immigrant-investor visas, which promise wealthy migrants permanent residence and a path to Canadian citizenship in return for actively investing in a Canadian business or lending money to a provincial government. 

But in reality, these visa programs are simply fancy schemes to sell Canadian passports to wealthy businesspeople, mainly from mainland China, who want a bolt-hole for their family and often have little intention of ever settling in Canada, aside from buying a pricey condo in Vancouver or Toronto and leaving it empty. 

What’s worse, these schemes are an invitation to the unscrupulous to use Canada as a place to launder money, and encourage a slimy network of immigration counsellors, questionable lawyers and investment advisers to collect big fees from would-be migrants.

The fact that Canadian provinces — Quebec, in particular — have been actively courting this trade is an embarrassment and a massive failure of public policy, with shades of corruption thrown in.

The federal government wisely got out of the immigrant-investor visa business in 2014 but several provinces, through the so-called provincial nominee programs, kept them going. Prince Edward Island is a case in point.

Earlier this month, P.E.I. decided to shut down the entrepreneur stream of its provincial nominee program after a new scandal engulfed it, 10 years after a similar program in the province was shut down in the wake of irregularities.

Canada Border Services Agency recently charged two hoteliers in Charlottetown under the Immigration Act with providing fake addresses to 566 new immigrants to the province between 2008 and 2015 who declared the Sherwood Motel as their principal residence. Must have been pretty crowded. 

Under the P.E.I. scheme, would-be immigrants had to make a $200,000 provincial deposit to the province, refundable if they set up a business there, chump change for these would-be Canadians. Last November, the government said that two-thirds of participants had forfeited their deposits because they hadn’t followed through and set up businesses in the province.

It was clear to anybody who was looking that these so-called immigrant investors never intended to set up a souvenir shop or convenience store in Charlottetown or Summerside. They simply wanted a back-door route into Canada so they could set themselves or their children up in Markham or Richmond. P.E.I. officials and politicians, in their desperation to attract immigrants, have been shown to be rubes of the first order.

The Quebec Immigrant Investor Program is bigger and the abuse has been even more flagrant, as demonstrated in a fabulous investigative report this month by the Radio-Canada TV show, Enquête.

The program documents the underbelly of the Quebec program as a conduit for wealthy Chinese businesspeople to buy permanent residency in Canada by stating their intention to settle in Quebec, and seldom even setting foot there. An estimated 85 per cent of the thousands of investors who have passed through the program since 1986 have gone to Ontario and B.C.

In its report, Enquête created Mr. Chen, a would-be investor in Quebec from mainland China and secretly filmed him as he made the rounds of immigration lawyers and consultants in Hong Kong who specialize in the Quebec program. It’s an eye-opener.

When Mr. Chen tells these advisers that he doesn’t intend to live in Quebec, even though it’s a pre-condition of the program, he’s told it’s not a problem. One lawyer suggests he rent an apartment for three months in Montreal to prove he has a Quebec address and leave it vacant. And if that’s too expensive, the lawyer suggests giving the Montreal address of his law firm as the immigrant’s residence.

When Mr. Chen admits the source of his assets isn’t squeaky-clean and he actually runs a pawn shop and money-lending business on the side, one adviser suggests he hide his problem assets in the British Virgin Islands or even procure a second identity by buying a passport in one of the Caribbean islands that will sell one to anybody with cash. “You may be Mr. Chen, but you can change your name to Bruce Lee,” says the paralegal, who identifies herself as a lawyer.

If experience in other jurisdictions is any indicator, these programs are toxic, attract the wrong type of people and seldom reach their economic goals. 

South of the border, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services recently shut down the EB-5 immigrant-investor program in Vermont after the failure of state officials to stop promoters of the Jay Peak ski resort from misusing US$200 million in immigrant-investor money that flowed into a series of questionable projects. 

In Australia, the Productivity Commission, an independent federal advisory agency, recommended in 2016 that its “significant investor visa” program be scrapped after Austrac, the agency that tracks money laundering, said there were “difficulties in identifying the sources of funds and wealth for customers on significant investment visas, as this wealth is often acquired in foreign jurisdictions.” The Commission said there were minimal benefits from the program and “any benefits accrue mainly to those visa holders and fund managers.”

Australia has since significantly boosted the minimum investment required — to $5 million — and tightened oversight of the program. The result is that there are a lot fewer takers. Why bother with Australia if you can get to Canada through the Quebec scheme, which only requires participants to lend $1.2 million for five years to the Quebec government, interest-free?

While it’s true that the Atlantic provinces and Quebec have major problems attracting and retaining immigrants, it’s an illusion to think that the way to improve these numbers is by selling visas to wealthy migrants. In fact, these are the last people who want to settle in Corner Brook or Drummondville.

The major advantage of these places is the fact that they’re actually not as wealthy as Canada’s big cities, that housing is affordable, and they’re actually easier places to start a new life in Canada. Manitoba has shown that it’s possible to attract hard-working immigrants from places like the Philippines who will make real contributions to society rather than use Canada as a place to stash ill-gotten gains. 

Canada is one of the most attractive places in the world for immigrants to settle. Selling visas and passports is humiliating and counter-productive.

Source: Provinces need to nix immigrant-investor visas