Federal ‘unmuzzling’ has gone beyond government scientists with scrapping of Harper-era system

The real test will come when someone ‘screws-up’.

There will still be need for coordination and heads-up. But most public servants have the sense of what is appropriate and what it not:

The Liberal government has scrapped the elaborate system Conservatives were using to organize central message control within the government, replacing it with… nothing, according to the Privy Council Office.

It’s not just the scientists who’ve been unmuzzled. Anyone in the government who wants to organize a public event, or speak at one — and anyone who wants to talk to journalists — is affected by this change in policy.

The PCO, which acts as a support to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet, confirmed the shift this week.

Under this government, it is no longer using documents called “Message Event Proposals,” which came into practice under Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, to vet events and media requests across the federal government. The documents “have not been replaced with something new,” said spokesperson Raymond Rivet.

“The PCO’s new communications process looks like another positive step,” said Debi Daviau, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada.

The union represents about 57,000 government scientists and other professionals, mainly at the federal level of government. It has been one of the most vocal advocates for the government “unmuzzling” its scientists.

Though she said there’s clear support for science from the Liberal government, Daviau warned that policies and directives are always at the whim of the government of the day, noting a “chill” under Harper.

“A lot of work needs to happen so that science is never silenced again by a federal government. What we need now is to safeguard it from future attacks and ensure we are consistent across government departments,” Daviau said.

Despite the shift at PCO, Rivet noted some departments might still use Message Event Proposals or similar products internally.

“Departments and ministers are responsible for their own communications, though co-ordination remains important,” said Olivier Duchesneau, a spokesperson for Trudeau. Some inquiries are still flagged to the PCO when more than one agency or department is involved, Rivet added.

Duchesneau said the government is basing its communications on the concept of “government by cabinet,” though he didn’t comment specifically on the scrapped Harper-era system.

Source: Federal ‘unmuzzling’ has gone beyond government scientists with scrapping of Harper-era system | National Post