Klassen: When the bureaucrat is the boss, democracy starts to suffer

While many written upon the relationship between elected representatives and the un-elected public service, seems like an odd time to express this concern where governments that have relied on public health expertise have responded much better to COVID-19 than those who have not.

In the end, elected representatives are accountable through the ballot box for the decisions that they take. At a time of a pandemic, going against public health expertise is a high-risk approach as the US and UK approaches illustrate:

The government response to COVID-19 in Canada has made explicit how much power bureaucrats have amassed. Civil servants are more influential now than ever, not because they make decisions but because they are the keepers of the specialized knowledge necessary to govern the country.

Politicians enact laws and decide on budgets but have little, if any, expertise in a policy area. For example, how can one person, such as a prime minister or minister, understand the complexities of the Income Tax Act with its more than 3,200 pages? The expert knowledge of a particular field such as public health resides with permanent officials, such as Dr. Theresa Tam, Chief Public Health Officer and her 2,400 staff at the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Sometimes politicians have the luxury of time before reaching a policy decision, which minimizes the influence of government bureaucrats in shaping the outcome. Typically, a new program or trade agreement is implemented after years of proposals, consultations, hearings and opportunities for politicians to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the implications and trade-offs.

In contrast, the COVID-19 pandemic demands the enactment of new programs and laws in a matter of weeks, if not days. Canadian politicians have relied exclusively on the advice of bureaucrats in designing responses at the federal, provincial or municipal level. Politicians of every stripe have adhered to the instructions of public health bureaucrats. All speeches by politicians and government statements highlight that “the government is acting on the best advice of public health officials.”

U.S. politicians have been less keen to follow the advice of bureaucrats. Donald Trump makes comments that are at odds with his public health advisers. He places blame on the public health officials at the World Health Organization. Democratic and Republication governors pursue strategies on public health guided in some significant measure by ideology. The populist streak in the U.S. and the enshrined right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence produces a politically diverse response to COV-19.

“Peace, order and good government,” enshrined in Canada’s constitution, has guided the relationship between elected politicians and appointed civil servants since before 1867. Peace and order require stability and continuity, which is what permanent public servants provide regardless of the party in power. Good government requires specialized knowledge, which the public service also provides. Unlike the U.S., Canada’s politicians do not disagree with their senior civil servants on key policy matters.

A century ago, Canada’s federal public service was small, with more than half of its employees working for the post office, and in transportation and customs-related jobs. Income taxes, as a temporary measure, had just been introduced in 1917. At that time, the responsibilities of Cabinet ministers were considerably simpler than today, decision times much slower, and the news cycle much longer.

Starting in the 1940s, when the role of government expanded dramatically as the welfare state grew, power began to seep from elected officials to bureaucrats. The depth of knowledge required to understand public policy decisions is no longer available to ministers, who remain in portfolios for two years on average, during which time they must also fulfil their constituency and parliamentary duties.

One outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic is that bureaucrats will be even more influential, at least in matters related to public safety. This may seem an appealing prospect but is not in the best interests of Canadians.

Allowing public health experts, military planners, transportation engineers, educators and other unaccountable government officials to determine policy is undemocratic. Democracy means accepting the messy business of politics with its partisan rivalries, compromises, tradeoffs, U-turns and inconsistencies. Democracy also demands that politicians have the fortitude to set aside – at times – the specialized and rational calculations and recommendations of their officials.

Thomas Klassen is a professor in the School of Public Policy and Administration at York University in Toronto.

Source: Klassen: When the bureaucrat is the boss, democracy starts to suffer

Montréal toujours loin de la parité hommes-femmes

Unfortunately, we do not have consistent cross-municipality data (the NHS/Census allows us to compare gender and median income but the shift to the NHS in 2011 makes comparisons problematic). For all municipal employees across Canada, 59 percent are male:

La proportion de femmes parmi les employés de la Ville de Montréal a diminué depuis huit ans, alors que la métropole s’était pourtant engagée à tendre vers la parité avec les hommes. Le nombre de femmes ayant obtenu un poste de cadre a augmenté, mais celles-ci continuent à gagner moins que leurs collègues masculins. Ce sont là quelques-uns des constats qui se dégagent du plus récent avis du Conseil des Montréalaises, qui sera présenté aux élus de la métropole lors de la prochaine réunion du conseil municipal.

La proportion de femmes parmi les employés de la Ville de Montréal a diminué depuis huit ans, alors que la métropole s’était pourtant engagée à tendre vers la parité avec les hommes. Le nombre de femmes ayant obtenu un poste de cadre a augmenté, mais celles-ci continuent à gagner moins que leurs collègues masculins. Ce sont là quelques-uns des constats qui se dégagent du plus récent avis du Conseil des Montréalaises, qui sera présenté aux élus de la métropole lors de la prochaine réunion du conseil municipal.

Le nombre de femmes cadres progresse

Malgré le recul de la proportion de femmes au sein du personnel de la métropole, le Conseil des Montréalaises se réjouit de constater que leur nombre a tout de même progressé chez les cadres. En 2006, 40 % des cadres étaient des femmes, proportion qui a grimpé à 44 % en 2014 parmi les 1836 cadres de la métropole. Les femmes continuent toutefois à être sous-représentées dans les plus hauts échelons de l’appareil administratif, note le rapport. Celles-ci n’occupaient que 32 % des postes de cadre de direction, soit ceux répondant directement au directeur général. Cette proportion représente tout de même une progression par rapport à 2006, où elles étaient 24 %.

Source: Montréal toujours loin de la parité hommes-femmes | Pierre-André Normandin | Montréal

Harper wants to ‘examine’ ban on niqab in public service and the ‘duty to accommodate’

Beyond playing identity politics on the issue, there is a need for a more substantive discussion, based upon evidence (including the data on the religious affiliation of public servants as in my background note Religious Minorities in the Public Service) and how the “duty to accommodate” policy would be applied in the case of a request (and how any previous requests – if they exist – were handled).

Any request would not just be handled at the working level but would most likely involve HR officials and more senior officials and would likely emerge into the public domain.

A quick review of TBS’s Duty to accommodate guide for managers shows it largely focuses on accommodation for persons with disabilities, with little guidance with respect to religious accommodation. The Canadian Human Rights Commission and provincial equivalents provide more guidance and examples, but no examples of niqabs or gender-based segregation based upon my quick review (corrections welcome).

And a reminder, the duty to accommodate does not mean agreeing to the specific request or the specific form of accommodation requested:

A re-elected Conservative government would “examine” whether to prohibit public servants from wearing the face-covering garment known as the niqab, leader Stephen Harper said Tuesday.

“That’s a matter we’re going to examine,” Harper told Rosemary Barton during an interview on CBC’s Power & Politics Tuesday. “Quebec, as you know, has legislation on this. We’re looking at that legislation.”

The prime minister was referring to Bill 62, introduced by Quebec’s Liberal government in June, which contains measures to prohibit public servants from wearing niqabs in provincial offices.

Harper’s notion earned swift denunciations.

“Stephen Harper is trying to play politics with sensitive issues. It smacks of political manipulation,” said Paul Dewar, the incumbent NDP candidate in Ottawa Centre.

Catherine McKenna, the Liberal candidate in Ottawa Centre, agreed. “The niqab in the public service is not a serious issue, it’s a diversion tactic.”

Ron Cochrane, co-chairman of the National Joint Council, called it an “example of Harper trying to create a problem where there isn’t one now.”

“If there are people who wear the niqab providing services to Canadians, no one has ever complained about their dress, so why is he making it an issue when it hasn’t been before?”

“This election is too important to be distracted by Mr. Harper’s questionable tactics,” said Debi Daviau, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada. “Unlike this prime minister, we respect the rule of law and our focus is on defending our ability to deliver essential public services to Canadians.”

The niqab issue has become a hot-button election topic in recent days, as the Federal Court of Appeal rejected the government’s application for a stay of a Federal Court decision in favour of a Muslim woman, Zunera Ishaq, who wants to wear a niqab during her citizenship ceremony.

Source: Harper wants to ‘examine’ ban on niqab in public service | Ottawa Citizen

Clement: “I’m here also for the public servant who wants to work hard, who needs sick benefits when they are truly sick.”

Really?

When I was truly sick (cancer), I could use my bank of sick days (and it was considerable) as well as drawing upon discretionary sick leave for executives on full salary, before going on long-term disability at 70 percent salary.

So these and related changes impact upon those with catastrophic illnesses in a very material way, not just curbing abuse (of which there is some):

But the government doesn’t necessarily expect to realize the full $900 million in savings, Treasury Board President Tony Clement said Wednesday after the weekly Conservative caucus meeting.

“The budget is the budget, and the savings are the savings,” Clement said. “But there is some breathing room for me recognized in that calculation.”

The government has told civil service unions it expects to eliminate the system that allows public servants to bank sick days and carry them over from year to year.

Ottawa is hoping instead to provide short-term disability benefits through an insurance company.

Talks have been going on for the last year and are expected to last until at least June with 47 meeting days scheduled to take place, on top of the nearly 200 negotiating sessions that have been held so far.

Clement said he wants to bargain in good faith, even though the government is already counting the $900 million in savings from future sick leave liability toward its projected $1.4-billion surplus in 2015-16.

“They clearly want a Liberal or an NDP government to negotiate with, who will roll over and accept their positions,” Clement said of the unions with which he is bargaining.

“I’m here for the taxpayer,” he said. “I’m here also for the public servant who wants to work hard, who needs sick benefits when they are truly sick.”

Clement says public servants’ sick days an easy target for cuts (paywall)

Joseph Health on the Public Service

Attended an interesting talk this week by Joseph Heath on the three “poles of allegiance” of the public service: to elected officials, to the public, and to their professional values. Although his working through the issues in each category is a helpful analytical exercise, as a former public servant not sure that helps us much in the end in the Canadian context, where “fearless advice and loyal implementation” to the minister prevails.

My experience, as outlined in Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism, was that whenever public servants deviated from serving elected officials, problems emerged. Should they try to serve the public in recommending Grant & Contribution projects, they missed the change in policy with projects being rejected. And should they try to follow their professionalism with respect to providing advice without taking political context into account, public servants were viewed as obstructive.

But alway good to have a theoretical framework challenge the status quo, and be provoked!

My Ottawa Morning Interview

My interview on Ottawa Morning on CBC, the main morning show. I was lucky to get the prime time morning commuter slot (8:15) and able to reach many public servants and others. Just under 9 minutes.

http://www.cbc.ca/player/AudioMobile/Ottawa%2BMorning/ID/2406800268/

News Release – Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism

Sep 16, 2013 07:00 ET

Book-Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism

The Inside Story between the Conservative Government and the Public Service

OTTAWA, ONTARIO–(Marketwired – Sept. 16, 2013) – Canada is internationally known for its successful citizenship and multiculturalism policies. In 2007, the Conservative Government met unexpected resistance from the Public Service as it began altering longstanding citizenship and multiculturalism policies under Minister Jason Kenney.

In Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, Andrew Griffith, retired Director General of Citizenship and Multiculturalism, examines whether the resistance was driven by an arrogant sense of the Public Service “knowing better”, or their innocent bias for conventional wisdom in the face of transformative change.

“Just as the political level is certain about its policies and priorities, the bureaucracy is certain about its evidence and expertise,” noted Griffith, “not surprisingly, the political level felt the bureaucracy was at best resisting change, at worst being disloyal, while public servants felt their expertise and knowledge was being challenged or ignored.”

Griffith illustrates how public servants were forced to face the limits of their expertise and knowledge, while providing the “fearless advice and loyal implementation” central to their professional ethos.

The analysis provides a unique inside view into the making of public policy that will be of interest to media, interest groups, academics and engaged citizens.

“….[this book] deserves a wider view, if only because it confirms what so many of us in Ottawa have been hearing, anecdotally, about the dispirited state of the public service in a hyper-partisan government…. If we want to know why Kenney has managed to become one of Harper’s top ministers, we should probably take a close look at what Griffith is telling us about how things unfolded in terms of citizenship and multiculturalism.”

Susan Delacourt, Toronto Star

The Harper government vs. the public servants

Andrew Griffith is the former Director General – Citizenship and Multiculturalism Branch, Citizenship and Immigration Canada. In 30 years of public service, he served in various departments at home and abroad, including assignments in Argentina, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Geneva and Los Angeles. He was given the Public Service Award twice (2007 and 2010) and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal (2012). His first book, Living with Cancer: A Journey, was published in 2012.

Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism is available from Amazon, iTunes (available shortly), and Kobo in ebook for $7.99. Print on demand is available from Lulu at $14.99.

Follow Andrew: LinkedIn: Andrew L Griffith

Twitter: @Andrew_Griffith

Blog: Multicultural Meanderings

Facebook: Andrew Griffith C&M