Even if Stephen Harper wins a minority, it looks like he won't be around long. Whoever forms the next government will face the task of rebuilding the public service. Jeremy Nuttall writes:
No matter who forms government after Monday's election, they need to move quickly to end the culture of intimidation, inefficiency and top-down management that infects Canada's public service, say two former top bureaucrats.
Former Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page and the former nuclear safety watchdog Linda Keen agree the public service needs major, quick reform.
Kevin Page may be out of government, but he has not given up his passion to reform it:
Too many people are being appointed to powerful positions with little or no experience in a department, he said. "These people are moving paper around as opposed to engaging and providing fearless advice to cabinet ministers."
And though many civil servants may be proven performers, many appointments to top jobs are made based on relationships and networking instead of looking for the best candidate, Page said. He too was guilty of this, he acknowledged.
That's resulted in civil servants more concerned with keeping deputy ministers and MPs happy and delivering services however the government wants instead of providing alternative, more effective solutions, he said.
And Linda Keen, former head of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission agrees. Moreover, she has a tale to tell:
Keen, appointed by the former Liberal government, said she was really pushed from her job because she rejected a government plan to build a new nuclear reactor that didn’t meet modern safety standards. The plant being pushed by the Conservative government was based on 40-year-old design standards.
Instead of improving the design, the government set out to get her, Keen said.
Keen said former Saanich-Gulf Islands MP Gary Lunn, then natural resources minister, was an ideologue who told her it was her job to promote the plan for new reactors, not regulate them.
Lunn did not return multiple requests for comment.
Keen stood her ground, worried about her reputation in the scientific community if she started bowing to politicians instead of ensuring the safety of the reactors, she said.
Keen said she started hearing she was a target because of her opposition to the new plan for the reactors.
"They're after you," a friend working for a senator told her. "They're going to get rid of you."
The Harperites told ambitious civil servants that advancement depends on telling the government what it want to hear, not what it should know.
That has to change.