Friday, December 19, 2014

DEPLOLITICIZING THE PUBLIC SERVICE


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"The clear separation of the various branches of government
 is important to society; the perception of that separation
 is just as important and I would urge you to have your
 government reconsider this decision."



The importance of maintaining a non-partisan professional civil service provides a vital check and balance in democracy. I have written many posts about the topic over the years.  Since 2003, the Progressive Conservative Government has filled the ranks of the senior civil service with party hacks, former party leaders and party supporters. In many cases, merit has been sidelined by patronage and nepotism.

The impact on the civil service has been catastrophic as the professional civil service was usurped by yes people willing to implement a political agenda without hesitation. The result has been many policy decisions that have not been well thought out and many embarrassing gaffes for the government. The ability to speak truth to power, to provide non-partisan advice without the fear of repercussion allows for continuity and professionalism. The shocking level of nepotism and patronage that exists in the bloated civil service is astounding.

As a student of public administration and past practitioner of politics, I believe the deterioration of the public service in this province is a serious issue. A professional civil service must be able to offer policy views to politicians, without fear of retribution. They are the gatekeepers of the public good, the guardians of the public interest. They should be counted on to provide unbiased, professional research and policy advice.

An example of how the current government does not understand the importance of the separation, for ethical, administrative and perception purposes was clearly illustrated this year when interim-interim acting Premier Tom Marshall announced that the new courthouse in Corner Brook would be named after former Progressive Conservative Premier Danny Williams - a practicing lawyer.

We can debate Williams contribution until the cows come home. He served the province for a decade and naming a school or a park after him would be a fair honor. Naming a courthouse after him led many of us to question Mr. Marshall's wisdom.

The separation of the justice and the political governance of the day is crucial to democracy. It is shocking enough that so many judges and QC appointments are based on partisan service. Sometimes I think the justice appointment process is blinded by partisanship. 

However, naming a courthouse after a practicing lawyer, the former head of a partisan organization - was an unacceptable act of arrogance. Those of us who pointed that out were ignored. I was pleased to learn today from The Telegram that David Orsborn was acting chief justice of the provincial Supreme Court's trial division wrote the acting premier and explained his concerns with the perception issues of the naming.

The key values of a non-partisan, ethical  and professional public service have been lost along with ministerial accountability.

The revolving door between cabinet appointments, senior bureaucratic positions, political parties and the civil service has to end. The breadth, scope and complexity of delivering public services today demand it.







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