Friday, June 19, 2009

Butt-Head Baird Butting Heads With Civil Servants

There have been a few minor stories recently that were overshadowed by 'tempest in a teapot' tales of nanny abuse, election threats and inappropriate language.

However, these stories have the potential to be of the utmost importance, as the Conservatives may be putting us on a collision course with economic disaster.

I'm not talking about the 13 billion dollar surplus they blew, or the high-risk mortgages they allowed into the country; but the way that they have determined stimulus spending to be directed.

Two words apply here: Unaccountable and Patronage.

Unfortunately, journalism has become about sensationalism, and most reporters simply look for a way to spin a story rather than tell it openly and honestly, and allow the public to determine it's merit.

But they may be missing an opportunity to unravel what could very well be evidence of the worst corruption of this government yet.

This is not about 'gotcha' politics or partisanship, but the potential mishandling of our money to the tune of 50 billion dollars!!! That is a lot of money to trust to a government that has proven time and again that they simply can't be trusted.

This begins with the 'retirement' of Kevin Lynch, Clerk of the Privy Council. It was sudden and the announcement made quietly while Harper was off on another photo-op in Afghanistan.

John Ivison: The PMO strikes again as Kevin Lynch gets Giornoed
National Post
May 07, 2009

The announcement that Kevin Lynch is retiring caused scarcely a ripple in a country that is largely oblivious to the fact that Kevin Lynch was ever in the workforce.

That’s a shame because Mr. Lynch has been this country’s senior public servant for the past three years and has arguably had more impact on the day-to-day lives of Canadians over the course of a distinguished 33-year career than anyone currently working in government. His imminent departure certainly deserves more attention than the domestic care travails of a junior opposition MP.

Mr. Lynch is to step down as Clerk of the Privy Council next month, to be replaced by another senior bureaucrat, Wayne Wouters, currently the top public servant at the Treasury Board.

Anyone who has followed Canadian politics at arms’ length might be surprised at the news
. In the weeks before he became Prime Minister in 2006, Stephen Harper expressed his concerns that the judiciary and the public service were full of Liberals who would block his every move. He seemed to think that, like the fictional Sir Humphrey Appleby in the TV series Yes, Minister, they would only proceed with initiatives they supported -- pet projects that would be promoted to politicians as quick, simple, popular and cheap; while those frowned upon would be deemed complicated, lengthy, expensive, controversial, or worst of all, courageous.

Yet in Mr. Lynch, a now 58-year-old Nova Scotian, Mr. Harper seemed to find a kindred spirit -- a fellow economist with a sparkling resume as a senior bureaucrat at Finance, Industry and the International Monetary Fund, who threw himself into implementing the government’s agenda.

The dynamic between Mr. Lynch and Mr. Harper was said to be good and that between the Clerk and the Prime Minister’s former chief of staff, Ian Brodie, even better.

Talk to anyone in official Ottawa and the plaudits flow -- “insatiable work ethic”, “level-headed pragmatist” and “totally inspirational”, are just some of the accolades.

So how come such a respected figure, who clearly has plenty of good years left in him, is leaving the public service?

Well it may be that he is not. There have been rumours for the past six months that he may re-surface in Washington as Canada’s ambassador. But it would seem very odd to first announce his retirement and then his appointment to Washington.

A more convincing explanation is that Mr. Lynch has fallen foul of the toxic partisanship emanating from the Prime Minister’s Office that inflicts damage on everyone with whom it comes into contact.

The thinking appears to be that the Conservatives are stalled in the opinion polls and their best hope is the stimulus package that was unveiled in the January budget. All the funding streams for infrastructure projects have been lined up and pushed through Treasury Board by Mr. Wouters but very little money has started flowing.

The blame for this has been laid squarely at the door of Louis Ranger, the deputy minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities -- even, it is said, by the Prime Minister himself.

One senior Conservative said this is unfair and that Mr. Ranger is simply the quintessential public servant trying to ensure that projects applying for stimulus funding are given due diligence....
Louis is just trying to mitigate all possible risk to the government for the day when the Auditor-General starts looking at infrastructure spending,” he said.

Regardless, the Prime Minister’s Office under chief of staff Guy Giorno is said to have little patience for Mr. Ranger or Mr. Lynch’s apparent inability to force the money out of the door.

“That’s the main focus for the next few months as we head toward a possible fall election,” said one Conservative. “Results, results, results.”

Mr. Wouters, who was previously deputy minister of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, is viewed as someone with the knowledge of job-creation and labour markets who can help the Conservatives to an unlikely victory.

If, as many suspect, this is the real back story, then the ground has shifted from under the big-brained economist, who is said to have a particularly difficult relationship with Mr. Giorno.

But it is ironic that the Conservatives are now relying on the bureaucracy to throw them a political lifeline.

They will have to hope that the inglorious way they announced Mr. Lynch’s departure - in a cursory press release while the Prime Minister was out of the country - does not turn their worst fears about the public service into a reality.

Now we could certainly argue that the Conservatives are under enormous pressure to get the money out the door, and yet they are going out of their way to make sure that only Conservative friendly individuals and companies will benefit. Doesn't sound like urgency is the issue, but patronage, though Mr. Wouters may be able to give them both.

He is certainly qualified for the job, but along with his reputation for getting things done, is the fact they he will often ignore the proper channels and simply do what he wants, claiming that if you don't want a negative answer to a question, just don't ask the question at all.

I mean we're talking 50 billion dollars here. I want lots of questions.

Further to the story, is an email that was sent by Louis Ranger, the other 'retiree'.

I wondered how long it would take for the media to discover that the infrastructure stimulus spending has everything to with patronage, and nothing to do with what is good for the nation.

(Deputy Minister Louis Ranger whose retirement was announced yesterday was pushed out of the job and told, “We don’t want your advice” regarding the spending projects. Indeed, the woman who is the ADM in charge of the file has been specifically told by the Minster’s office, “We don’t want your advice; we want you to do as you’re told.”)

Projects are selected based on the needs of the Conservative Member of Parliament in that riding as the first criteria. As a long time bureaucrat, I am used to dealing with politicians who revel in self-interest. Baird however, is the nastiest, most partisan creature to have ever run a large department. What is best for Canada isn’t even remotely of interest to him - what is best for his party and his own political ambitions drives his agenda entirely.

The Conservative party does not understand the nature of a professional public service. Indeed, they seem to believe we are all minions for Iggy or Jack and none of us are to be trusted. As you can imagine, the morale of senior executives government-wide is depressingly low as we find our political masters to be blindly-partisan, self-interested and ignorant to what is in the best interest of Canada.

So where are the investigative reporters? Probably out rummaging through garbage cans or digging in the dirt for the next 'breaking news'. Sigh.

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