The Huffington Post Canada is delighted to once again be partnering with the Writers' Trust of Canada Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing. In the weeks leading up to the April 2 announcement of this year's prize winner, we are publishing excerpts from each of the five finalists. The authors have personally chosen the portions they'd like to share, and each excerpt begins with a brief explanation of why that particular passage was chosen.
A note from author Donald Savoie:
New Public Management, New Public Governance, and recent public sector reforms have created new constituencies. In the process, front-line workers have become no one's constituency. Those who in the past would have spoken on their behalf - the local member of Parliament, the local media, and local community groups - have been shunted aside by more powerful forces. Misguided, costly, and ineffective accountability requirements, the work of agents of Parliament (the blame generators), the rise of permanent campaigns, and the need to control communications have reshaped how Ottawa decides, how it spends, and how it delivers public services. Governments operate in a vastly different world today than even thirty years ago. It is no exaggeration to say that we are witnessing at the same time the politicization of the public service and the bureaucratization of the body politic. Jonathan Rose summed it up when he observed, "You've got bureaucrats who are doing the government's partisan work and also political staffers who are doing bureaucrats' work. So there's this blurring of lines between the two."
I decided to write this book because I became convinced that the public service has lost its way.The Canadian public service has witnessed three major developments - the first, in its early years, when it was designed to help develop the country's basic public service infrastructure and the second, when it expanded on all cylinders with the arrival of Keynesian economics. We are now living the third and by far the most challenging development. We have tried to make the public sector look like the private sector but failed. We have introduced one major management reform measure after another but none have lived up to even modest expectations. We are seeing a public service collapsing under its own weight, producing performance and evaluation reports feeding accountability and oversight requirements that do not resonate with Canadians or even Parliament.The public service does not need yet another vision exercise from on high, another management reform package that does not respect its traditions and values. It can however regain credibility by being accountable the old fashioned way and answering simple questions that matter to Canadians. The Canadian government spends about $10 billion a year on consultants. Why? The Canadian public service added about 70,000 positions between 1999 and 2011. Why? In some departments, there are nine management levels between a Director and the Minister. Why? Front line managers have seen their operations reduced substantially in recent years while units in Ottawa have multiplied and grown. Why? Vaguely worded reports designed to deflect criticism and manage the blame game do not measure up.- Donald J. Savoie
Harper's strategic and operations review in the summer of 2011 was set up in part to deal with this growth. It begs the question: Why, with all the ambitious public sector management reforms of the past thirty years, were all these public servants hired in the first place? It will be recalled that the federal government transferred a number of labour-intensive activities to provincial governments and third parties in the 1990s (for example, airports and ports). And this leads to a second question: Why did the Harper government see the need to spend $20 million on outside consultants to assist in identifying spending cuts? And a third: Why were all those new employees hired in policy evaluation and other head office units that are not up to the task? Yet another question: Are we to accept that significant cuts to the government's expenditure budget are possible only when the prime minister and his courtiers take charge and when the cuts are initiated in the immediate aftermath of the government winning a majority mandate? (e.g., the Chrétien-Martin 1994-97 program review and Harper's strategic and operational review 2011-12).
Donald J. Savoie is shortlisted for the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing for Whatever Happened to the Music Teacher? How Government Decides and Why.The Shaughnessy Cohen Prize winner will be announced at the Politics & the Pen Gala in Ottawa on April 2. www.writerstrust.com
Excerpt from: Whatever Happened to the Music Teacher: How Government Decides and Why, published in Canada by McGill-Queen's University Press. Copyright 2013 by McGill-Queen's University Press. All rights reserved.
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