Sunday, April 11, 2010

Well said

Ralph Surette points out one of the less obvious changes coming from Nova Scotia's NDP government that figures to serve the province well - not to mention offering an example which other governments should be eager to emulate:
That the civil service is getting along better with the NDP than with previous governments was one of the first things I heard about the new administration after the election last summer. Civil servants, I was told, were thrilled that the new ministers "read the documents we give them."

I hesitated in astonishment when I first heard this, since it implied that former cabinet ministers did not read their briefing material. Was it that bad? This would no doubt be an unfair judgment on some former Conservative and Liberal ministers who struggled earnestly amid our troubled politics; but in a broader sense, it does reflect on the many more for whom politics was the only criterion of decision, and facts and expertise could go hang.

I was told about this again recently by a public servant who seemed almost giddy with delight over it. An enthusiastic Nova Scotia civil servant! It reminded me of the last time I talked to one. That was in 1970.
To be both motivated and effective, a civil service has to be doing useful work that’s advancing clear policies, or delivering services in which the public has confidence. If you’re a public servant, there’s nothing more useless and demoralizing than writing reports nobody reads, or working to serve as political cover for a manipulating minister — then being accused by the public of doing nothing.

If the NDP is succeeding in engaging the public service to a greater degree, then its prospects of tightening it up by 10 per cent as planned are good. For public servants at the middle and upper levels, an enhanced sense of purpose is a fair exchange for what may or may not be a greater workload, although at the clerk level that will be trickier.

Thus, to sum up, the ship is in better shape and the morale of its crew higher than before.

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