Monday, January 07, 2013

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your Monday reading.

- Michael Harris discusses the impending moment of truth for the Cons in owning up to their substantive failures toward Canada's First Nations:
Whether it’s Canada’s natives or its health ministers, Stephen Harper’s preferred place for his opponents is under his thumb. He has replaced the alternating current of democracy with the direct current of oligarchy. Ordinary people remain as invisible to him now as they have been since 2006.

For that reason, Chief Theresa Spence’s hunger strike has been a disaster for the man who doesn’t like to negotiate, let alone negotiate with a nobody, especially a nobody who has managed to put him under the gun. Remember, this is a guy who wouldn’t even talk to Canada’s premiers. Now they know the drill: stop eating.
What aboriginals need is for treaties to be honoured on something other than the long hours of the geological clock. What they need is legislative protection for their lands and equal say in the laws that govern them as guaranteed by the Constitution. But what they have gotten from Stephen Harper since his “official” apology to Aboriginal Peoples in 2008 has not quite lived up to the billing of a “renewed” relationship.

The Harper government has unilaterally changed the Indian Act. It has unilaterally changed environmental legislation that weakens protection of fresh water and endangered fish species. It has made it easier for major developments to take place with less study of the environmental impact and no equal say for aboriginals. And in 2012, the very year Stephen Harper pledged to renew the search for justice for all native peoples, his “little minister” — as Chief Spence described John Duncan — announced sweeping cuts for core aboriginal organizations across Canada.

One hundred expert academics signed a damning letter to Duncan last November decrying the loss of funding for native communities in the area of health, clean drinking water, education and infrastructure. “The potential loss of expertise is staggering, and could take a generation to recover from,” the researchers warned.
- Frank Graves rightly notes that social media hasn't yet had as strong an impact on our political scene as some might have expected. But I'll note that it's still an open question whether it will eventually fulfill its potential - especially when it's possible to look to the U.S. for obvious examples of success in reaching new voter groups.

- Donald Savoie writes that the decades-old fad of trying to run government like a business has proven unsuccessful:
Public servants of yesteryear would emphasize proper data-gathering procedures and produce analyses with predictive power. Politicians grabbed the policy-making levers and decided to turn bureaucrats into better managers. Public servants were not about to admit that their management skills were lacking, so politicians looked to the private sector for inspiration. As a result, strategic plans were turned into business plans, citizens into customers and cabinet into a powerless board of directors, and attempts were made to tie pay to performance.

The notion that public administration could be made to look like private-sector management has been ill-conceived, misguided and costly to taxpayers. Management in the private sector has everything to do with the bottom line and market share. Administration in the public sector is a matter of opinion, debate and blame avoidance in a politically charged environment. It doesn’t much matter in the private sector if you get it wrong 40 per cent of the time so long as you turn a handsome profit and increase market share. It doesn’t much matter in the public sector if you get it right 99 per cent of the time if the 1 per cent you get wrong becomes a heated issue in Question Period and the media.
Public servants now produce all manner of reports and navigate various accountability requirements to fabricate a bottom line. The result: Ottawa has an oversupply of officers of Parliament, accountability and oversight processes and performance and evaluation reports. Hundreds of reports are carted every year to Parliament, where they remain unread unless one of them has information to embarrass the government.

The business vocabulary in government has, if nothing more, empowered managers to grow government operations by stealth. The Chr├ętien-Martin review (1994-98) eliminated 45,000 positions, but by the time Stephen Harper launched his own review in 2011, the government had added more than 70,000 positions. Thousands of new oversight positions have been created in Ottawa to manage accountability processes. Thirty years ago, 70 per cent of federal public servants were located in the regions; today, the number is 57 per cent. Without putting too fine a point on it, public servants in the field deliver public services, while those in Ottawa provide policy advice and manage processes and oversight requirements.
- But if there's one lesson we should hope to take from a business mindset, it's that we shouldn't leave obvious sources of revenue on the table - and plenty of voters look to have bought into that view.

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