Thursday, March 07, 2013

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Lawrence Martin discusses how the B.C. Libs, Harper Cons and other governments have responded to transparency requirements by deliberately refusing to record what they're doing and why:
News from the government of British Columbia. Sorry citizens, we have no files. There is no written record of our decisions. You want to know how we operate? Sorry.

It’s no joke. A report from Elizabeth Denham, the province’s Information and Privacy Commissioner, says the rate of ‘no records’ responses to freedom of information requests is soaring. At the premier’s office, no less than 45 per cent of requests were turned back for that reason.

The file cupboards are increasingly bare, the commish says, because emails are being destroyed and senior officials are communicating orally rather than putting anything in writing.

If you want a formula for deniability, it’s a hard one to beat. It means that on any controversy that emerges, there is no documented way to establish culpability. No records. No accountability.

If the oral culture of governance is booming in British Columbia, how might it be doing in other provinces and in Ottawa? I remember first learning about this kind of thing while writing about the Afghan detainees’ affair. A bureaucrat from the defence department described it this way: “I get a call from the Privy Council Office. They’re setting up a conference call. The first thing that is said is, ‘No note-taking, no recordings, nothing. We don’t want to see anything in writing on this.’” The bureaucrat said this was the way policies were being developed. “It’s scary.”
- Meanwhile, Canadians for Tax Fairness notes that the Cons' attitude toward tax revenues lost to overseas tax avoidance is "don't know, don't want to know". And Murray Brewster's report on soaring defence contracting costs led the Cons to hastily reallocate nearly $800 million to try to save face - suggesting that there's all the more reason to worry that the Cons indeed lack any clue how public money is being used (and want to make sure nobody else can piece the truth together).

- Kathryn May reports on Donald Savoie's conclusion that business-style decision-making has done nothing but damage to Canada's public sector:
The drive to improve management flopped. An industry mushroomed within the bureaucracy to fabricate a bottom line with new oversight units designed to help evaluate and audit programs, manage risk, measure performance and hand out performance bonuses. These shops are filled with bureaucrats and hired consultants who, Savoie says, “turn cranks attached to nothing,” and churn out reports for Parliament that are barely read. Savoie argues this oversight bureaucracy has come at the expense of front-line services.

The public service added about 70,000 jobs over the past dozen years, concentrated in the National Capital Region where most departments are headquartered, rather in the field where the “rubber hits the road” and public servants deliver services to Canadians. Thirty years ago, 72 per cent of public servants were in regions, and today that has shrunk to 57 per cent.

He puts much of the blame for the growth of oversight on the auditor-general, whom he calls “the biggest proponent of new public management,” and on other parliamentary watchdogs.

“The essence of the public service is to provide front-line services to Canadians and we have lost sight of that. The public service is tasked with managing the paper burden, feeding the beast and managing processes and we can lay much of that at the doorstep of the auditor-general and other parliamentary officers.”
- Finally, while I've seen plenty of others discuss the massive gaps between inequality in reality, as it's believed to be and as it ought to be, a video reminder is always a plus.


  1. Anonymous9:03 a.m.

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  2. On the "no records" approach to governing, it occurs to me that any government using it to avoid revealing information is not just a bad government in the obvious sense that they generally have corrupt information to hide, but also in a quieter but equally fundamental way: They don't care if they have a clue what they're doing. You can't run a complicated thing like a provincial government effectively without records of what decisions got made, why and how. There's too much to keep track of, you can't govern BC in your head by the seat of your pants. Trying to will not serve the public well. But that doesn't matter if you don't care about the public or about governing effectively.