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With finance minister Ralph Goodale, commnications director Mario Lague and policy advisor Scott Reid looking on, then-prime minister Paul Martin waits to address reporters after a cabinet meeting on Thursday, May 6, 2004. (JONATHAN HAYWARD)
With finance minister Ralph Goodale, commnications director Mario Lague and policy advisor Scott Reid looking on, then-prime minister Paul Martin waits to address reporters after a cabinet meeting on Thursday, May 6, 2004. (JONATHAN HAYWARD)

Norman Spector

Our politicized bureaucracy Add to ...

Checking out Kady O'Malley's blog yesterday, I learn that Michael Ignatieff's new director of policy, Brian Bohunicky, was still listed in the government phone book as director-general of the international markets bureau at Agriculture Canada. Prior to joining the public service, I read in The Globe and Mail, Mr. Bohunicky served as a political aide to two Liberal ministers.

This morning, perusing La Presse, I read that Mario Laguë, the new director of communications also had a political career - that's him perched over Paul Martin's right shoulder in the photo - before joining the public service and eventually becoming assistant secretary to the cabinet for communications in the Privy Council Office. Moreover, delving into The Globe and Mail archives, I find a dispatch by Daniel Leblanc, the reporter rightly credited with having broken open the sponsorship scandal, which suggests that Mr. Laguë was not exactly a public servant "comme les autres":

"An affidavit prepared by the Public Service Commission for the Gomery inquiry sheds new light on the controversial hiring of a former Liberal aide to head the sponsorship program in 1999, including the role of a federal official who would become an aide to Prime Minister Paul Martin.

The inquiry heard conflicting testimony about how Pierre Tremblay, then the chief of staff to then public works minister Alfonso Gagliano, was hired to replace retiring bureaucrat Chuck Guité. Mr. Guité said he rigged the process at Mr. Gagliano's behest; the former minister denied any political interference.

The affidavit, which went unnoticed when it was tabled in May, shows that Mr. Tremblay's hiring was approved by a three-member selection board made up of Mr. Guité, Public Service Commission executive resourcing consultant Michael Carey, and Mario Laguë, a long-time Liberal supporter who became Mr. Martin's first director of communications when he became Prime Minister. The affidavit said Mr. Tremblay was hired "based on the recommendation of the selection board."

To the Harper government's credit, it has made the parachuting of political aides into public servant positions - a dubious practice that distinguished Canada from most western democracies, and the results of which we will be living with for many years - much more difficult if not impossible. Which is not to say that an ingenious government cannot find other ways to politicize the public service - one of which is outlined today in this report by The Canadian Press:

Canadian diplomats in Afghanistan were ordered in 2007 to hold back information in their reports to Ottawa about the handling of the prisoners, say defence and foreign affairs sources.

The instruction - issued soon after allegations of torture by Afghan authorities began appearing in public - was aimed at defusing the explosive human-rights controversy, said sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity. …

The instruction was passed over the telephone by senior officials in the Privy Council Office and reinforced in follow-up conferences between Ottawa and Kabul, as well Ottawa and Kandahar, sources said.

 

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