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Piglets stand in their pen on a pork farm outside Calgary in this April 2, 2009 file photo. (TODD KOROL/Reuters)
Piglets stand in their pen on a pork farm outside Calgary in this April 2, 2009 file photo. (TODD KOROL/Reuters)

Norman Spector

How to chop pork Add to ...

As Daniel Leblanc reports in today's Globe, "Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff is giving a speech in Vancouver today, while Prime Minister Stephen Harper is delivering money."

Over at the Chronicle-Herald, Stephen Maher is reporting that "more money - $162 million - is being spent in three Tory ridings than in Nova Scotia's other eight ridings put together. … Defence Minister Peter MacKay's riding of Central Nova is the big winner, with $87.7 million in stimulus money, 13 times as much as the $6.6 million being spent in Dartmouth, held by a Liberal. In fact, Mr. MacKay's riding received more money than all five Liberal ridings in the province combined."

And last week, CP reported that "a partisan government advertising campaign paid for by taxpayers raised alarms from the outset among senior public servants who serve Prime Minister Stephen Harper."

Buried deep within this article is a comment by one of Canada's foremost observers of government:

"This government is no worse than previous governments," said Donald Savoie, a professor of public administration at the University of Moncton and a leading author on government organization.

"It's doing what previous governments for the past 25 years have done - and that's to push the public service as far as they could to make it responsive to their political wishes. And that's the problem."

As will be recalled, the Gomery Commission proposed that deputy ministers should be accountable for the administration of their departments to the House of Commons. This was a view shared by Stephen Harper for a time, but he changed his mind after becoming Prime Minister and after the crème-de-la-crème of Canada's bureaucratic and political establishment came out in opposition to the Gomery recommendation.

Had it been adopted, this recommendation would have gone a long way to resolving the problems identified above: a DM who felt that undue political influence was being exercised on his department's decisions, would have a strong incentive to say no to a minister knowing that the alternative was to explain the decisions to a parliamentary committee. One can see why incumbent governments - or parties that hope to wield power one day - would not be eager to adopt the reform.

Recently, Michael Ignatieff came out strongly in favour of a truly independent parliamentary budget officer - a reform that some of his MPs and Senators had been opposing. While he hopes to be prime minister some day, perhaps he'll do a similar change of course on Mr. Gomery's recommendation in regard to deputy ministers, which would replicate how things work in Britain.

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