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The Canada Revenue Agency's National Headquarters at the Connaught Building in Ottawa, on March 1, 2021.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

Question of loyalty

Re “Public servants should not be independent and unaccountable decision-makers” (Opinion, April 15): The original bargain between elected officials and the public service, in my view, was broken long before recent leaks invited dissection of this arrangement.

The number of times I have seen Justin Trudeau and his cabinet ministers deflect accountability on matters of political controversy – assigning responsibility to the faceless and nameless “professional, independent public service” as a protective shield – only serves to chip away at the theoretical bargain between these two entities.

As a consequence of this perpetual reneging on the tenets of ministerial accountability, the efforts of the recent whistle-blower can also be seen as an attempt to rebalance the original bargain, ultimately holding elected officials to account instead of it falling on public servants merely upholding ministerial decision-making.

Angelo Mele Newmarket, Ont.

Public servants owe their professional loyalty to their ministers? What if their ministers are grossly incompetent or crooked?

Ministers are held accountable? What about the recent case of Mary Ng?

Vote out the government at the next election? What if the very matter at issue is apparent foreign interference in our elections?

Three cheers for the whistle-blower.

John Reilly Victoria

Almost all the time, loyal public servants should and do operate as prescribed: Provide forthright policy advice and then implement a minister’s chosen policy, even if they don’t like it. But information leaks and whistle-blowing should be allowed for in exceptional circumstances.

Loyalty sometimes demands disobedience.

Robert Czerny Ottawa

As a former public servant myself, I commend this defence of the professional public service. It should not be up to an individual to determine what is or is not in the public interest.

When I joined the public service, I took an oath to treat sensitive information in confidence. Public servants are not free agents; they serve their minister and the administration of the day faithfully and with discretion.

Ministers are accountable to Parliament and ultimately to the public. That is the foundation of our government system and its merit-based public service.

It is that trusted relationship which the leaker broke when they imagined being answerable to a higher duty. Such action should not be seen as courageous, but merely hubris.

If this individual felt so strongly about this issue that they could not in good conscience abide it, they had another option: resign.

Michael Kaczorowski Ottawa

By the numbers

Re “Is Israel’s democratic crisis proof that proportional representation doesn’t work?” (Opinion, April 15): Contributor David Moscrop makes a critically important point, one which seems to elude many critics of proportional representation: The threshold for admission into a governing body should be high enough to, if not prevent, help avoid the admission of extremist parties that attract a small percentage of votes.

In Germany, the minimum is 5 per cent, which seems to be the norm for developed democracies. In Norway and Sweden it is only 4 per cent, but that seems to work for those countries. In Italy’s mixed system, like Israel, the threshold is about 3 per cent and it too has suffered considerable governmental instability.

It does seem that, in designing a system of proportional representation, Canada would have to look closely at a threshold that would make it difficult, but not impossible, for fringe parties to gain a seat in the House of Commons.

Nelson Smith Toronto

I find two key reasons to not change from our current system of first past the post.

First, while the main argument against first past the post is that the winning party is supported by only a minority of voters, proportional representation will likely always result in a coalition government where there are goals and priorities that no one voted for.

Second, over a few electoral cycles, a country’s centrist parties can be hollowed out as their fringes splinter off into single-issue movements. Mainstream parties can wither and die due to a lack of new ideas when activist members leave to form new parties.

If someone thinks this is a good thing, please refer to reason No. 1.

Ron Unger New Westminster, B.C.

Just right

Re “Canadians pay so much more in taxes than Americans – and for what?” (Report on Business, April 15): The implicit message seems to be that Canadians should envy Americans because lower taxes are better than higher ones.

The logical conclusion of this argument is that the best tax regime is one with no taxes at all. But even libertarian Milton Friedman saw obvious flaws in such an argument.

Some goods and services are public in nature and therefore some taxes should be necessary to a good life. Maybe Canadian taxes are too high, but maybe U.S. taxes are too low.

It is illuminating to read the recent book Accidental Conflict: America, China, and the Clash of False Narratives, by U.S. economist Stephen Roach. He asserts that persistent deficits in the U.S. budget urgently need repair by increasing taxes, but “America’s denial is deep. The public is highly uncomfortable with even the slightest hint that the United States may have to stop living beyond its means.”

Ralph Huenemann Victoria

Final frontier

Re “In defence of wonder, and going back to the moon” (Editorial, April 18): For the sake of tech inventions and human wonderment, you argue for continued public focus on exceptional human and capital expenditures to occupy space, the moon and beyond.

Wonder, however, what can be achieved by expending the same resources to solve this planet’s problems: poverty, health, violence, education and climate change, to name a few, rather than pursuit of the moon or Mars.

Eden is down here. No need to look up (except to watch the climate change movie Don’t Look Up) and wonder how a handful of humans might survive on a nearby rock.

Sure, let’s wonder. But let’s wonder and pull off a better Earth for all of creation, including us, before it’s too late.

Sil Salvaterra Edmonton

I was about 10 years old when I read that a light aimed at the night sky would go on forever, as long as it didn’t hit a space object. That evening, I shined a flashlight into my small mining-town sky, and aimed it just so to ensure its continuity.

Decades later I know it’s still going, and I know that light exists as wonder in all inquisitive minds.

Mel Simoneau Gatineau

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