24 December 2008

Erasing the distinction, to our detriment

Used to be, not so long ago, that public servants were different from political staff.

The distinction was important as one served to keep a check on the other.

No longer.

According to CBC News, the premier has appointed a top “aide” – a term normally used to refer to political staff – as deputy minister of natural resources, a position at the top leadership level of the public service.

The distinction between the top echelons of the public service  - typically non-partisan permanent employees of government - and the political staff took a while to erase but in the decade since Brian Tobin really started to undermine the difference, the two have now fused together. 

The damage to government and the public service has yet to be calculated.

In some respects though we can already see it.

Only last spring,  Tom Rideout resigned in a dispute within cabinet over road work for his district.  The premier admitted that a senior member of his political staff oversaw the allocation of spending, ostensibly to ensure it was done fairly.  of course, the result was anything but  fair and impartial according to a set of standards applied transparently and equitably to all cases, irrespective of partisan, political considerations.

Not a single news outlet in the province reported that road paving was decided by political staff.

Instead, they parroted the premier’s characterisation of the situation as “normal” even though it was  - quite obviously - far from that.

Is it any wonder that government here and elsewhere continues to be unaccountable, when even news organizations that are usually pretty careful about their use of language can’t get the rights of things?