22 January 2013

Verbiage Growth Strategy #nlpoli

Right on cue in the controversy over the population growth “strategy”,  a provincial cabinet minister issued a news release late on Monday and assured us that everything will be all right.

There is lots of bureaucratic jargon, like the trendy use of the word “inform”:

The Provincial Government has developed strategies focusing on youth, immigration, seniors and others. These efforts will help inform the development of the Population Growth Strategy.”

Aside from that, there’s very little of consequence in Joan Shea’s release. 

Strategies contain concrete details of how to get from one place to another. The documents Joan Shea called “strategies” were more like the results of a university geography quiz. SRBP mapped that out pretty clearly in a post on Monday morning:

Sure ,there is a provincial advisory committee [on seniors] complete with an activities plan and a “policy framework”.  But frankly, once you read them,  but that is more about having a pile of words in a dozen or so documents rather than any concrete set of plans with goals and money to deliver the kind of support than seniors will require.

Generally, “… look at the list of actions:  they are pretty well all confined to providing information and raising awareness.”

This is a government that loves to develop documents called “strategies”.  They’ve been at it since 2005 when, to borrow the words of an earlier post, we were “promised a Strategic Cultural Plan, an Energy Plan and an Innovation Plan (both strangely not Strategic), a Rural Development Strategy (which somehow avoided being branded a Strategic Rural Development Plan) and a Northern Strategic Plan exclusively for Labrador.

“There are to be other plans and planning for plans to the point where this government seems in need of an army of bureaucrats devoted solely to planning for the development of plans. This would surely be followed by creation of a new section that would integrate the planning for plan development, followed in turn by the inevitable creation of its cousin secretariat for integrating the actual plans developed by the other planning, planning development and planning integration secretariats.

“Some bright soul has already seen the future: the Department of The Few Fish Left is expanding its planning department to accommodate the urgent need for plans.”

While we didn’t get that secretariat, we did get ones devoted to all sorts of things like consultation or the not-for-profit sector.  Check with anyone touched by that last one and you will find it hard to find stories of great accomplishments.  Well, anyone other than Penny Rowe that is, but then again Danny Williams credited her for the idea behind the not-for-profit secretariat.

These little “secretariats” are typical of the approach taken by the current crowd.  They appointed a deputy minister at top dollar to run an office with two or three people in it.  The whole thing could have been done more cheaply and more effectively, if at all, through some other means. 

The other typical part of the approach taken by the current crowd is to stuff blatant partisans into positions that were traditionally filled by public servants.  In post-Smallwood, post-Confederation Newfoundland political world, victorious parties used to reward the faithful with jobs on one or another of the part-time government boards.

It was all patronage to be sure, but the patronage had a distinctly temporary nature to it.  There used to be a pattern as well to the structure of the patronage.  The rank and file party types could hook an appointment to a regional appeal board for social assistance, for example.  The big guns in the party could vie for the Hydro corporation or the offshore board or something else that had some prestige to it.

The public service was something else, entirely.  These were the career professionals who held their positions based on merit.  They survived from administration to administration.  They could, as in the case of Sprung give advice to cabinet that ran four-square against the ideas coming from the politicians and not have to worry that they might not have a job the day after. 

As far as political activity went, the expectation was that they would avoid partisanship altogether.  A public servant could become politically active but the unspoken assumption was that they would resign in order to do so and couldn’t come back to their old job.

Since 2003, the Conservative crowd currently running this place has weakened the distinction between the public service and the patronage crowd.  Len Simms, former PC party leader, is a fine example of the new thinking where individuals who are completely political  can occupy public service jobs and be undoubtedly partisan all the while. Simms helped run the 2003 campaign, took an appointment to run the provincial housing office and then quit his job in 2007 and again in 2011 in order to help organize the Tory campaign. Both times, Simms went right back to his old job after the election.  He’s well paid, and in the days after Bill 29, what the public are paying this apparently active partisan are secret.

The chief electoral officer used to be non-partisan.  The Conservatives ended that.

Then there’s Ross Reid.  Like Simms, Reid has been able to take what amounts to an unpaid leave from his government sinecure in order to run a couple of election campaigns with Simms.  In between, he certainly hasn’t been taxed too heavily with big problems in big departments.

Given Reid’s background, one would expect him to be in intergovernmental affairs or as a senior political advisor to the Premier. That’s where you’d expect to find a a fellow with Reid’s background working away on sorting out the provincial government’s relationship with the federal government and other provinces In either place, he could be working in a highly paid job but with a title and a short-term contract that reflects the nature of his work. 

But instead, he’s been running the not-for-profit “secretariat.”  To give a sense of how utterly unimportant that place was, recall that the Dave Denine was minister at one point after he frigged up in municipal affairs.  Now that a bit of reshuffling of the office doorplates has left Reid without a position, they came up with a new one that- after Shea’s news release – seems to be of comparable importance.