09 August 2013

Churn, churn, churn #nlpoli

For your consideration:  a conspicuously large number of changes in the senior levels of the provincial public service over the past four years or so.

The most recent person to hold the most senior position in the public service - Clerk of the Executive Council  - has held seven different positions in seven years. At the assistant deputy minister and deputy minister rank, she has averaged a little less than one and a half years in each position.

So how does that stack up with her immediate predecessors?

Well, it is a wee bit harder to get as precise with Robert Thompson and Gary Norris but we can piece together a pretty good profile by searching the provincial government website.  It contains news release since 1996 that announce appointments of deputy ministers and assistant deputy ministers.

Gary Norris retired from the public service in November 2010 after 33 years of service.  Here’s his career in reverse chronological order
  • May 2007:  Clerk of the Executive Council
  • February 2003:  Deputy Minister,  Tourism, Culture, and recreation
  • February 2001:  Deputy Minister, Intergovernmental Affairs
  • November 2000:  Clerk of the Executive Council
  • June 1999:  Deputy Clerk of the Executive Council
  • December 1997:  assistant secretary cabinet for economic policy. Before that, Norris had been the assistant deputy minister (environment) in the old environment and labour department.
With the exception of some shuffling around in late 2000 and early 2001  - Brian Tobin resigned,  Beaton Tulk stepped in as Premier, followed by Roger Grimes – Norris didn’t move around all that much.  In fact he moved about half as often as the incoming clerk did in a comparable seven year period.

Robert Thompson will retire on August 16.  Here’s his recent career in reverse chronological order:
  • August 2013:  retires
  • December 2010:  Clerk of the Executive Council
  • December 2008:  Deputy Minister, Natural Resources
  • November 2008:  relinquished DM HCS and continued as secretary to cabinet for health management issues, a “special projects” appointment.
  • May 2007:  Acting Deputy Minister of Health and Community Services.
  • November 2003:  Clerk of the Executive Council
  • 2001:  Deputy Minister, Health and Community Services
  • 1996:  Deputy Minister, Tourism, Culture, and Recreation
Again, with the exception of the period when Thompson took on a special project related to the Cameron Inquiry,  Thompson’s career shows remarkable stability in comparison to many others.  He spent five years as deputy minister of a single department and over over the course of eight years from 1996 to 2003, he held three posts.

It is interesting to see the contrast between the incoming Clerk and two of her immediate predecessors.  If you add the third predecessor into the mix, you will find that Deborah Fry’s career was similarly as stable as that of Norris or Thompson.

So what gives?  Someone suggested on Thursday that it was all about  retirements.  That’s an old argument but the available information doesn’t back it up.  An assessment by SRBP in September 2012 found that only about seven percent of the changes had to do with retirements.

If you also look at the annual number of changes,  you will have a hard time finding a pattern, let alone one that explains the increase in changes since 2007 onward.

Some of you might look at 2007 and 2011 and note that the peaks were election years.  True.  The problem is that in 2012, the number of changes were higher than in either 2007 or 2011.  The number of changes in 2013 is on track to exceed even the 2011 and 2012 numbers.