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Civil Service Infected by Culture of Intimidation, Say Former Top Bureaucrats

Civil Service Infected by Culture of Intimidation, Say Former Top Bureaucrats 

Kevin Page and Linda Keen say their experiences show need for reform.

No matter who forms government after Monday’s election, they need to move quickly to end the culture of intimidation, inefficiency and top-down management that infects Canada’s public service, say two former top bureaucrats.

Former Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page and the former nuclear safety watchdog Linda Keen agree the public service needs major, quick reform.

Page was the independent budget officer from 2008 to 2013 and worked in the federal civil service for 27 years in various departments. He said many current practices need to go.

Too many people are being appointed to powerful positions with little or no experience in a department, he said. “These people are moving paper around as opposed to engaging and providing fearless advice to cabinet ministers.”

And though many civil servants may be proven performers, many appointments to top jobs are made based on relationships and networking instead of looking for the best candidate, Page said. He too was guilty of this, he acknowledged.

That’s resulted in civil servants more concerned with keeping deputy ministers and MPs happy and delivering services however the government wants instead of providing alternative, more effective solutions, he said.

Often agencies like the Privy Council Office are calling the shots, Page said, and department heads aren’t really able to fulfill their responsibilities. The control extends to trying to intimidate civil servants during meetings, he said.

“You could see the steering and control that was taking place,” Page said. “It wasn’t a one-on-one relationship with a deputy minister in an aligned department. The central agencies were playing on the control issue.”

The public sector bonus system can also be used to ensure deputy ministers’ willingness to do the government’s bidding, Page said.

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