Public servants find their voice; Harper MPs and Senators silent

Posted on August 20, 2010 in Governance Debates

Source: — Authors: – Opinion
Published On Fri Aug 20 2010.   By Chantal Hebert, National Columnist
MONTREAL—A look at the lengthening list of Conservative public service casualties reveals the pattern of a government that has routinely taken to eating its own.

Take veterans ombudsman Pat Stogran, whose position Prime Minister Stephen Harper created shortly after he came to office.

Three years into the job, Stogran bitterly described his role as “window-dressing” this week.

Upon being put on notice that his term would not be renewed next fall, he vowed to use his last months to expose what he describes as a systemic disconnect between the Conservatives’ activist talk on veterans rights and their government’s foot-dragging walk on some of their basic needs.

Stogran is just one of a series of Conservative appointees whose relationships with their political masters ended up taking a decisive turn for the worse.

Kevin Page, the Parliamentary Budget Office, serves in a position that the Conservatives also created. He got under the skin of the government early on and has endured the hostility of the Conservatives ever since.

Marc Mayrand, the Chief Electoral Officer, is another early Harper appointee. He has been engaged in a prolonged legal battle against the ruling Conservative party over campaign spending.

Munir Sheikh, the Chief Statistician who resigned earlier this summer over changes to the upcoming census, had landed the high-profile top job at Statistics Canada on the current government’s watch.

That was also the case of Rémy Beauregard. The defunct head of Rights and Democracy was being hounded out of his job by his agency’s board when he died suddenly earlier this year.

There is now speculation that Konrad von Finckenstein, Harper’s 2007 choice for CRTC chair, is in the crosshairs of the government. He recently declined to fast track Quebecor’s application for a top-category broadcasting licence for Sun TV’s planned Fox News clone.

This is not even an exhaustive list.

One result is that there is increasingly open talk of government witch hunts taking place deep into normally apolitical public service territory.

When the Prime Minister claimed this week that he had nothing to do with the decision to oust Marty Cheliak, the outspoken head of the Canadian Firearms Program, from his job on the eve of a decisive battle in the Conservative war on the long-gun registry, his explanation was met with open disbelief.

When veteran mandarin Louis Ranger retired last year after locking horns with the government over infrastructure spending accountability, he went quietly into the night. But Sheikh’s resignation earlier this summer was anything but quiet.

These days, more and more former senior civil servants are uncharacteristically speaking out in public against the actions of the Harper government.

Not surprisingly, the public opinion ripples are widening with every purge.

Last winter’s prorogation backlash was unexpectedly strong. Over the summer, the level of engagement of Canada’s civil society on the census issue has been unprecedented, with otherwise Conservative-friendly constituencies among the vocal critics of the decision to abolish the long form.

This week, the circle widened again to include more otherwise natural allies of the Conservatives like the veterans and the country’s police associations.

But there is still at least one significant constituency on which Harper’s approach to dissent apparently continues to work wonders.

Apparently deaf to any voice other than their master’s, Harper’s MPs and senators have so far been content to dance to whatever tune the prime minister has taken a fancy to.

On his watch, the cat seems to have gotten the tongue of even the most independently minded men and women who make up the cabinet and caucus

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