Monday, March 8, 2010

In Defense of the Civil Service

Source: CTV News: Day says Ottawa Will cut 245 Patronage Positions

As I follow news sources here in Canada, as well as the 'comments' that many Canadians leave on these stories, I'm seeing a disturbing trend. That trend, which some of you might be aware of, is a bullying of the public service. Every time I read comments on news stories involving the public service, I see comments that suggest ALL civil servant workers be laid off and their 'gold-plated pensions' taken away.

And of course, with two Conservative Governments (Federal & Provincial) we're not going to see the government do anything to change this perception of the civil service, because they serve as a great scapegoat. After all, when a government needs to tighten the budget, they go to the public service.

Well, I figured it was about time someone stood up for the public service and tried to counter some of the spin that is out there.

According to a paper by Ian Green & Katherine Baird, entitled Canada's Public Service in the 21st Century: Destination Excellence, Canada's public service consists of 200 entities that employ 250,000 people; a number which jumps up to 400,000 if the Canadian Armed Forces and the RCMP, among others, are added into consideration.

And just how much are these people being paid? For the most part, they don't match the level our elected Members of Parliament are paid.

For example, you can find the wages of numerous civil service job here: link

And compare it with wages paid to Parliament here: link

Keep in mind that the salary for Prime Minister, Minister, etc. is added to the base payment for being a Member of Parliament. Which, of course, means that the Prime Minister actually makes $315, 462 a year. Compare that to some of the civil service jobs on that list, most of which top out a little over $100,000, a level which takes a civil servant YEARS to reach, as opposed to the Prime Minister is who instantly entitled to his salary his first year as PM.

And what about those 'gold-plated' pensions? Well, that can be explained. For example, we all know that when you work a certain percentage of your paycheque is taken by the government and paid into the Canadian Pension Plan. That percentage that you pay later helps determine your maximum payment from the CPP.

Well, civil servants make the same contribution we average Canadians do, but they make a greater one. According to this link, the average civil servant pays 8.4% of their pay into their pension plan. That's nearly DOUBLE the 4.95% average Canadians pay into their CPP benefits.

So, when I see people rant and rave about 'gold-plated pensions', I can help but ask, do they know that the civil service pays into CPP at a higher rate? That they don't pay the same percentage the rest of us do, and as such, that is why they get a higher return when they retire? I could understand anger at civil service pensions if they paid the 4.95% we all did, yet received greater benefits. But given that they are paying more into the system, it seems only natural that they get a better return from it.

And no doubt, these people who rant against civil service pensions, would rant against having the same pension plan if it meant they had to pay the same 8.4% into the CPP as the civil servants do.

Now, let's consider what the civil service actually does.

The Civil Service, believe it or not, are probably more important than our elected officials. Let's look at the Government as a Navy Ship. The Captain determines where the ship goes, but it's navigators and pilots and numerous other positions that actually get the ship to where it needs to go. In this way, elected officials are the Captain, while the civil service is the crew.

The Government sets the course they want to take the nation in, while the civil service is responsible for finding the way to get there. And when they do, the Government manages to take the credit. After all, we always see Ministers being praised for their handling of a portfolio, but we never see the Deputy Minister or Department workers being praised.

As such, the civil service likely performs the most important role in government; and that's the role of taking policy off the paper and making it happen. Government would be nothing without the civil service, and the civil service would be nothing without the government. Call it a mutually beneficial relationship.

Which is why it's always strange to see the government turn on the civil service; to hold it up as an example of government waste and patronage. Ministers could not function without the civil service; after all, it's more important (at least painfully so in the Harper Government) to be seen in public and doing things that will get the party more votes; as such, the Minister can't be bothered to REALLY be in charge of a department.

Sure, they represent the government's vision in the department and help make sure that the civil service is moving the policy towards where they want it to go, but a Minister needs to be seen as a public figure; they can't waste all their time in their department buildings debating the finer points of the policy.

After all, if Ministers really had to run their departments from the top down, we'd never see them in Parliament, as they'd be way too busy. As such, the civil service really drives policy and management of the country in regards to government policy. Again, because it needs to be repeated, the government cannot operate without the civil service.

When the budget came out, I said that the Conservatives had cannibalized the Civil Service in Ottawa; and that we could expect lay offs, either coming down from Department Deputy Ministers, or the Government itself. And now, that's what we've seen.

Now, I'll Stockwell Day credit for saying the government was getting rid of 'patronage appointments'. After all, we all know how the word patronage continues to haunt Brian Mulroney, and the bitter taste it leaves in the mouths of Canadians. But, consider a few things.

EVERY GOVERNMENT, regardless of the political stripe, as done some patronage appointments. It's one of those natural cycles of politics, we all hate it but it's part of the process. Eventually, someone is going to get a cushy job just because they donated a lot of money to the party or they used to be room-mates with a minister, or any other connection.

But by calling the positions being eliminated 'patronage' appointments, Mr. Day has attempted to defuse the bomb planted by letting Canadians know the civil service was about the get a trim. After all, we'd question the sudden firing of civil servants...But you announce that they were 'patronage' appointments, and suddenly it's alright to let those people go.

But like it or not, patronage runs deeper than we all likely know.

After all, here in Saskatchewan we saw a good example of it when the Saskatchewan Party came to power. Quite a few civil servants were fired, with a million dollar severance package paid out to them, simply so the party could replace them. Now, everyone announces that these people were fired for various reasons, but we all know the main reason they were let go was because they were too closely connected to the previous party in power...

And dollars to doughnuts (which is a bit of a strange expression), the people who replaced those let go were closely connected to the party who had just come to power. Now, again, this is typical behaviour. Every new government is going to do some house cleaning and get people 'friendly' to their agenda on side; after all, it would be difficult to say get a left-leaning policy through a massively right-leaning civil service.

So, by coming out and saying that the Treasury Board is getting rid of 245 patronage appointments, it sounds like a good idea to most Canadians. But in reality, it is not the end of patronage.

Just ask Lawrence Cannon who is fighting to appoint GĂ©rard Latulippe, a former Reform Candidate, as the new President of Rights & Democracy. Or ask Mike Duffy or Pamela Wallin; who were appointed to the Senate by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who often denounced Senate Appointments.

So, the end of patronage appointments is far from here, as you can see...But by saying we're fighting it by destroying civil service jobs, the Conservatives are hoping to stir up that anti-public service sentiment and draw attention away from their other transgressions.

Again, I will repeat, that the government cannot function without the civil service. And we as Canadians need to realize this, before our government rips apart the departments and services that actually keep this country running, just for the sake of fixing the problems they created. Not to mention, we all need to put aside this civil service bashing, and realize that civil servants are PAID fair wages and given a fair pension package based on the work they do and the payments they make into our systems.

We need to look beyond the talking points of politicians who think they can save their own skin by martyring the civil service by allowing lies and deceit and misconceptions to continue in the public consciousness. We need to protect our civil service, before we find ourselves looking at a bleak future without it.

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