Monday, December 31, 2007

Sask. Party hiring decisions smell of patronage, nepotism and cronyism; department review resembles Hermanson plan and BC Gov't Core Services Review

“[Changes to the civil service] should be based on merit, not patronage or partisan politics.”
Saskatchewan Party Leader Brad Wall in an Aug. 30, 2007, letter to the editor of the Regina Leader-Post.

“One initiative that I believe holds tremendous value for Saskatchewan is a project launched by (B.C.) Premier (Gord) Campbell called the Core Services Review. The B.C. government is reviewing every government program, service, board, commission, agency and Crown corporation. Premier Campbell expects to save millions of taxpayers’ dollars through this review -- money that will be used to finance his aggressive agenda of personal and business tax cuts and balance the budget.

A Saskatchewan Party government will launch a similar Core Services Review in this province within 30 days of taking office.”
– Saskatchewan Party Leader Elwin Hermanson on Oct. 2, 2001, unveiling his party’s “Grow Saskatchewan” to the North Saskatoon Business Association.
[Pledge may haunt Hermanson (StarPhoenix, Mar. 1, 2002)]

In an Aug. 30 letter the editor of the Regina Leader-Post on the issue of a possible change in government and the impact it would have on the public service Saskatchewan Party Leader Brad Wall said his government “would continue to foster a professional civil service that delivers efficient and effective programs within a culture of excellence and innovation.”

Wall said he was “very aware of the Saskatchewan civil service’s proud history and strong reputation for innovation and public policy leadership” and that in the case of a Saskatchewan Party government, there will be no “wholesale purge” of the civil service.

Wall’s comments, however, dealt primarily with the senior levels of the public service. As for the mid and lower levels he didn’t say.

Wall said changes to the civil service “should be based on merit, not patronage or partisan politics.”

That sentiment quickly went out the window after the Saskatchewan Party won the Nov. 7 provincial election.

In Wall adviser has ties to federal Tories (StarPhoenix, Nov. 27, 2007) the SP reported that Iain Harry, a close friend of Wall, was appointed to serve as a special adviser to the Premier.

According to the article “Harry served in a variety of staff positions with the Sask. Party from its founding in 1997 before leaving for Ottawa in 2006. He worked in communications and research for the Conservative government and most recently headed an infrastructure group under Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon that reported to the Prime Minister’s Office on how to spend infrastructure money strategically.”

The story went on to note: “Much of the Opposition caucus staff has already been slated for new jobs within Executive Council. Among those appointments made official were Reg Downs as Wall’s chief of staff at a salary of $13,693 a month, Terri Harris as deputy chief of staff at $10,900 per month, Ian Hanna as the premier’s communications adviser at $9,600 per month, Kathy Young as executive director of communications at $9,900 per month, Terri Gudmundson as executive director of house business at $9,600 per month and James Saunders as senior policy adviser at $8,155 per month.

“Joe Donlevy, who was chair of the Saskatchewan Party election campaign, was also named special adviser to Wall at a salary of $12,500 per month.”

In Major changes to civil service (Leader-Post, Nov. 28, 2007) the LP’s Angela Hall reported on the return of Ron Dedman, who worked for Tory premier Grant Devine in the 1980s. Dedman was a former chief of staff to Progressive Conservative economic development minister Eric Berntson. In 1999, Bernston was convicted of illegally diverting government allowances between 1987 and 1991 when he was Saskatchewan’s deputy premier. He was sentenced to one year in prison.

Dedman was appointed associate deputy minister of executive resourcing in the Ministry of Executive Council.

The Wall government also hired Denise Batters, a lawyer and wife of Tory MP Dave Batters, as chief of staff for the minister of justice. NDP MLA Kevin Yates said the move suggests a “direct connection to the federal Conservatives.”

On Nov. 16, Wall named Rick Mantey as the deputy cabinet secretary and clerk of Executive Council at a salary of $175,000 a year.

Mantey was an adviser to former Manitoba premier Gary Filmon and has served in other positions with the former Progressive Conservative governments of Manitoba and Ontario. [Sask. Party goes outside province for senior staff (StarPhoenix, Nov. 17, 2007)]

On Nov. 9, Wall named Garnet Garven, dean of the University of Regina’s School of Business, as his deputy minister. Garven was chair and chief executive officer of the Worker’s Compensation Board under Grant Devine’s Progressive Conservative government. [Wall names deputy minister (Leader-Post, Nov. 10, 2007)]

Fired from the civil service was John Wright, a former SaskPower president who most recently held the role of deputy minister of health. Other deputy ministers leaving include Bonnie Durnford (Learning), Bill Craik (Labour), Harvey Brooks (Agriculture), Barbara McLean (Department of Culture, Youth and Recreation), Lily Stonehouse (Government Relations), Richard Gladue (First Nations and Metis Relations) and Deb McDonald (Saskatchewan Property Management).

The eight represented about half of the deputy ministers in the provincial civil service.

Particularly disturbing in Wright’s case is that he was replaced by Gren Smith-Windsor who was appointed Associate Deputy Minister of Health and will serve as Acting Deputy while a national executive search is undertaken. Smith-Windsor was fired without cause as head of the Prince Albert Parkland Health Region in 2005. The health region’s chair said the reasons for the termination were “internal.”

There is concern that Smith-Windsor’s appointment was politically motivated in that he had served as clerk of Executive Council in Grant Devine’s Progressive Conservative government of the 1980s. [McMorris defends selection of fired health bureaucrat (StarPhoenix, Dec. 14, 2007)]

In Artful hiring blunts criticism (Leader-Post, Nov. 28, 2007) LP political columnist Murray Mandryk said that a “few of Premier Brad Wall’s new appointments will raise some eyebrows.” These include:

– the appointment of Alanna Koch -- a former PC ministerial assistant and one-time director of Agricore United and executive director of the Western Canadian Wheat Growers -- as agriculture deputy minister.

– the appointments of partisan chiefs of staff like former Saskatchewan Party President Clay Reich, former Crown corporation executive in the PC government Al Nicholson and especially Denise Batters (wife of Palliser Conservative MP Dave Batters) as a combination of patronage and ties to the federal Conservatives.

“Admittedly…some of Wall’s hiring decisions smell of patronage, nepotism and cronyism. (And given Wall’s penchant for surrounding himself with friends who go back to his university days, the latter issue is one we should watch carefully.),” Mandryk said.

SP business editor Murray Lyons devoted his column Enterprise Sask. gets a face (StarPhoenix, Nov. 28, 2007) to the hiring of one-time lobbyist for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) Dale Botting as the deputy minister of the new Ministry of Enterprise and Innovation. Botting will lead the “design-build” phase of Enterprise Saskatchewan. The CFIB and Saskatchewan Party have had a very close working relationship over the years and it appears that it will continue.

With changes to the senior civil service out of the way it seems the Saskatchewan Party has now turned its attention to the remainder of the public service.

In More changes to civil service coming soon: Krawetz (StarPhoenix, Dec. 19, 2007) Deputy Premier Ken Krawetz said more changes to the civil service are coming early in the new year.

“There will be transfers, there will be lateral movement and there may be people that will leave the employ of a Saskatchewan Party government,” he said in question period in response to NDP deputy leader Pat Atkinson.

Krawetz told reporters the process of transition will likely be completed by mid-February.

“Deputy ministers are doing human resource assessments of the people within their ministry that are responsible to them and they will be determining whether or not the level of personnel that is there is what is needed,” said Krawetz.

The Saskatchewan Party’s election promise to review all government programs and services sounds eerily similar to what former party leader Elwin Hermanson proposed in 2001.

The party’s 2007 platform Securing the Future (Oct. 2007) states that as part of The Growth and Financial Security Act “government departments and agencies will be required to review all programs and services as part of the annual reporting process, to determine and document whether they are:

– Serving the public interest;
– Being provided efficiently and effectively;
– Accountable to the taxpayer; and
– Achieving the goals of a healthy, safe, innovative and prosperous province.”

On Oct. 2, 2001, in a speech delivered at a North Saskatoon Business Association luncheon, former Saskatchewan Party Leader Elwin Hermanson announced “Grow Saskatchewan” a plan to increase the province’s population by 100,000 people over 10 years by cutting taxes, shrinking the size of government and selling off non-utility Crown corporations.

Hermanson told reporters the government can downsize “a big, stagnant government” and cut taxes without plunging the province back into deficit financing, even while maintaining education and health spending at current levels.

In Sask. Party lays out economic plan: Tax cuts, boosting province’s sagging population are main priorities, Hermanson says (StarPhoenix, Oct 3, 2001) Hermanson said “his party’s proposal – modelled on the British Columbia’s government core services review – won’t necessarily result in major layoffs in the public service. He wouldn’t say which departments have too many employees or where his government would rationalize services.

When asked where the government would save money to pay for tax cuts, he pointed to proposed Social Services reforms aimed at getting people back into the workforce.”

A day earlier in Tax cuts top Sask. Party wish list (Leader-Post, Oct 2, 2001) LP business reporter Colleen Silverthorn noted the cost of Hermanson’s plan to “trim off spending by changing the welfare system” was $25 million to $50 million.

(It is interesting to note that new social services minister, Donna Harpauer, is mandated to hold a summit of community based organizations within the first six months of the Sask. Party government “to develop a new social policy direction for Saskatchewan.” No details on this ominous initiative have been released.)

Hermanson’s plan backfired when it was later learned just how devastating the British Columbia model was.

According to Sask. Party would follow B.C. lead: NDP, Grits: Say axe would fall (StarPhoenix, Jan. 19, 2002) the SP’s James Parker reported that on Jan. 17, B.C. Liberal premier Gordon Campbell announced his government would cut 11,700 government jobs – one-third of the civil service – in three years. Government spending would be slashed by $1.9 billion, with health and education the only areas spared the axe.

B.C would close eight jails and 24 courthouses, eliminate many programs and services and introduce new fees for some services that remain.

NDP Economic Development Minister Eldon Lautermilch said if Hermanson used the B.C template “it will mean 4,000 people gone (from the public service) in Saskatchewan.”

“That means jobs gone, not only in Regina, but in Swift Current, Estevan, Yorkton, Moose Jaw, North Battleford, all over the province. There are going to be thousands of families hurt if he is premier in this province.”

Parker also noted that:
Sask. Party finance critic Ken Krawetz said his party will not run a deficit and will not cut taxes before it completes a core services review.

He said if the party is elected, it will reduce the size of the public service, sell non-utility Crown corporations and privatize some government services. But he said the extent of the cuts won’t be known until the review is complete.

Krawetz said a downsizing similar to the one announced in British Columbia isn’t likely. At the very least, he said, the province could do without the 570 government jobs added in last year’s budget.

“There will be some changes. There will be restructuring. There will be delivery of services in a different fashion. There may be a reduction in the number of employees at the Crown level and government level.”
Parker’s article revealed some additional information regarding Hermanson’s October 2001 speech to the North Saskatoon Business Association.

Hermanson apparently said Saskatchewan’s “big stagnant” government was a major barrier to growth and pledged to announce a similar initiative to BC’s core services review within 30 days of taking office.

Hermanson said the review would be based on five questions:

– Does a service serve a compelling public interest?
– Is it affordable within the fiscal environment of the province?
– Is it being delivered or offered in the most efficient way?
– Is it accountable to the taxpayer?
– Does it contribute to growing Saskatchewan by 100,000 people in 10 years?

Sound familiar? It should because it’s very similar to what the party promised to do in its 2007 election platform.

Hermanson carried his controversial plan into the November 2003 provincial election but under a different name.

In an October 15, 2003, pre-election letter to CFIB Saskatchewan director Marilyn Braun-Pollon, Hermanson promised his government would “launch a comprehensive Government Efficiency Review of every program, department, board, agency, commission and Crown Corporation” based on the five questions above.

It should be noted that Brad Wall’s 2007 corresponds with resolution EC05-8 – Performing a Service-Based Review of Government Operations of the Saskatchewan Party Policy Book (Feb. 2007) that states:
“Be it resolved that a Saskatchewan Party government will perform a service-based review of government operations to ensure all parts of government are:

a) Serving a compelling public interest;

b) Affordable within the fiscal environment of the province;

c) Providing services in the most efficient way possible;

d) Accountable to the taxpayer; and

e) Removing barriers to the development of an entrepreneurial and enterprising economy.”
Furthermore, the Saskatchewan Party’s plan is eerily similar to what BC Premier Gordon Campbell initiated.

On July 31, 2001, Premier Campbell provided all ministers with a letter outlining guidelines for the review.

“The Core Services Review is a comprehensive and rigorous examination of all provincial programs and activities. Its overarching objective is to identify and to confirm our Government’s core roles and responsibilities and to identify ways to improve the delivery of government services in the interests of taxpayers,” Campbell’s letter said.

The premier went on to describe the scope of the initiative:
“Core Services Review requires us to ask fundamental questions about:

-What we are doing;
-Why we are doing it;
-How are we doing it; and,
-How we will measure our progress.

Within that broad framework we need to find answers to specific questions:

1. Public Interest Test: Does the mandate, program, activity or business unit continue to serve a compelling public interest?

2. Affordability Test: Is the package of programs, activities or business units affordable within the fiscal environment?

3. Effectiveness & Role of Government Test: Are we doing the right thing? Is there a legitimate and essential role for the provincial government in this program, activity or business unit?

4. Efficiency Test: Are the current organizational and service delivery models the most efficient way to manage and deliver the program, activity or business unit?

5. Accountability Test: Are the current measures and reporting mechanisms the most effective way to account for program, activity or business unit performance (relevancy, effectiveness, service)?”
Sound familiar?

To date Premier Brad Wall has not provided any meaningful details on the government’s review of programs and services. However, there have been at least two attempts by the government to scare the public about the future.

The first came on Nov. 29 with the release of the province’s Mid-Year Financial Report that revealed an almost $1.24 billion improvement for 2007-08 but Finance Minister Rod Gantefoer threw cold water on the good news claiming “the spending legacy of the previous administration had Saskatchewan headed back down the road to deficit budgets if we don’t change course.”

According to the news release: “Premier Brad Wall said his government is committed to balanced budgets and that he has asked the Finance Minister to take a number of steps to ensure balanced budgets and continued economic growth in the future. These include…seeking efficiencies and cost-saving measures and reducing the rate of spending growth in government departments as part of the 2008-09 budget development process and legislating an annual review of government spending practices within the new Saskatchewan Growth and Financial Security Act.”

Wall was blasted in the media a week earlier for attempting to portray the province’s financial situation as “serious” and “stark.”

The second scare tactic came on Dec. 13 with the introduction of The Growth and Financial Security Act. Once again Finance Minister Rod Gantefoer used the Mid-Year Financial Report to say that it “identified some serious financial challenges left behind by the previous administration.”

“With this Act, we are reducing the risk of those challenges in the future…by finding efficiencies,” Gantefoer said in the news release.

Job losses and cuts to programs and services are likely but the government isn’t saying where. It has to pay for its $1.7 billion in election promises somehow, which doesn’t include the as many as 29 of the promises that remain “uncosted.”

5 Comments:

At 7:38 AM, Blogger sunnyside said...

4.2 million and counting with severance payments thus far. With the big winner going to Mr.Wright who gets a whopping 800 million. I wonder if those to be fired, will be replaced with loyal conservatives with considerable raises.

Lets remember, people in political jobs like Ministerial assistants are getting over 30,000 dollars more. Could you imagine a raise like that? There reason for the raises was to attract quality people, problem those quality people are just people with Sask party connections.

 
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