Sunday, January 27, 2008

Deputy Premier Ken Krawetz says firings about towing the party line, more to come; Premier Brad Wall betrays own words from Aug. 2007 letter

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall & Deputy Premier Ken Krawetz

“It’s so nice to have a conservative party in power in Saskatchewan. They call themselves the Saskatchewan Party, but they’re really Conservatives, aren’t they?”
– Former Alberta premier Ralph Klein at the Saskatchewan Young Professionals and Entrepreneurs corporate banquet on Jan. 23, 2008, at TCU Place in Saskatoon.
The Saskatchewan Party has finally gotten around to putting into words what many people have suspected, that the recent spate of civil service firings by the government had little to do with how people were doing their job it was blind ideology that was driving the process.

Deputy Premier Ken Krawetz confirmed as much following the announcement on Jan. 24 that as many as 70 civil servants were getting the axe.

“The dismissals are not about how people did their jobs,” said Krawetz. “It’s all about people that can tow the party line.”

“They are all being let go without any reason or cause,” said Krawetz. [Civil Servants Fired By New Saskatchewan Government (, Jan. 25, 2008)]

The positions included communication staff, associate deputy ministers and senior Crown corporation executives.

The fallout from this idiocy was immediate.

In 70 civil servants let go by the government (Leader-Post, Jan. 25, 2008) it was reported that Ken Rasmussen, director of the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy at the University of Regina, “is calling it a purge that flies in the face of Wall’s election night proclamation that the Nov. 7 vote was a case of hope triumphing over fear.”

“This government hasn’t done anything yet. How would you know what kind of advice they’re getting from the public service?” asked Ken Rasmussen, director of the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy at the University of Regina.

“Somebody at some point needs to say this is not good. It’s destructive for the professional civil service. It’s not helpful for the people of Saskatchewan and it’s not acceptable.”

“This is banana republic stuff,” Rasmussen said.

“This has reverberations, too. People who might want to stick their neck out and take a leadership role in the public service will say: ‘Nah, I don’t think so’.”

Krawetz insisted that all the dismissals were handled with a great deal of sensitivity.

The articles notes that “Including the 155 political staff dismissed by the out-going NDP government and eight deputy ministers, this brings the total number of people who have loss their jobs since the election of the new Saskatchewan Party government to an estimated 233.”

Apparently the bloodletting isn’t over.

In Sask. Party axes dozens of jobs (Globe and Mail, Jan. 24, 2008) Jennifer Graham of the Canadian Press reported that there are also hints that the number will grow.

“Will the process continue? It will,” said Mr. Krawetz.

“It’s not a finite number because there will be changes, but the bulk of the transition will have been completed with these changes,” he said.

Krawetz acknowledged that there could be more job losses in the spring when the provincial budget is unveiled and ministries are restructured.

“But those changes aren’t part of transition,” he insisted.

The StarPhoenix editorial board called the government’s actions “witch hunting” and said “Krawetz’s admission that some of those who were recently fired were let go because the transition team deemed that they didn’t fit with the direction and philosophy of the government, not because of their overt political biases, is stunning.” [Post-election witch hunting must be ended (StarPhoenix, Jan. 26, 2008)]

In Gov’t firings cross dangerous line (StarPhoenix, Jan. 26, 2008) political columnist Murray Mandryk said “the premier has gone over the line with the recent dismissals -- a highly disturbing development.”

Mandryk added “as near as I can tell by the names I’ve heard of the 70 people dismissed, only about a quarter fit the profile of being actively and blatantly political. Perhaps another quarter falls into a grey area of being former NDP ministerial assistants or party supporters who are no longer active and likely got their jobs through legitimate competition.

“However, at least half of these dismissals appear to be lifelong civil servants with no political connections.

“And it’s here that Wall and deputy premier Ken Krawetz, head of the transition team, have significantly upped the ante. They are taking partisanship of the civil service to a place where it ought not go.”

“Personal vendettas appear to be at work,” said Mandryk, and “most disturbing of all…Krawetz is now talking about the need for civil servants to be philosophically compatible with the Wall government” and that “is dangerous.”

“Wall needs to stop partisanship in the civil service, not make it worse.”

This provides a nice segue back to August 30, 2007, and Sask. Party Leader Brad Wall’s letter to the editor of the Leader-Post, which was in response to an Aug. 23 op-ed by political scientist Ken Rasmussen on the post-election public service.

In How SaskParty views civil service, Wall said “Maintaining a professional and nonpartisan public service is in the best interest of all Saskatchewan people.”

“As Rasmussen accurately states, a new government should not assume that, just because members of the civil service have worked closely under the previous administration, they are not able to implement the new government's program. I agree,” Wall said.

As for changes in the civil service Wall said “These decisions should be based on merit, not patronage or partisan politics.”

With this week’s purging Wall has betrayed his own words.

To add insult to injury a day after the firings and citing partisan ties to the NDP as the rationale in many cases, Krawetz said people with ties to the Saskatchewan Party will be among their likely replacements.

Krawetz also acknowledged that among the string of government appointments announced to the boards of the province’s Crown corporations on Jan. 25 that many of the new board chairs had connections with the Sask. Party. [Sask. Party prepared to bring in supporters (StarPhoenix, Jan. 26, 2008)]

Frankly, what did the media expect would happen when Brad Wall & Co. took over? It’s not like they weren’t warned but it seemed that every time someone spoke out against the Sask. Party they were derided as socialists or fear mongers.

Reprinted below are Brad Wall’s Aug. 30, 2007, letter to the editor of the Regina Leader-Post and Ken Rasmussen’s Aug. 23, 2007, op-ed.

How SaskParty views civil service

The Leader Post

Thursday, August 30, 2007

I would like to thank Ken Rasmussen for his commentary, "Our post- election public service," in the Aug. 23 Leader-Post. It provides the opportunity for a much-needed discussion on an issue of great importance. It also provides me with an opportunity to offer the Saskatchewan Party's vision for the public service should voters entrust us with leading Saskatchewan after the next provincial election.

Maintaining a professional and nonpartisan public service is in the best interest of all Saskatchewan people. In Saskatchewan, governments of all political stripes have benefited, and continue to benefit, from the long tradition of excellence within our civil service. That is why a Saskatchewan Party government would continue to foster a professional civil service that delivers efficient and effective programs within a culture of excellence and innovation.

One of the key decisions that must be made upon the election of a new government is the appointment of senior civil servants. The criteria for making such decisions cannot be simplistic. As Rasmussen accurately states, a new government should not assume that, just because members of the civil service have worked closely under the previous administration, they are not able to implement the new government's program. I agree.

All governments, whether new or old, make changes to the senior levels of the civil service as a normal course of activity. Such changes involve reassignment and/or promotion of senior officials, as well as recruitment of new faces into the senior civil service. These decisions should be based on merit, not patronage or partisan politics.

However, a new government is elected with a mandate to provide positive change. If there are some senior officials who are ideologically tied to the outgoing administration and therefore resist the new government's democratic mandate for change, then those individuals will need to be replaced. However, in the case of a Saskatchewan Party government, there will be no "wholesale purge", which Rasmussen noted has occurred after the last few changes in government.

As a graduate of the University of Saskatchewan public administration program, I am very aware of the Saskatchewan civil service's proud history and strong reputation for innovation and public policy leadership. It is my belief that the current NDP government has too often manipulated the civil service for short- term political gain, stifled innovation and overly politicized both department and Crown personnel decisions.

Should we be asked to form the next government, we intend to build upon the spirit of innovation, creativity and excellence in the civil service. We will work with institutions like the Johnson- Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy at the University of Regina to offer educational opportunities to current civil servants and develop the next generation.

Additionally, we will undertake aggressive recruitment, promotion and succession planning to secure the future of Saskatchewan's civil service.

A Saskatchewan Party government will ensure we take full advantage of the talents of our professional public service to fulfill Saskatchewan's tremendous potential.

Brad Wall

Wall is leader of the Saskatchewan Party.


© The Leader-Post (Regina) 2007

Our Post-Election Public Service

The Leader Post

Thursday, August 23, 2007

With talk of an election in the air, and, if the polls are to be believed, the possibility of a change in government, there inevitably come questions about what impact this would have on the public service in Saskatchewan. There are perennial concerns in this province that with any change of government there will be a wholesale purge of those seen to be closely associated with the previous regime in the senior ranks of the public service.

All Saskatchewan governments have had a poor record in this regard, and the prospect of a change in government creates much more anxiety in Saskatchewan than in Ottawa, where the norms of an independent, neutral and non-partisan public service are protected by a much stronger tradition of respect for the public service, but also by an independent Public Service Commission that has statutory and constitutional independence. Indeed most provincial governments have inadequate protection for their public services which creates too many opportunities for new governments to engage in the firing of senior officials from what should be a neutral and non-partisan organization serving the interests of citizens.

It is prudent in the lead up to a provincial election to remind all political parties that the public service in an effective and mature democratic society like Saskatchewan should be completely off limits to any government. The idea behind the conventions associated with our system of government are that the public service provides frank and fearless advice to ministers, warns them of the potential problems associated with their policy ideas, and ensures that the new government's policy priorities get implemented as effectively as possible. In return, a new government will respect the professionalism of the public service, maintain the anonymity of public servants and not blame or name public servants when errors occur, but rather will accept responsibility in the legislative assembly for all the actions of the government of Saskatchewan.

A major obstacle in respecting the neutrality of the public service often emerges when a government has served for a long period of time, such as the current NDP administration, which has governed for over 15 years. There is natural suspicion that the public service has, at best, become closely associated with the thinking of the previous administration, or worst, is filled with partisans; or alternatively the public service is simply as tired and as bereft of ideas as the government that was defeated. The desire to replace individuals is tempting, especially by highly partisan politicians who have spent years in opposition. Such individuals may find anyone's claim of neutrality hard to accept.

As tempting as it might be for a new government to think like this, it would be a mistake and any attempt to fire existing public servants will put the province back in time, make it harder for the new government to implement its policies, make it more difficult to recruit talented young people into the career public service, and create growing cynicism on the part of an already cynical electorate.

First, Saskatchewan needs to move past the bad old days and ensure that the public service is treated not as a source for patronage, but as the professional, skilled and well-trained body that it is. Public servants understand what their role is in the system and as long as they conform to these expectations and provide loyal and energetic support to the new government they are fulfilling their role in this system.

Secondly, any new government needs to move quickly on its agenda and has as little as 18 months to accomplish many of the promises and commitments made in the election before a new election cycle beings. Damaging the public service, creating apprehension and fear, and bringing in inexperienced and unqualified individuals, will make this much job much more difficult. It also will make it harder to recruit talented young college graduates looking for a career that is completely open to talent and free from all imputation of partisanship.

Finally, the population has grown cynical and highly attuned to the problem of patronage and its association with corruption. Wholesale firing and patronage appointments will only worsen the already low opinion that many citizens have about their institutions. The core public service should be completely off limits to any sort of partisan appointment or dismissal. The lesson of the Harper government in Ottawa is illustrative in that not a single deputy minister or other senior official was fired upon taking office and "Canada's new government" has found all of its public service leadership from within the existing public service.

Any government is capable of shifting around the responsibilities of senior officials once it is elected, making effective matches between deputies and ministers, promoting new individuals to the deputy ranks, reassigning others and recruiting skilled staff from other jurisdictions or other organizations into senior positions. All of these actions are legitimate and often welcome.

Yet it would be a grave mistake for any government to fire a single senior official. Such actions, even one, are enough to create an environment of fear and distrust that will take years to overcome, and expose a new government to charges of tampering with the professional public service. It would sow dissension within the public service and expose Saskatchewan as one of the last bastions of a politicized public service in Canada. It is also extremely expensive and results in governments paying millions of dollars as a result of severance and wrongful dismissal law suits.

One can hope that whoever forms the government after the next election will see fit to end this aspect of Saskatchewan's political culture. It is high time for Saskatchewan public service to be seen by all political leaders as a neutral, non-partisan resource dedicated to promoting the agenda of whatever party forms the government of Saskatchewan.

There will be many individuals watching what happens, both within the province and across the country. One hopes that Saskatchewan will enter a new era, where government respects the independence of the public service and is in turn offered loyalty and dedication by professionals in the public service who have an enormous role to play in ensuring that the province continues to develop and prosper.

- Rasmussen is director, Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy at the University of Regina.

© The Leader-Post (Regina) 2007


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