The Functionary
 A newsletter about the federal public service. 
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Kathryn May
Hi everyone. Public servants are on the ballot across the country for seats on municipal councils and school boards. Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre picks his shadow cabinet, including those who will be pitted against ministers on public service issues. Also, a look at bureaucrats testifying at the history-making Public Order Emergency Commission and blowing up the old public service bargain.
Here goes.
* The critics: A shadow cabinet is formed.
* Poilievre’s prime targets: Public servants, who can’t push back.
* Will they run?: Number of public servants with permission to run in fall elections: 64.
* Boom. : Alberta’s new premier could blow up the public service bargain.
* Finally, the emergency powers inquiry: A rare revealing of decision-making coming up.
* In passing: The Charbonneau Loops, the hard-to-solve problem with big projects.
Conservative critics and the public service
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has chosen Stephanie Kusie, a former federal diplomat, as the opposition’s Treasury Board critic to square off against Treasury Board President Mona Fortier. Poilievre appointed a shadow cabinet of some 50 critics, plus a slate of associate critics.
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Ben Lobb remains as a shadow critic for Digital Government. The Huron-Bruce MP, first elected in 2008, is Poilievre’s special advisor on blockchain technologies and crypto assets and founded the Conservative Blockchain Caucus. Poilievre has encouraged Canadians to invest in cryptocurrencies as a hedge against inflation. Both Poilievre and Lobb are among the MPs who declared bitcoin and other digital currency in the disclosure of their assets.

Liberals cut the digital minister. The Trudeau government dropped a digital minister from its last cabinet lineup. That raised many eyebrows because all governments policy and programs are somehow dependent on digital transformation and modernization. The digital minister job was basically carved up between Fortier and the minister of Public Services and Procurement, who is now Helena Jaczek. Poilievre appointed Kelly Block as PSPC critic.

The populist and the public service. Pierre Poilievre wants smaller government; fewer gatekeepers – and that includes bureaucrats. His priorities are concerns over high inflation, taxes and the state of federal books. When he says “we know the problem – the cost of government is driving up the cost of living,” public servants hear job cuts.

Easy targets. Michael Wernick, the Jarislowsky chair in public sector management at the University of Ottawa, argues bureaucrats are easy targets because they can’t push back. The public service has grown like gangbusters. They are prime targets, along with the central bank, CBC, the statistics agency, the tax department, environment monitors, and departments failing badly at delivering services like passports and immigration applications. Well-paid public servants griping about having to work in the office is like waving a red flag.

Tack right or left? Wernick argues a big question for public servants is how the Liberal government will counter Poilievre and improve its election chances. It has a spending review and three budgets coming up. “Will it tack right or left in search of votes?” Wernick asks. “Will it prioritise getting the deficit down or continue spending on programmes that ease the economic pain for key groups of voters?”

Poilievre brings a new dynamic to ongoing contract talks with federal unions. He's never been particularly union-friendly. A decade ago, he led a campaign for right-to-work legislation to eliminate the Rand Formula and make union dues optional for federal workers.

Unions have gone into this round of bargaining wanting big raises to cover inflation, more remote work and the “right to disconnect.” Maybe it’s do-able with a labour-friendly Liberal-NDP agreement, which could hold off an election until 2025.  

Check out public-sector pay in Ontario compared with that of federal workers:

Source: Financial Accountability Office of Ontario.
On the ballot

The number of public servants seeking nominations for city council and school board positions has hit historic highs. This year, the numbers have jumped 50 per cent compared with four years ago, when a similar round of elections were held.  

Across the country, 96 public servants currently hold municipal office. So far this year, 64 have received permission to run in six provinces with fall elections. 
Here’s a rundown of provinces with upcoming municipal elections:
Oct. 15 – British Columbia: Thirteen granted permission and 12 running.
Oct. 24 – Ontario: Forty-six permissions but five have withdrawn.
Oct. 26 – Manitoba: Five.
Nov. 9 – Saskatchewan: The one approved candidate has withdrawn.
Nov. 7 – Prince Edward Island: Three running.
Nov. 28 – New Brunswick: Three running after one withdrew.

A big issue in Ottawa – where eight public servants are running – is transit. Ridership is still significantly below pre-pandemic levels. Wouldn’t you know commuting is one of the main reasons public servants working in offices in the National Capital Region want to stay working at home? (Forty-two per cent of the public service is the NCR.)

The Public Service Commission, the watchdog for a non-partisan public service, approves leave for public servants seeking candidacy in federal, provincial, territorial and municipal elections.

Here’s a list of public servants who got permission from PSC to run in municipal, provincial or federal election since 2015.

Running for municipal politics is not as sensitive an issue as public servants who seek nominations for federal elections. Those running as school board trustees don’t need PSC approval. But they still have to follow the values and ethics code for outside activities. 

A side hustle. If elected, they can keep working unless there is a risk of political impartiality because of their federal jobs. Otherwise, they don’t have to take a leave or resign from the public service, which would be the case if they were elected as provincial or federal politicians.
Is there a topic you'd like to see explored? Let us know
Increasingly murky territory and a line that's harder to find

There is an unwritten rule of a non-partisan public service. It offers the government fearless advice and loyal implementation in return for stable, career jobs. Where’s the line? The whole issue of non-partisanship is becoming murky territory for public servants as shown in this anonymous exchange. Social media makes the line between their online personal and professional lives difficult to draw. Add to that political attacks, politicization and polarization, and public servants are struggling to balance their duty of loyalty with the right to engage in free speech and political activity.
A no-man’s land. During the Harper era, Pierre Poilievre came under fire for blurring the traditional line between politics and public service for partisan communications. As employment minister he paid overtime to public servants to make videos promoting the government’s universal child care benefit. (The videos were taken down at some point.)

Source: Ottawa Citizen
Later, as finance critic, he used clips of bureaucrats unable to answer his questions at parliamentary hearings – with the Jeopardy theme song playing in the background – for social media posts.  
Bargain blow up. Jared Wesley, political science professor at University of Alberta, argues the traditional bargain between public servants and politicians, which has been unravelling for years, could finally blow up under new Alberta Premier Danielle Smith.
Smith has threatened to boot a slew of government officials for failing to live up to her vision of Alberta's values. She put the Alberta public service “on notice, all 240,000 of them, that every single decision they make must be put through the lens of putting Alberta first."  (By Alberta’s count, it has 230,000 public servants.)
Wesley, who studies the public service’s role in democracy, argues that makes it difficult for public servants to hold up “their half of the public service bargain.”
Smith’s indifference to the bargain could have knock-on effects on public servants across the country. Federal bureaucrats had a taste when Environment and Climate Change Canada took to Twitter to correct false claims that the government is hiring “climate cops” to “trespass” on Western farmland. 

Smith, now as premier with her proposed signature Alberta sovereignty act, means we “could expect a lot more calling her out,” said one longtime bureaucrat.
So, it begins. The Public Order Emergency Commission has begun its long-awaited public inquiry probing the government’s use of emergency powers to end the protests that took over downtown Ottawa streets last winter.

The prime minister, cabinet ministers along with Privy Council Clerk Janice Charette and a parade of other senior bureaucrats will be testifying during the last weeks of the commission, providing a rare look into how decisions are made:
  • Rob Stewart, deputy minister at Public Safety Canada.
  • Dominic Rochon, senior assistant deputy minister at Public Safety Canada.
  • David Vigneault, director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
  • Michelle Tessier, assistant deputy minister with Public Safety's national and cyber security branch.
  • Marie-Hélène Chayer, executive director of the Integrated Threat Assessment Centre.
  • Michael Duheme, deputy RCMP commissioner responsible for federal policing.
  • Brenda Lucki, RCMP commissioner.
  • Curtis Zablocki, deputy RCMP commissioner and commanding officer of Alberta.
  • John Ossowski, former president of the Canada Border Services Agency.
  • Michael Keenan, deputy minister at Transport Canada.
  • Christian Dea, chief economist at Transport Canada.
  • Michael Sabia, deputy minister at Finance Canada.
  • Rhys Mendes, assistant deputy minister at Finance Canada.
  • Isabelle Jacques, assistant deputy minister at Finance Canada. 
  • Cindy Termorhuizen, assistant deputy minister at Global Affairs Canada.
  • Joe Comartin, former Canadian consul general in Detroit.
  • Jody Thomas, national security and intelligence adviser to the prime minister.
  • Jacquie Bogden, deputy secretary to the cabinet on emergency preparedness and COVID recovery.
  • Janice Charette, clerk of the Privy Council.
  • Nathalie Drouin, deputy clerk of the Privy Council 
A full list of witnesses can be found here.
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The Charbonneau Loops: A must-read for anyone interested in contracting when there is no inhouse expertise to provide oversight and only a small pool of vendors.
Two days’ work: Programmer replicates $54-million ArriveCAN app
The populist playbook: Populists like Alberta Premier Danielle Smith succeed when they are able to do three things from the right-wing populist playbook, Jared Wesley writes.
Canadian premium: What we pay more for and why, from air travel to milk.
CRA’s pandemic fallout: The pandemic has rattled the Canada Revenue Agency. Audits have been suspended, workers reassigned and audits of small business now take a year.
Kathryn May writes about the federal public service for Policy Options magazine. She is the Accenture Fellow on the Future of the Public Service, providing coverage and analysis of the complex issues facing Canada’s federal public service. She has spent 25 years writing about the public service – the country’s largest workforce – and has also covered parliamentary affairs and politics for The Ottawa Citizen, Postmedia Network Inc. and iPolitics. The winner of a National Newspaper Award, she has also researched and written about public service issues for the federal government and research institutes. Twitter @kathryn_may. 
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