La lutte acharnée entre démocratie et technocratie
Over this same period, ‘traditional guardian’ behaviour of public office holders (including some senior bureaucrats) began to change noticeably.
First came the Al Mashat affair in 1991, in which politicians blamed the senior bureaucracy while the key senior public servant fingered denied he had done anything wrong and refused to apologize despite reported pressure from the Privy Council Office. The testimony of senior bureaucrats to Parliament is interesting: Arthur Kroeger’s is classic (taking blame for not informing his minister – the one responsible for immigration), while the Clerk of the day refused to agree that politicians have unfairly blamed bureaucrats and angrily defended the government of the day.
Then came the 1994 Program Review which was certainly necessary (and recognized as such by senior bureaucrats, among many others), but broke the long-standing moral contract with the public service that included jobs ‘for life’ and very good pensions in return for good and faithful service.
The circling of the deputy ministerial wagons began during this period (Hubbard 2009a) as part of the fierce resistance of the ‘DM tribe’ – of which I was a part until 2000 – to the attack on the shared belief system that had been handed down to it from the mandarin era: that senior bureaucrats are partners of the government of the day, in reflecting upon and helping to decide how to act in the best interests of Canadians.
As the big “G” government to small “g” governance drift continued, it became clear that this was no small external change in advanced democracies. A great deal of trial and error began (public sector/service reform) especially as regards public management (Kaul 2000)) and it continues today. As Gilles Paquet has put it: “there is no satisfactory theory of governance providing a guide … [g]overnance and geo-governance remain a series of challenges that have elicited only imperfect responses” (Paquet 2005: 301).
One important aspect of the federal government’s response has been a realization that the ‘traditional’ ways of controlling the exercise of power no longer seemed to be up to the task. The solutions have often represented a significant turning towards hard measures to exercise that control – a focus on preventing misdeeds – and away from soft ones that experts like Paul Thomas say may be more effective in critical times (Thomas 2008, 2009). The result has contributed to a worsening of the challenges at the political-bureaucratic interface.
It is perhaps not surprising then that with the election of the Conservative Party after more than twenty years, the return of natural mistrust and lack of respect after long rule by ‘the other guys’ was not as quickly dissipated as before. There was admittedly little alignment of players with respect to role of federal government prior to the election, however, this realignment had been achieved more quickly with Brian Mulroney’s governments.