I ran into a civil servant last night walking her dog in Ottawa’s pleasant district called Westboro. She works in a senior capacity at a central agency. Three of us were talking about the new regime.
(A note to the rabid conservatives who may read this: Please understand that all parties to this conversation are political realists. We are aware that the F-35 cancellation, the Syrian refugee influx, Trudeau’s energy program and other parts of the Grit ideology are of doubtful value, possibly quite dangerous, and some are outright mistakes. There was an interesting level of agreement with Harper’s approaches and world-view, from people who were not regular Conservative voters, so far as I knew).
She was observing how weird it felt to adapt to the friendliness of the new regime. Ministers were actually being nice to civil service staff, introducing themselves, remembering names, being considerate. She was in a state of mild shock, after the years of surliness, disrespect, and unapproachability of the previous Conservative ministers and staff. Like people who had been long abused, they were coming out from behind their protective shells, asking themselves, if this could really be real, or was just a trick?
I repeat, this is not a person confused by the Liberal charm into believing impossible things; she maintains an appropriate skepticism towards all politicians and their programs. No, her feelings were just as I have described: the suprizing feeling of not being looked down upon every day by Ministers and staff of the former regime.
Fanatics of the Harper regime (the mysterious “Base”) might wish to factor in this appreciation of the new regime by a seasoned civil servant. It may explain why the Trudeau regime will be getting a pass for a few more months, not because some vast Laurentian-elite consensus has taken over the country again, but by the simple expedient of not being actively hostile and rude to the members of the civil service.
If you want to know why the institutional structures of Canada provide better government than what you find in the United States, I recommend Francis Fukuyama’s Political Order and Political Decay, chapters 32, 33 and 34 – “A state of Courts and Parties”,”Congress and the Repatrimonialization of American Politics”, and “America the Vetocracy”. Fukuyama is our deTocqueville, and will be remembered for ages.
To examine the extent of American institutional decay, and the awkwardness of its constitutional arrangements, is beyond the scope of this article. But I will point out that one of the reasons we have a tolerable political order in this country is that we have a civil service with significant independence and separate functions from the partizan political layer., and that the United States does not, for the most part.
And this leads me to a final consideration. The idea that the useless vestige called the Canadian Senate is actually taken seriously and its reform debated, while our new overweening governor, the Supreme Court, is untouchable and undiscussed, is one of the most disturbing aspects of contemporary Canadian political life.
Complaining that concentration of power in the Prime Minister’s Office is “Americanization” of Canadian politics, while ignoring the Americanizing influence of the Canadian Supreme Court in inventing new rights nearly every month, reforming the Constitution by fiat (Nadon, Delgamuuk, extension of Charter Rights hither and yon etc), demonstrates a profound misreading of Canadian constitutional arrangements, approaching political illiteracy.