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The good and bad ideas of Diane Francis

I am pretty sure Diane Francis and I could have an amiable disagreement, because we do not disagree so greatly as to make conversation impossible.

Today’s article in the Financial Post contains some important ideas. “The crushing of Wilson-Raybould and Philpott is proof Canada is run by a Liberal cabal”.

Duh! We all are aware that Canada is run by a Liberal cabal. Perhaps more neutrally I can call it a productive relationship between various parts of the permanent governing party, the PGP, which consists of the civil service, coupled with the judiciary, which has its own styles of reasoning and sources of authority, and the Liberal Party itself, which I consider to be the sales arm of the civil service and the judiciary, and the latter’s acolyte, the Court party (read provincial law societies).

Diane Francis proposes several ideas.

  • A long period of cooling off before government employees can join the private sector after quitting government, which she suggests should be five or ten years long.
  • renegotiate equalization payments among provinces
  • abolishing the bilingualism requirement in the civil service.

Let me rate these ideas

Cooling off periods lengthened – F

Very bad idea, because you need a flow of people to and from the civil service, which tends to become too isolated, physically and mentally, from the rest of society. Cooling off periods after leaving the civil service are just drapery anyway, and not useful. Too long a cooling off period means that people joining the civil service might never leave, which would further exacerbate the isolation of the civil service from the rest of society. Keeping people from joining the private sector from the government means that the civil service becomes more of a caste than a career choice. It is already separated enough from the rest of society: do not increase the separation by limiting the outflow and the inflow.

Renegotiating equalization payments – A

Absolute agreement, and it requires only provinces to act, especially the paying provinces.

abolishing bilingualism requirements in the civil service – A+

Nothing tilts the civil service away from a more equal national participation than bilingualism requirements. It means that the recruiting zone for the civil service, or the vast preponderance of its routine levels, is the Ottawa valley, segments of the Quebec population that learn English and what remains of English Quebec. Thus the civil service becomes a job preserve – in clerical and functional levels – of bilingual French Canadians and an English Quebecer here and there. And that, my friends, is just how the Liberals want it.

Whether Canada would survive the relative reduction of the presence and importance of bilingual French Canadians in the civil service is a reasonable question. My guess is that it could and would, but it would have to be handled skillfully. It would take a Royal Commission on ethnic, regional and xyz representivity in the civil service. It could probably be sold on the basis that the proportion of “new Canadians” in the civil service was too low. It would take some tact and skill, but it could be done. The period when we had to believe that French Canada was somehow important is over, and looking back, I wonder whether separatism was not the last gasp of French Canada’s political importance.

The impetus behind the growth of the civil service in the 1970s was the baby boom. The civil service expanded as a deliberate method of absorbing the mass of boomers into employment. Other countries, I am told, did not adopt the tactic of expanding the civil service as a job-creation strategy, but Canada under Trudeau the Elder did.

As we head into the baby-bust era, there is little reason to keep civil service as large as it is. I can envisage it shrinking, relatively to other employment and perhaps even absolutely. A bold and wrong prediction, many would argue. When I consider how irrelevant government seems to be these days, I can scarcely recall the breathless importance ascribed to this or that French Canadian civil servant in the 70s and 80s who was supposed to “save” Canada. A participatory hallucination of the time.

However, the baneful effects of selecting your civil service on the basis of a capacity to speak French are pervasive. It works against Hindu mathematicians and Muslim economists, Albertans and Saskatchewanians, and every one else who does not belong to the French-speaking Tribe.

But that is how it was designed to be, n’est-ce pas?