In Reviving Canadian Democracy, I explained that the forces undermining Canadian democracy had taken hold long before Stephen Harper became Prime Minister. I also cautioned that while opposition parties decry any abuse of power by the government of the day, when they – in turn – take office, they usually find the concentration of executive power quite convenient for achieving their objectives. My hope is that these observations are not becoming prophetic in the case of the new Liberal government. We are early in the new government’s mandate and there is much to praise in the actions that the Liberals have taken to date. But if media coverage is accurate, there are also some troubling developments and they are beginning to accumulate.
It is hard to recall a piece of legislation that has received as much scrutiny and intense media coverage as Bill C-14, dealing with physician-assisted dying. It is, of course, a very serious and controversial subject and the passage of the bill faced a tight deadline. A Supreme Court decision in February 2015 had given the government one year to come up with legislation addressing this issue. The Conservative government simply ignored the subject and the Liberal government elected in October 2015 was somewhat slow to deal with it after being given a four month extension by the court. That extended deadline has passed and the law has still not been enacted.
Reading the new StrategyCorp survey of Ontario CAOs, I was reminded of a long ago article about the many perspectives of a federal civil servant. I think it was something published in the Canadian Public Administration Journal, probably by J. E. Hodgetts. The gist of it was that to carry out their duties effectively senior public servants had to look upward to the political level, downward to the subordinate staff, outward to the clients, potential collaborators, and the public in general, and inward to their own values and personal integrity. Much more recently, David Siegel used three perspectives – downward, upward, and outward in his study of municipal CAOs. These latter three perspecives are quite pertinent in considering the issues identified by the CAOs in the StrategyCorp survey.
C. Richard Tindal, Ph.D is a retired Professor of Government. He taught for 30 years at St. Lawrence College, Kingston and was an occasional Visiting Professor at Queen's University. He has also written and consulted extensively about government.