Saturday, March 19, 2016

It's a Nagging Doubt But It Lingers On

Stephen Harper wasn't a prime minister to abide anything less than loyalty in his underlings. He was not afraid to conceive draconian measures to be implemented by obedient senior bureaucrats. Everything from rigging the environmental review process to gagging federal scientists, vandalizing federal science libraries and spreading fear through the public service - it all had to be done by those bureaucrats, Harper's mandarins.

Are those senior bureaucrats now Harper's agents within the Liberal government? Do they have the ear of the prime minister and cabinet and are they still promoting what are, essentially, Harper ideology?

Trudeau's curious support for bitumen and pipelines. It's curious in the sense of his pronouncements about clean energy and the transition out of fossil fuels. Who fed him the idea that that a clean energy future depended on pushing bitumen exports?

Now there's the liberation of federal scientists, the removal of their Harper-era gags. Yaprak Baltacioglu, top bureaucrat at the Treasury Board, who along with her husband, moved into deputy-minister slots during the Harper era, has sent a warning to Scot Brison to keep those unmuzzled scientists on a short leash.

The document notes that policy already “encourages public servants to communicate openly with the public,” a point that may come as a surprise to anyone who has attempted to speak to a public servant in the last decade.

More broadly, the documents warn, allowing public servants to be “openly critical” of government decisions would undermine the relationship between bureaucrats and their elected masters.

But Debbie Daviau, the president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC), said her members simply want the ability to speak publicly about their research.

“Appreciating that the government does not want to permit scientists just to have free rein to say whatever they want to whomever they want whenever they want, work still needs to be done to establish what those boundaries actually are,” Daviau said in an interview Friday.

Keep your fingers crossed.

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