In “What the Premier Must Do. A Budget Primer (Part I)”, I suggested that, among those who
do not have the Premier’s ear, are the most senior of public servants.
politicians, the latter rarely come in for criticism; nor should they unless
they, too, have become ‘political’.
historically, have constituted the most exclusive group of senior public
servants: the Clerk of the Executive Council (also known as the Cabinet
Secretary), the Deputy Minister of Finance and the Secretary to the Treasury
Board. Now, there are only two; in 2005, Treasury Board was emasculated after
it was rolled into the Dept. of Finance.
the Executive Council and the Deputy Minister of Finance are the two high priests
of the public service. Their professionalism
and leadership are always in demand. Those
who occupy the positions are expected to be ‘macro’ thinkers, ‘fixers’ and ‘experts’
on public policy matters. They are the
people, who whisper into the ears of other senior public servants, the
Departmental Deputies, when the latter overstep sensibly constructed boundaries,
especially those which are political. That
is why the greatest currency of any senior advisor is an unblemished track
Of course, there
is never a guarantee that the Premier will ask for, or listen to, the counsel
of her senior advisors. That is her prerogative. But, experience suggests the
wiser ones prevail, more often than not.
The Dean of
senior public servants, James G. Channing, served as Clerk of the Executive
Council for 23 years, most of them under Premier Smallwood. Smallwood was an intense partisan. Yet, Channing, a consummate professional,
never permitted himself a single professional lapse. Even after Moores came to power,
in 1972, Channing was retained, such was his unblemished standing.
background, you will understand my surprise when, on that December evening of
Muskrat Falls sanction, the person witnessing the signature of the Cabinet document
(which the Premier led us to believe was the Order giving official start to the
Project) was none other than the Secretary to the Cabinet, himself. The Premier is not the person who signs an
Order-in-Council. That is the
prerogative of the Lieutenant Governor.
was the right of the Premier to host the occasion. But, the Ceremony was about her and her
policy initiative; it was prime time television. She did not invite the L-G to sign; the
Opposition Parties were offered no role, so the function was entirely a partisan event.
The Clerk ought
to have advised the Premier of a different arrangement. He didn’t. In failing to so do, he committed
an error in judgment, crossing an important and defined boundary.
service lay-offs are in progress. That
is unfortunate but, likely, necessary. The Clerk has presided over quite a bit of the
empire building; while still small by the standards of most Departments, his
own shop is now the largest in history. A
staff of 20 or so (including secretarial staff) remained a constant, dating
back to the Moores’ years of the 1970s; these days you will find more than
three times that number in the Cabinet Secretariat, despite Intergovernmental
Affairs and Aboriginal Affairs, for example, having been ‘spun-off’ to become
separate Departments. If you want to
know all about ‘bureaucratic bloat’, start with the Office of the Executive
is the esteemed Ministry of Finance.
Williams must have found the ‘old’ Treasury Board structure confining. The stern dictum of the bean counters has been
silenced, possibly blunted by a more compliant, political Deputy of Finance.
ultimately, the Budget mess is the responsibility of the politicians, it is
proof that the last and the most recent Deputy Ministers have either not been
engaged or they have been ignored.
September, the current Deputy, gave a Speech to the local Chapter of the
Financial Management Institute. Her message
was one of public support for the Muskrat Falls initiative. It wasn’t enough that she was unmindful of
Muskrat as a political boondoggle; she had to display that she could be oblivious
to the financial risk inherent in the undertaking.
In a world
in which senior advisors are expected to counsel common sense, she might have
used her senior status to defeat Ed Martin and the empire builders, at Nalcor. Both she, and her predecessor, might have
worked ‘tooth and nail’ to save the the Province from a long road
of financial stress. They could
have made their own sums available, even to
the ‘naysayers’, possibly demonstrating that Nalcor might not have gone rogue.
Likely they found such an initiative required excessive leadership
risk and, anyway, ‘cheerleading’
has a motion that favours prevailing winds.
of Finance is staffed by many excellent people possessed of knowledge and
skills to independently assess the viability of Muskrat Falls. It is incredulous that they were not given a mandate to model the Project, to check
Nalcor’s numbers, or to challenge that Agency’s financial analysis and
conclusions. Nalcor reserved that role entirely
for itself. Of course, Nalcor would have
had to share its data base and agree to provide on-going updates. No Deputy Minister of Finance, I ever knew,
would have been refused the information.
What is the
result? The Deputy Minister of Finance has no ability to run to her Minister or
to the Premier, armed with an ‘independent’ analysis or the capacity to
give her elected masters fair warning, if Ed Martin is blowing smoke.
know that Nalcor’s Cabinet Submissions are routed through the Department of
Natural Resources and not through Finance? Few would even care that that Deputy Minister does
not get to play the role of Ed Martin’s courier! But, they might be shocked if they knew that
the Deputy stood in a public place and supported the Muskrat Falls Project,
using the third party information of Nalcor.
Even today, a large part of the NL public believes that, even if the
politicians are unwise, the most senior bureaucrats in the Government will have
where a wise Secretary to the Cabinet might whisper in the Finance Deputy’s ear
and express puzzlement at her oversight?
Evidently he, too, has checked the direction the political wind and chose to be quiet.
wonder I might suggest that the Premier look outside of Government for help.