Easy to say, hard to do
Brian Gallant, the dewy-eyed dragon slayer running to lead the provincial Libs, wrote an op/ed recently where he elegantly called for ‘real’ consultation of the people and for government that goes beyond four year cycles.
I wonder if Bernard Lord’s 10 year Prosperity Plan was long enough? How about Shawn Graham’s 20 year Self-Sufficiency Plan?
There are two problems with the idea of long term government plans. One, when they are launched with great fanfare, there is never any real effort to achieve them. Let’s be honest, the prosperity plan became a slogan used in government press releases. Everyone would include the line “as part of our Prosperity Plan”, but beyond that there was little effort to measure progress and very little actually done within the machinery of government. Not to reopen old wounds, but as I have said before, the problem with the PP was that it didn’t say how the government was planning to implement it other than vague generalities.
The Self-Sufficiency on its face was a grand vision – 100,000 increase in the population, elimination of the need for Equalization, a salmon in every pot. Beyond the fact it people immediately criticized its ambition, it also didn’t lead to a fundamental change in the way government was done – to line up with this grand vision. I asked several Deputy Ministers about how the Self-Sufficiency plan guided their departments – the answer was “It didn’t”. Note to politicians: If you want your grand plan to be realized, you should bring along the people tasked with implementing it.
As for the long term view, why not set a bipartisan set of principles up front that are mostly agreed upon by your opponents? Then, when they take the reins of power – nowadays every four years? – they won’t change direction. Otherwise, as we saw with Lord, Graham and Alward, when in Opposition they campaign to repudiate the long term vision. There must be a set of guiding principles that could be agreed upon that wouldn’t fundamentally change every four years. I understand that bipartisan (multipartisan?) politics has no tradition in a place like New Brunswick but now might be a good time to start. If the NDP were to gain traction, it could be forced upon us via minority governments.
Finally, on this issue of ‘consultation’s, I hope Gallant et. al. understand what this really should mean. If not, read, Savoie’s work on effective political governance. Consultation is all the rage but do we really want the general public to tell government what to do? First, there would rarely be a consensus about what to do and when there is (i.e. everyone likes lower taxes) it doesn’t necessarily jive with reality.
Second, as a member of the aforementioned general public, do I want my ideas about health care or nursing homes or workers’ compensation programmes to guide the government? Given that I know very little about them – beyond my personal observations – the answer is no. Elected officials listen to their constituents and then set broad strategic direction for government. Then they rely on professional, talented civil service to implement that strategic direction. When the elected layer of government – gets too embedded in the machinery of the public service it is bound to be problematic. That is why we are supposed to hire highly talented leaders for government departments and agencies. The Premier and his elected colleagues set direction and then rely on their professional bureaucracy to implement.