Next Move Sideways

They got a blueprint up there in the government,
They calling going forward, it’s the next move sideways.

Jazz Butcher
Next Move Sideways
From the album Fishcotheque

Sometime during the middle 80s, I used to listen to a CBC late night radio program called “Brave New Waves” or some such thing. It was hosted by a guy called Ralph Benmergui. Ralph used to play all the stuff that was not fit to be played (or mainstream enough) on regular radio. This includes bands like R.E.M., The Smiths, Gene Love Jezebel, etc.

Anyway, old Ralph played a song from a band called “The Jazz Butcher” on his show. I liked it. Bought the album and began a 20 year relationship with an obscure British band that was unknown then and irrelevant now (they still soldier on in their obscurity).

The Jazz Butcher’s songs touch on a variety of issues and this one – Next Move Sideways – has been on my mind lately as I follow the news in New Brunswick.

We are having ‘consultations’. The Premier is talking big. But in the first year of the new Liberal government, there has been no major changes to the structure of government. No bold new initiatives. Nothing of consequence.

In fact, the only Deputy Minister shake up was the purging of a couple of Bernard Lord’s buddies from their DM roles immediately after taking government.

Now, a year into the mandate, the Liberals, I am told will have a major Deputy Minister shuffle/purging this week. Most government departments will be affected, I am told.

It’s about time. I don’t know much but I hearken back to a statement made by Donald Savoie that economic development is about ‘people’ and ‘money’. Unless Shawn Graham wants to do the jobs of the 50,000 people on the government payroll in New Brunswick, he is going to have to enlist them in the Self Sufficiency process. No Premier, Cabinet or cabal of consultants can actually ‘do’ government. That’s done by the folks actually in the jobs.

Graham needs to put the right people at the top of government departments, empower them as cheerleaders for the Self Sufficiency process and then give them the financial resources necessary to make the changes required to get the job done (vagueness added).

One thing is for sure. The sleepy, count the days, style of government found under the previous administration will not rock anyone’s world. After decades of managing stagnation and decline, who knows if anyone can cobble a team together of folks who can embolden the troops (DMs) in the provincial government to develop and implement such a massive change initiative.

I used to marvel at the disconnect between the Lord administration and the rank and file government workers. While Lord was out promising Prosperity for All, government officials were warning the province’s universities to look out for deep declines in student population because of the decline in population forecasted as a result of all this Prosperity. While Lord was talking up how great an environment New Brunswick was to invest as a result of his efforts, the New Brunswick Investment Corporation was investing everywhere but New Brunswick.

No, New Brunswick will need an empowered and engaged civil service to achieve the vision of government. That is how it has always been and always will be.

And that’s a lot harder than a few sound bites, wide grins and emphatic statements.

A deputy minister shakeup is a belated but important start. Next, must be building the government needed to get things done.

Otherwise, I’ll just be lamented the next move sideways.

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0 Responses to Next Move Sideways

  1. Anonymous says:

    It will be interesting to see who goes where. If performance is a factor which DMs will remain in place and which will be moved? Will it really make any difference or is this just another cosmetic exercise that is an attempt to make us believe that the government is actually doing something and has an actual plan? Most of these DMs have become mandarins in their various departments. Are we expected to believe that they wont still effect the day to day running of the department they have been moved out of? In some cases they have been doing nothing for years so that wont need a lot of interference. What is also required is for the Premier to give these guys a kick up the butt when they take the new position but will he do that? Will they also be made responsible for their actions and those of their departments? So many questions! I await developments with interest.

  2. NB taxpayer says:

    No, New Brunswick will need an empowered and engaged civil service to achieve the vision of government. That is how it has always been and always will be.

    You’re right David, not only has Graham not made a conscious effort to gerrymander the civil service, he has not even considered making the the necessary cuts to reduce costs(except for BNB’s budget).

    In other words, the New Brunswick government should be lean and mean (ready to react on a dime), not bloated, disfunctional and caught up in red tape.

    Plus, the machinery of government doesn’t seem to be on the same page at all as you have one dept. [education] touting more spending on the backs of taxpayers while another [health] looks at reducing it.

    If government is going to be functional, it must reduce the necessary waste and duplication.

  3. David Campbell says:

    NBT, we agree on that. One of my personal amazements over the past few years was watching the New Brunswick government budget increase at roughly the same rate of growth as the provinces with fast growing populations. It struck me as odd that this never really became part of the public discourse. It seems to me quite easy to spend hundreds of millions more without much accountability for results but if you want to slash a few million, you are given the gears by the media and more so by the specific interest group impacted. I would think there should be an interest group such as the Canadian Taxpayers Federation trying to bring some accountability to the big spending. I don’t agree with the CTF on some issues but the general theme of holding government accountable on the spending side makes sense. The trick, as I see it, for the CTF is to not default to some position where all government spending is bad. Then have have no credibility. But if you read Alec Bruce’s latest column (, you will find some samples of government spending that, it would seem to me, needs some serious rethinking.

  4. NB taxpayer says:

    The trick, as I see it, for the CTF is to not default to some position where all government spending is bad. Then have have no credibility.

    You raise an intersting point. However, for all those individuals who perceive the CTF to be an organization which lacks credibility, there are just as many who regard it as a breath of fresh air, not to mention, a strong voice against politics as usual (government waste, high taxes and lack of accountability).

    For instance, if it weren’t for the CTF’s role in sticking up for taxpayers, Harper would not be on record [today] committing to getting rid of the gas tax (which he didn’t) and McGuinty pledging publically and on paper not to raise taxes on Ontarioans (which he did anyway).

    Yes, i know, their fights may fall on deaf ears after the election, however, it’s good to have an organization (independent of government) continuing to press these issues because sometimes the opposition’s hands are tied because they too have skeletons in their closet regarding corporate welfare issues and rewarding political friendly firms.

    I mean, just look at how weak the opposition in New Brunswick came out against business subsidies directed to Atlantic Yarns recently. Why? Because they were the worst offenders of it. In other words, it would be very hypocrital of them to oppose such waste (even if they knew it wasn’t a good deal for taxpayers).

    So like ’em or hate ’em, there is a place for such an organization in NB.