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.