Friday, June 13, 2008

 

BEWARE OF ADVICE IGNORED

I have lamented before that as a result of having sat in Opposition far too long, the learning curve of the Harper Conservative government has been fraught with pitfalls and dangers.

How else to explain those decidedly un-Canadian attack advertising campaigns aimed primarily at the already hapless Stephane Dion. Lest I digress further: More to my point is the revolving door of successive Ministers at Foreign Affairs in Mr. Harper's two and a half year old government. McKay, Bernier, Emerson...the list may grow longer once the reality of a summer Cabinet shuffle is contemplated.

I am a devoted fan of Canada's Foreign Service. I think the father of our modern diplomacy, Lester Pearson, was our greatest Prime-Minister. I am appalled by the shameful state of his Chelsea, Quebec grave site...Oops! I digress again.

Ours is a diplomatic embarrassment of untold proportions in the government's maladroit handling of the Maxime Bernier / Julie Couillard fiasco. We are now into a fourth week of constant revelations about the affairs of the "Mata Hari of the 450 area code", as Ms Couillard is being described. Talk about a news story with legs..and boobs!

Conservatives by nature have a certain weariness of the public service. Mr. Harper is either not an admirer of government professionals, or he prefers to make changes in public policy without much advice and input from anyone else. In this week's "Hill Times", Sharon Sutherland of Queen's University's School of Policy Studies describes the Harper approach in these words: "Here we've just been elected and what we have to deal with is a public service that has a long habit of thinking in an [Liberal] expansive way, in an interventionist way."

The same article also quotes pollster Allan Gregg more succinctly. He says the government has "pushed the bureaucracy out of the decision making loop and the bureaucracy is not coming forward unprompted with new ideas." Oh please..allow me to digress just once more: It is not just new ideas the bureaucrats aren't coming up with. It's been suggested that Foreign Affairs insiders may have "hung" Maxime Bernier "out to dry" by not reporting the five week long disappearance of those secret NATO briefing books left on Julie Couillard's Montreal coffee table.

Regardless...paraphrasing the song: Fools rush in where wise men never tread. When governments stick too close to ideological convictions against the better judgement and advice of a professional bureaucracy, they generally risk repeating and compounding their own mistakes. That may be how others get into wars in Iraq. Beware then of sound advice which is ignored.

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