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The anti Public Servant mood…

… That the Harperites have created is humming right along… Just read the comments posted by some readers whenever a story about the ongoing and looking cuts to the Public Service. Most are laughable, inaccurate and downright mean… especially those found in stories published by the Sun chain. Which speaks volumes about Sun readers, methinks.

Workers in the PS are easy targets, after all. An anti PS government is ever so eager to portray them as overpaid and underworked layabouts who are counting the days till their gold plate pensioned retirements!

And of course the right wing media and SM pundits grab on to this like a Staffordshire Terrier on a ham hock. No one outside the NCR gives a shit anyhow! Win-win for the Harperites and their friends.

Yet, the reality is that we are talking about human beings here. Fellow Canadians with kids in hockey, mortgages, car payments, etc. People who pay bills, shop in restaurants and support local economies across the country. But to the CPC and many of their supporters, they are but needless drains on the Treasury.

Sure, you say, but aren’t reviews and cuts like these healthy for the PS? “Deadwood” is culled. Younger employees get new opportunities. Programs are looked at in detail to assess needs and relevance. Renewal good. And yes, I agree with this.

But what most Canadians outside the Ottawa Valley do not realise is that these reviews are not new. Nor are cuts to program’s and people. Indeed, there have been 2 major cuts over the past 5 years or so PLUS an “in effect” cut that mandated that individual departments absorb the added costs of salary costs arising from collective agreement salary increases. The central agencies (Finance) used to foot that bill.

So I really don’t know how much deadwood is still out there. Not much, I reckon. The last few years have burned it out. Maybe bit on the edges – but not much.

And if it’s not deadwood, then it will be the healthy meat of the tree that is hacked away at next.

And then maybe other Canadians will notice.

But I doubt it.


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  1. Chris says:

    From my personal experience, I have to agree somewhat with the Squid. There are departments that carry a lot of deadwood, but oddly, those departments are rarely targeted when it comes to cuts. The departments with the most deadwood, however, are also the departments where nobody wants to work. They are the departments that do the most boring work, with the least amount of professionals — so they have to hang on to the people the have no matter how incompetent. On the other hand, part of being a public service employer is being inclusive. We hire all sorts of people that would be unable to work in any other sector or that other sectors wouldn’t employ for whatever reason. We bend over backwards to accommodate all our employees’ abilities and disabilities, needs, quirks, foibles and proclivities. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. It may make it frustrating as hell to work with us sometimes, but in a caring society it’s still better to allow these people some sort of employment rather than having them on the streets or on the welfare rolls. Isn’t it?

    1. I actually do think it is a bad thing that the public service is used as a massive social program to be accommodating and inclusive.

      From the taxpayer perspective, the public service is a customer service organization. Its purpose is to provide top quality service at a fair price. It enjoys protections from repercussion that other employers do not, but that comes with the responsiblity to do things cheaply, efficiently and effectively.

      When the government decided to turn the public service into a massive social program, it got away from its core mandate of actually providing service. That was wrong, and was a decision that colours everything to this day.

      You’re right that the departments that most need cutting seldom seem to get the cuts they deserve. it’s easy to cut a nerd (i.e. scientist doing research) because people don’t care about nerds… it’s hard to cut a doctor (highly paid, ineffective administrator at the executive level in the health system) because he’s a doctor and we need doctors, even though the scientists work will benefit us in the future and the doctor is deadwood.

      I wish I had a good solution to this problem.

  2. I get your point, and largely agree, but I guarantee you the civil service carries deadwood, and lots of it.

    Cuddly methods to get attrition in the PS tend to cause people with marketable skills to leave because they can get a package AND move into a lucrative job in private industry.

    Years of this kind of treatment have distilled the deadwood in the civil service.

    Add to that an ineffective performance evaluation system and you have a serious issue. In industry, the bottom 5% or so of performers at a company are highly likely to be fired. The next bunch are going to be given some kind of performance improvement plan.

    Short of murdering someone on the office, civil servants who underperform are basically never disciplined in the way that they would be for comparable performance in industry.

    I’m not saying that there aren’t highly competent, hard working civil servants, because there certainly are, and lots of them. But without any doubt, the public service carries a much greater proportion of deadheads than might be found anywhere in the private sector except perhaps the auto industry.

    I’ve been a civil servant, and I’ve done many years of government work in the military, the PS, and as a contractor to the government. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. The public service has major issues, and really does need to have serious house cleaning. It needs firing and hiring in the right places.

    As a contractor there are two departments I flat out refused to work for because I found them to be staffed with generally incompetent people who should be largely fired, at least in the parts I had to deal with. It wasn’t worth doing work for them FOR ANY PRICE. One of those departments was a place that I also worked for previously as an actual public servant and had left for more-or-less the same reason.

    So while I agree that people pick on civil servants unfairly, I limit my agreement to the fact that people pick on civil servants with a shotgun approach when the civil service really does need some advanced surgery.

  3. John Shipley says:

    What fails to get mentioned is that while there is a short term monetary gain for the Treasury, it is very shortsighted. Like you say, what about families paying mortgages, buying groceries, contributing to the economy, that all goes away, not to mention the long term psychological toll on people. That hurts the economy more than a few extra fed employees! Friggin’ CPC

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