12.01.2015 08:02 AM

In this week’s Hill Times: help wanted

The worst newspaper columnist in Canada – The Writer Who Shall Not Be Named – is not impressed.

Justin Trudeau’s government, which has been governing for 26 days – not even a month! – is doing really badly, sniffs this nameless scribe. How come? “Understaffed Ottawa struggles,” declares the disapproving headline on the resulting opinion column. “As Trudeau travels.”

The horror, the horror. Justin Trudeau – who is representing the country in apparently inconsequential meetings with world leaders, as well as one with Her Majesty – isn’t paying sufficient attention to the biggest problem facing Canada, suggests The Writer Who Shall Not Be Named (TWWSNBN): namely, who will be the acting legislative assistant to the Minister of Small Business and Tourism?

Good God! It’s a veritable constitutional crisis. Just ask TWWSNBN: the scandalous understaffing issue has “cast a surreal haze” over Ottawa. Governance is accordingly moving “at a glacial pace” – and, accordingly, “Ottawa crawls.” Says he: “Settling into any sort of rhythm has been made impossible by Justin Trudeau, his chief-of-staff and others spending much of the time since his swearing-in halfway around the world at international summits.”

Ah, yes, those silly international summits, dealing with piddling issues like climate change, refugees, the international economy and what happened in Paris on Friday the 13th. I mean, who cares, really? Can’t you just see Prime Minister Trudeau, being jarred awake by his frantic spouse during the wee hours at the Commonwealth Conference in Malta?

“Justin, Justin!” says the panicked Sophie Trudeau. “This shocking neglect has gone on long enough! You must finally decide who will be the speechwriter to our nation’s Minister of Sport!”

Anyway, we kid. With the exception of TWWSNBN – who nobody really listens to, anyway – no sensible person is preoccupied with “understaffed Ottawa,” quote unquote. Three reasons.

One, Justin Trudeau is presently the most popular Prime Minister in the history of polling. His honeymoon is without end. And, despite being vexed by assorted challenges – an understandable delay in bringing over 25,000 Syrian refugees, the rote discovery that the fiscal cupboard is bare, a military policy that is out of step with our allies – Trudeau is widely seen as doing quite well.

If being “understaffed” is problematic, no one outside of Ottawa has noticed. In fact, so durable is the Liberal leader’s popularity, he can be forgiven for considering whether understaffed ministerial offices should become a permanent feature of his government.

Two, there is not much that Trudeau can do about the problem (which isn’t a problem at all). The RCMP need time to review the backgrounds of the hundreds of folks who aspire to be exempt staffers. Bankruptcies, mortgages, divorces, stock portfolios, criminal records, family and employment backgrounds: all must be carefully checked by the Mounties before anyone can be offered a permanent staff role – and certainly before they are permitted to eyeball Top Secret cabinet documents.

It’s been less than a month, folks: security and background checks take time. Despite that, Liberals like Brian Clow (Trade), Leslie Church (Heritage), Kirsten Mercer (Justice), John Brodhead (Infrastructure), Richard Maksymetz (Finance), Genevieve Hinse (Health), and Rick Theis (Indigenous Affairs) have been hired to Chief of Staff roles – and, rest assured, all are very impressive people. What needs to be done is getting done.

Thirdly and finally, there is another group of professionals who are ensuring that “understaffed Ottawa” functions quite well, thank you very much: the public service of Canada, all 257,138 of them. During the interminable national election campaign, the public service ensured that the metaphorical trains ran on time, didn’t they? And, until ministerial offices are staffed-up, the bureaucracy will continue to perform the same sort of role. It was always thus: for Chretien, for Mulroney, for Harper.

Trudeau’s government – unlike the aforementioned Harper government – does not carry with it a genetic antipathy towards public servants. The iron rule that characterized the Harper era is no more. Trudeau, like his father, favours delegating what needs to be delegated, and rightly so.

When I was a ministerial Chief of Staff in the similarly-inclined Chretien era, I liked to introduce new hires to the public servants who worked in the mail room, and the photocopying room. “Be nice to these people,” I’d say to the new hires. “They are the public service. They were here long before you arrived, and they will be here long after you are gone. They have real power, not us.”

So, fret not, Writer Who Shall Not Be Named. Trudeau – who hasn’t even been on the job for month – is seen as doing rather well by most Canadians. The RCMP are moving as quickly as they can, in an era when security obviously should not be rushed. And – when all else fails – Canada’s public service, widely-regarded as the finest in the world, are still there to pick up the slack.

Life will go on, even in Ottawa.

(And, soon enough, a breathless nation will finally learn who will be the legislative assistant to the Minister of Small Business and Tourism.)


  1. Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
    Bluegreenblogger says:

    “a military policy that is out of step with our allies – See more at: http://warrenkinsella.com/#sthash.MWX3reYW.dpuf“.
    Hmm. And what happens if our allies are acting stupidly, with no hope of achieving their stated intentions? Gonna win a war by blowing up people from a great height? No, I didn’t think so. The last time Canada was so out of step with our allies, Chretien refused to participate in an arbitrary and illegal war that terminated American soft-power, and upended the middle east. Syria is not going to end well. The ‘West’ won’t get their hands dirty until there are another 2 million refugees flooding Europe, and I am afraid that the only way to settle Syria is with an actual war, occupation etc. All aerial bombardment is doing is creating refugees, and moving dashed boundaries a few millimeters on a map.

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      Warren says:

      Gotcha. So, let’s do nothing – nothing at all – about the mass rapes, enslavements, and genocide taking place. Good plan.

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        DougM says:

        “the mass rapes, enslavements, and genocide taking place” – this, this is why I want the world to act decisively against ISIS. I care not how the quagmire was created or how tough the road is going to be, we as members of humanity owe it to those suffering such brutality.

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        nobonus4nonis says:

        yes isis must be defeated but there is an elephant in the room that getting hungry.
        ask yourself what Saddam might have done with Isis.
        one thing isis needs to do is breathe. i suggest he’d have filled twenty helicopters with serin gas and criss crossed wherever isis were located and degraded all the assets as western militaries and media so cavalierly call indidcriminate bombing from the air.

        we now live in an age where anyone can buy a drone at Staples for five to ten thousand dollars with a range of five or seven miles. it does not take a genius to imagine what a drone filled with serin gas and a go pro camera could do between scarborough bluffs and downtown toronto.

        when not if we get attacked i don’t think it will be from a bunch of crazed loonies with hipster beards and wearing turbans. it is the home grown types i fear the most

        meanwhile back at the elephant.

        who will issue the order to do it saddams way. you? me?

        or do we continue bombing which is what caused isis in the first place
        for those who might think im crazy… remember Amazon is working on delivering your purchases to you via drone.

        ok i’m verkempt now. so discuss amongst yourselves.

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      Jack D says:

      To what end?

      Look at Afghanistan and the Taliban. After years of American occupation, the Taliban have begun to return as the only power wielders known in some part of that country. Now the Afghanistan government has contemplated conceding control to the tribal organization since the government itself has no legitimacy or method of exerting any control or governance in these areas. Despite attaining heaps of funding from the US, the country is returning to a patchwork of cohesion-less rule.

      The same thing can be said about Iraq. Nothing that exists in the structuring of that country can viably withstand regional turmoil.

      Just like both these countries, Syria cannot be “settled”. Nothing in the mid-east can be settled. If this is not the lesson of this century then I don’t know what is. We could easily exterminate the power-centres of ISIS and demolish Syria as a state to be re-built if all our Nation States were to agree. The problem is there is never anyone there to rebuild afterwards. The same ideological disease that is Al Queda/ISIS re-assembles in the abyss of a future-less chaotic country.

      I agree, we should do more in the effort to extinguish the fire of this rampant jihadist movement that has gone unabated in Syria and Iraq for too long. But the sad and depressing fact of the matter is that due to the sheer lack of a coherent approach to this problem and cooperation from the get-go, we’ve found ourselves shocked by the violence at our doorsteps.

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    DougM says:

    I wish the PM would hurry up. I’m waiting to see if I get Speaker of the House. Fingers crossed…

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    nobonus4nonis says:

    I nominate TWWSNBN as court fester for November.

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    Jack D says:

    While I am inclined to agree with you on this, seeing as I happen to be a Liberal, I kinda share the impatience of some.

    Just to be very clear, this is not a criticism of the governments ability to get the ball rolling –I very much believe that the process is expected to take its time given the circumstances (i.e. huge majority government for a previous stump caucus that results in restructuring of staffing, the time of year in which the government was elected is awkward seeing as its right up on the holidays but its not and the amount of things that fell on the PMO’s plate right off the bat). However, the suspense is becoming irritating now. As someone who is impacted by the decisions to be made in the coming days/weeks, its been tiresome just getting little snippets of news from Ottawa.

    So, yeah. Criticizing the government for not having enough political staff and implying that its effecting their ability to govern is ludicrous given how much work the public service has been doing. I can’t imagine the same critic being overly delighted when the staffing is complete in Ottawa and they’re forced to go through Comms Directors again. But I hope we start seeing progress come a little quicker this month because its dampening the momentum and excitement having to wait around.

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    cs says:

    im trying to find the worst writer in the world based on articles, lol

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