Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Misreading Mendes

Professor Mendes is providing some challenging material for the Blogging Tories today it appears. This quote in particular is evoking a response that I can understand yet is misguided in light of the elephant in the room present census context in which the statement is made. Here's Mendes proposition that is causing consternation:
"What the government can't do, if it does not want to torture Canadian democracy, is to force public servants to develop and promote policies they do not accept as in the interests of Canadians, and then pretend the public service is fully supportive of the ideologically driven policies."
As I read the piece, Mendes is not suggesting at all that public servants will not implement the policies of the government in some anarchical frenzy simply because they disagree with the political bent. The crucial aspect of Mendes' sentence is the second part after the comma (the sentence is better read conjunctively). The government should not hide behind the public service for cover and attribute the genesis of the government's ideological and nonsensical policy to the public service when that's not the case. Such actions discredit the notion of an independent, expert public service.

Remember, Mendes' point is made in the present context of the resignation of Munir Sheikh from Statistics Canada where Tony Clement, in the national media, attempted to colour the advice of Statistics Canada, disingenuously:
The Industry Minister said Statistics Canada has assured him enough steps are being taken to make up for the absence of the mandatory long form and ensure the quality of the census is maintained. During the 2011 census, one third of households will receive a voluntary long-form questionnaire. Ottawa will mount an ad campaign to encourage responses.

“I asked [Statistics Canada] specifically, ‘Are you confident you can do your job?’ They said ‘If you do these extra things: the extra advertising and the extra sample size, then yes, we can do our job.’ ”
That quote was indeed pretending that Statistics Canada was fully supportive of the government's ideologically driven policy of making the mandatory long form census voluntary, discrediting Statistics Canada in the process. That's Mendes' point.

C.E.S. Franks, professor emeritus of political studies agrees with Mendes too:
The government could legitimately have ignored Mr. Sheikh’s advice, then proceeded without the compulsory census. Statistics Canada would then have implemented the government’s decision to the best of its ability. That is the role of the public service. But that is not what happened.

The problem Mr. Sheikh faced was not the choice between voluntary survey or mandatory census, but that the minister went public with inaccurate claims about the advice he had received. Mr. Clement was selective to the point that his public claims have not accurately reflected the advice given by Statistics Canada and its public service head. This misrepresentation called into question the integrity of Statistics Canada, the office of the chief statistician and Mr. Sheikh himself. (emphasis added)
The government deserves to be called out for such misrepresentations and thankfully we still have voices who are doing so.