Martin Ruben, FCPA, FCGA, who runs a consulting business in Victoria-by-the-Sea, PEI, and has experience in the public sector and corporate governance for nonprofit, provided the following opinion piece.
As a former public auditor, it was ingrained in me not to comment or discuss actions taken by elected members of government. The exception was when elected members took actions that should be the responsibility of the professional public service. I believe the elected members of the PEI government. are acting outside of their proper role, so I feel compelled to comment on these actions and how they have been described by Premier Dennis King.
On February 11, 2022, the Prime Minister announced that his government had fired two deputy ministers and replaced them and other senior officials as part of a series of staffing measures at the highest levels of the team. of government leadership.
Mark Spidel has been fired from his post as Deputy Minister of Health and Wellness. Prior to May 2019, he was Deputy Minister of Family and Social Services. David Keedwell has been fired as Deputy Minister of Social Development and Housing. He had held this position since June 2019 and was previously Deputy Minister of Economic Development and Tourism. Both individuals were first appointed at the deputy minister level under the previous government.
This announcement should be of concern to all Islanders.
In remarks to Stu Neatby of The Guardian published on February 12, the prime minister said: “Government positions – those are effectively my eyes and ears in the ministry, so to speak. And I constantly seek to review and renew it. He went on to say, “We’ve really worked hard to professionalize the leadership team, to depoliticize it, and these people are just ready to take on those roles.”
By making these remarks, the Prime Minister insults those of us who understand the importance of good governance in the public sector. Good governance means that we believe that public servants carry out their activities in the best interests of the people, and not in the best interests of the party in power. Prime Minister King’s remark about the depoliticization of the public service is simply not true — these appointments contribute to its continued politicization.
I have written several op-eds for The Guardian outlining my concerns about the “systemic mismanagement” of our provincial government that is rooted in the politicization of the civil service. It is for this reason that I took note of the Prime Minister’s remarks in February, which I believe misled Islanders.
The politicization of the civil service results in policies and decisions that are in the interest of re-elected politicians instead of being in the public interest. This is unacceptable.
Administrative decisions, such as the hiring and firing of civil servants, when made by elected officials, can lead to patronage and corruption. It also leads to bad administrative practices, like what we have in PEI. which provides an independent review of government administrative practices.
Provincial Auditor General recommendations that emphasize good governance are being ignored and information that should be available to legislators is not available.
head of government
In PEI, Premier King appears to be the head of the public service. He shouldn’t be – he’s the head of government. It is unclear why no one has been designated by law or policy for this critically important role.
In PEI, the authority to appoint Deputy Minister and Assistant Deputy Minister positions in departments is set out in the Public Prosecutors Act, which requires that such staffing actions be approved by the executive board. By devolving these roles and responsibilities to the Premier and Cabinet, the politicization of the PEI public service. is firmly anchored in the PEI governance framework.
In many other jurisdictions that follow the Westminster style of government, including other Canadian provinces, governments have recognized the importance of having a professional public service and have taken steps to prevent the type of maladministration that we suffer in PEI. This effectively mitigates the risks of patronage and corruption.
An important measure that the government of P.E.I. could take to uphold good governance and professionalize the public service would be to create the position of “head of the public service” or to add these responsibilities to an existing position such as clerk of the executive council. .
Provinces such as Manitoba, British Columbia, Ontario and Newfoundland have assigned the responsibilities of civil service administration to an unelected official to provide the desired transparency and accountability for the day-to-day management of government programs and services. Other jurisdictions around the world have created a separate position for the same reason: to depoliticize the civil service.
By having an unelected official at the head of the civil service, there can be full accountability for the effective administration of government. The person assuming this role would be responsible for the policies and practices to implement the elected government’s agenda, to ensure that the government complies with provincial laws, and to implement the program systems and practices that contribute to good results, such as the health and well-being of Islanders.
Deputy ministers have an obligation to ensure that the priorities set out in their ministers’ mandate letters are implemented. With an unelected official in the role of head of the public service, deputy ministers could be held accountable for the effective delivery of their programs and services in their departments. They would also have someone to report to when a minister oversteps his role and gets involved in administrative matters, as I described in a previous article.
Their continued employment would be based on their performance, rather than the whim of a politician.
I urge the Premier to speak to the public about the state of provincial governance and to urge the government to take steps to depoliticize the public service by introducing legislation, along with the necessary administrative changes, that would provide all Islanders the government they deserve.