By: Graham Lane
When the NDP returned to power in 1999, they promised not to establish a centralized economic development agency. Yet, within months, they not only established one but actually moved into the same offices that previously housed the Tories’ Economic Development Board. The NDP created the Community Economic Development Committee of Cabinet (CEDC), led by Eugene Kostyra, a former senior Trade Unionist and NDP Cabinet Minister.
CEDC reviewed all of the NDP government’s important policy and economic decisions, towards ensuring they met with the party’s political world view before being approved for implementation by Treasury Board. Although the committee’s facade was economic development, it had two other purposes. First, it provided an NDP filter on all decisions. Second, CEDC functioned as a training ground for dozens of NDP members before their moving into senior government positions.
It was here that junior staff proved their NDP loyalty, before being promoted to directors, assistant deputy ministers, and even deputy minister posts. Others went on to lead outside funded agencies or were parachuted into senior positions inside Crown Corporations (Workers Compensation, Manitoba Hydro, MPI, etc). These people are now “buried.” Many now appear like they obtained their jobs through ordinary competitions when, in fact, were either direct appointments or the beneficiaries of rigged competitions.
CEDC was only one of many training grounds the NDP used to infiltrate the public service and crown corporations with folks parachuted in from minister’s offices, riding associations and labour union offices.
We are now left with a civil service whose middle and senior management is largely made up of political appointments. This has devastated the province’s professional civil service, who have had to decide either to “sell their soul” (visually support the NDP) or realize they would never obtain a senior position despite their talent and years of experience.
Instead of buying an NDP membership to “qualify” for an executive director job or higher placement, many simply quietly put in their years of service, hoping beyond hope they might eventually get an opportunity. Others, in frustration, simply quit or retired.
Picture a civil service environment where your new boss is unqualified, if not incompetent. You and your colleagues have professional experience and more knowledge but the job was won through political connections. Your boss is young and politically correct, but professionally immature too often with an irrelevant soft degree such as political or gender studies.
Whichever party forms the next government, they will have to face several challenges within the civil service, most importantly changing it from a political animal back again into a professional organization.
This will be a huge challenge. Getting to know the players will be difficult. Those now “buried” do not have signs on their back saying “NDP Political Appointee.” It will take time to know who they are, and if they were appointed inappropriately or promoted over more skilled apolitical professionals.
Make no mistake, a monumental task lies ahead, one which needs to be carried out with care. The new government should not simply replace NDPers with people from their own party. They should re-build professionalism in the civil service.
Let us hope our provincial civil service will be re-built into the professional body it once was.
Graham Lane chairs Manitoba Forward (www.manitobaforward.ca), focused on sound public policy. Republished from the Winnipeg Sun online edition February 4, 2016.
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