Quote of the week
“Do you believe public servants are too politicized?”
— CGE website poll
This was the question we asked in our CGE summer poll. We asked it because this issue is one of the key questions being asked as the public service continues to evolve and transform to meet new challenges.
The issue was raised by Ralph Heintzman in a report for Canada 2020 where he accused the Clerk of the Privy Council of acting in a “forthrightly partisan manner.” Heintzman argued that politicization was becoming endemic in the senior federal public service.
A recent publication from IPAC, The Responsible Public Servant Revisited, written by academics John Langford and Ken Kernaghan, talked to public servants in a number of jurisdictions about the issue.
From their conversations, the authors conclude that “political neutrality is in trouble,” citing examples such as the tailoring of policy analysis “to order” and the contracting out of functions such as data collection and legal advice to firms “supportive of” the government of the day.
David McLaughlin, in a Globe and Mail article, agrees that the “independence of the public service is being eroded,” but says it is less as a result of politicization and more because it no longer plays its “once pre-eminent advisory and expert role.”
Our CGE summer poll results were encouraging. When asked, “Do you believe public servants are too politicized?” a majority (54%) said “No”, 40% said “Yes”, and 4% were unsure.