Leery of constant publicity, even politicians with power sometimes hesitate to use it
Second in a two-part series
In any government, the top civil servants — the deputy ministers and assistant deputy ministers, the top officials in the Treasury Board and in the Prime Minister’s Office — have great influence, since they are, generally speaking, left alone to do the real work of government and advise on policies the government should adopt.
Every government needs a top-notch, active and independent thinking group of permanent civil servants to advise ministers and cabinet on important areas dealing with the economy, health, welfare, education and the many other important activities that government is involved in and controls.
One result of the immense scrutiny that political figures come under today — with all the means the public has to give opinions, be consulted on questions and take part in radio and TV discussion programs to comment on issues and politicians’ performances — is that it makes everyone involved in public issues very careful about what they say.
It’s easy to draw tremendous criticism even if you just make a verbal slip at a meeting covered by the press, or when speaking on a radio open-line program, or answering criticisms made on such programs.
This makes a great deal of the debate that occurs on issues — between politicians of opposing parties, or even in the same party — often quite vacuous, with everyone treading carefully, not wanting to become the subject of vicious attacks by people who disagree and who can now express their views in all the many ways at their disposal.
There is very little interesting or pointed or vigorous public argument about sensitive issues these days. Obviously, governments must make hundreds of decisions on important issues affecting the public, even if those decisions are not popular, if the province or nation is to be run efficiently and effectively.
But there are too many sensitive issues today where, ideally, the points on either side would be discussed honestly and forthrightly, but this does not happen since it is more and more difficult and potentially damaging to be frank.
Important issues are often controversial, but the atmosphere of modern communications leads to too many pusillanimous approaches to crucial but controversial issues.
One recent example is fracking, with respect to shale oil and mineral development, which has not been dealt with quickly because of strong opposition from some about the issue.
There are other important policy issues that still have to be dealt with, particularly by the federal government of Canada, including a need for a greater integration between the United States, Canada and Mexico, which is now sensible and economically desirable, just as the North American Free Trade Agreement was sensible and economically desirable and has been positive for all three nations.
There is, in modern democratic entities such as Canada and in our provinces, important issues of overspending that may lead to European-style debt crises, as has been brought to the public’s attention by reputable economists and financial experts.
It seems obvious that we are going to have increasing debt crises unless our federal and provincial governments reduce their borrowing activities, as they have been advised to do by reputable experts for some time now.
All our governments, federal and provincial, have serious problems right in front of them with respect to debt and spending and social issues, such as very expensive health needs.
Unfortunately, in today’s free-for-all communications atmosphere, we cannot be sure that difficult and politically sensitive issues will get the kind of treatment they require.
John Crosbie welcomes your feedback at email@example.com