There’s an old Chinese proverb that goes, “May you live in interesting times.” It’s one of three proverbs that are sometimes classed as curses: more severe, apparently, are “May the government be aware of you,” followed by the dire “May you find what you are looking for.”
A missive from the provincial government certainly covered two of those proverbs Tuesday.
It was a simple email from the province’s news release service, one that was headlined “Premier Dunderdale announces senior appointments.”
“The Honourable Kathy Dunderdale, premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, today announced two senior appointments, both of which are effective immediately. ‘I congratulate these individuals and acknowledge their tremendous commitment to the people of our province,’ said Premier Dunderdale. ‘I wish them well in their new leadership roles with the Department of Natural Resources and look forward to their continued contributions.’”
What makes it interesting? Well, perhaps that the latest positions are for a new deputy minister and a new associate deputy minister overseeing energy issues with the department, right in the midst of preparing for Muskrat Falls and the Decision Gate 3 process. There are a couple of jobs — both filled from inside the department — where the new holders have to land on both feet, and be running at the same time.
More interesting, perhaps, is that the change in staff email that Dunderdale issued is the 15th such email she’s issued in the last calendar year. Go back to January 2011 and the number of emails announcing senior staffing changes goes up to more than 30.
The year 2011 marked the last year that the province officially released the departmental salary details, an annual publication that identified the precise numbers of positions in the provincial civil services, and what those jobs paid. In that document, the province had 20 deputy ministers, four associate deputy ministers and 61 assistant deputy ministers — a total of 85 positions at the top of the provincial civil service.
In the last 20 months, Dunderdale has announced 54 appointments at the level of assistant deputy minister or higher.
It’s difficult to know whether that apparent 63 per cent turnover at the highest ranks of government is something to be concerned about or not: the changes run the gamut from retirement to internal promotions to new positions — and that doesn’t include the changeovers in provincial executive directors or changes in the premier’s own staff, either. It may well be that there’s a blip in the numbers of retirements, simply because of when a tranche of civil servants were hired.
But one thing’s for sure: with new faces in crucial positions, it’s almost certain that times on Confederation Hill are interesting ones right now — and that, for the new position-holders, the government is clearly aware of them.