When the Duffy trial re-opened this week, a 426 page binder of emails was introduced into evidence. Doanld Savoie writes
that what they tell us is that:
Staffers from the Prime Minister’s Office roamed the corridors of the Senate as if it were an extension of their office. Audit reports were regarded as little more than briefing notes to be carefully managed by the centre. What truly matters in government now is the ability to manage the “blame game,” and it seems that only those operating at the centre have the required political clout to dictate how it should be managed. If PMO staffers think that they are free to tell the Senate how it should go about its work, one can only imagine what it must be like for ministers, their staffs and senior public servants whose careers are tied directly to the wishes of the prime minister.
The concentration of power in the Prime Minister's Office isn't new. It began with Pierre Trudeau. However, under Stephen Harper:
We have created a two-tier system of government in Ottawa, or an upstairs-downstairs to governing. More to the point, governing from the centre has created a fault line in the government where things that matter to the prime minister and his immediate advisers are brought above the line and dealt with quickly and effectively. Only the prime minister and his advisers will decide what belongs above the fault line. It can be anything from a decision to go to war while not consulting the relevant ministers – let alone the cabinet – down to a $90,000 problem considered sufficiently important to generate 450+ pages of e-mails. Under these circumstances, why would anyone other than a career politician want to run for Parliament?
The e-mails are revealing in many ways. There is no evidence that the bureaucracy from the Privy Council Office, the Canada Revenue Agency or other departments was involved or even consulted. One would think, for example, that the CRA could have provided some advice on residence status under the Income Tax Act.
What does not matter to the prime minister and his advisers is pushed down below the fault line. Here, ministers and departments are expected to run on their tracks and not create fodder for the blame game. Here, public servants are also expected to attend countless meetings and deal with a growing array of oversight bodies that would not be tolerated in any other sector.
With Parliament losing relevance, with regional ministers no longer enjoying standing either inside government or in their region, with nothing of substance belonging to line ministers and their departments any more and with the concentration of political power at the centre, governing has become a process of political and economic elites talking to other political elites. This is where the public interest now takes shape, not through evidence-based policy advice.
Stephen Harper boasted that we wouldn't recognize Canada when he was through with it. Donald Savoie believes that it is barely recognizable now. If Mr. Harper is re-elected, it will be beyond repair.