Opinion-Policy Nexus

The federal government needs some sort of Big Problem Manager – perhaps a whole Ministry of B.P. Management – to oversee the planning, organization and implementation of events like the sesquicentennial Canada Day celebration in Ottawa on Saturday.

Don’t get me wrong. It was a great event, marking an important milestone. One hundred and fifty years is an anniversary well worth celebrating. To mark it, the government invited everyone in the land to come to Ottawa to join the party. An astonishing number of enthusiastic Canadians accepted the invitation – and therein lay part of the problem.

The government knew the crowds would be immense, and it declared it was prepared for them. It wasn’t.

It was inexcusable, surely, for the host to make invited guests (including families with small children) who may have travelled great distances, many arriving at Parliament Hill before dawn, to wait four or five hours in lineups while inspectors checked to see if they were packing weapons.

And, boy, did it rain!

To add insult to injury, some of the government’s guests were told after they had finally passed through security that, sorry, Parliament Hill is filled to capacity, so why don’t you try one of the other sesquicentennial venues in the city. Some did. Others turned around and went home. All felt let down.

The government cannot be blamed for the weather, but it can be faulted for botching its security arrangements. Of course, good security is critical these days. That’s a given. But good security doesn’t mean forcing thousands of taxpayers to stand in pouring rain while they are painstakingly vetted.

That’s unnecessary. Better organization is part of the answer. If you want airport-level screening (which may or may not be necessary), if you know roughly how many people you are expecting, and if you know how quickly you need to process them, it is not rocket science to determine your equipment and personnel requirements. 

The 150th birthday was not an unanticipated happening. Whatever scanners and metal detectors were deemed necessary could have been ordered and delivered in advance of the big day. The Mounties and Ottawa police may well have been stretched to their limit. If so, the government might have turned to military reservists. Another possibility:  the federal government employs quite a few public servants – at last count, 258,979 of whom 107,375 are based in the National Capital Region; in a pinch, it could have liberated a few hundred bureaucrats from their desks. They are smart people and with a bit of instruction they could have been sent forth to help keep the lineups moving.

This is not a partisan issue. The government seems consistently to have trouble getting its hands around issues that require planning, organization and implementation – and attention to detail.

The Neptune payroll system fiasco is a classic example. Purchased by the Harper Conservative government and accepted by the Trudeau Liberals in February 2016, it has messed up the pay and benefits for thousands of government employees, and it still doesn’t work properly. Who knows who is to blame? Conservatives who planned the new system? Or the Liberals who tried to implement it? It doesn’t really matter. Neptune is a sick joke. 

Another example of organizational ineptitude is the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. Stephen Harper refused to order an inquiry, but Justin Trudeau embraced it as a matter of Liberal priority. It took the commission forever to get itself and its $53.8 million budget organized.

It finally held a brief hearing in Whitehorse in late May this year, then adjourned for the summer to reorganize. Now senior staff, including the executive director, are jumping ship.

Finally, who can forget the government’s inability to get its act together sufficiently to purchase replacement fighter aircraft and naval vessels? You might think buying military hardware would a straightforward proposition for a government that has been in existence for 150 years.  But not, it seems for the government in Ottawa.


Tuesday, July 4, 2017 - 09:36