Monday, November 29, 2010

How to make government irrelevant

There’s a great story in The Ottawa Citizen that serves as a case study in how to make government not only ineffective, but ultimately irrelevant. It concerns the relatively mild (thankfully) earthquake that hit Ottawa on June 23 of this year.

The article provides a complete timeline of the government’s failure to respond to the public and media about the earthquake until some hours after the event. In fact the media had to rely on the US Geological Survey web site for timely information about the strength and the epicentre of the quake because Natural Resource’s phone lines and web servers were down and most civil servants were still standing outside their buildings waiting for the all clear to return to their desks and phones. (Clearly lots wrong with that picture and some real work to be done there.)

But the piece that strikes at the heart of government ineffectiveness is a description of the approvals process required before Natural Resources could host a media conference call to explain to Canadians what had happened.

The first issue is that it wasn’t until 2 1/2 hours after the event that someone decided a media conference call might be a good idea. But then it still took more than 2 additional hours before the call was held.

At 4:15 p.m., the department decided to hold a conference call — hopefully within the hour — to link its earthquake experts with all the reporters at once. Seismologists were standing ready in English and French.

But there was a hitch: a tangled approval process for notifying the media about the conference call. Even though the announcement was 75 words long (not including phone numbers), it needed:

- Approval in principle from an assistant deputy minister — but still subject to approval of “media lines,” a sort of script outlining the department’s central message.

- Approval from the office of minister Christian Paradis.

- Translating the announcement of the conference call.

- Approving the translation.

- Approval from the Privy Council Office.

- Posting the announcement on the Natural Resources website — and immediately pulling it off again, because media lines were not yet approved by the assistant deputy minister.

- Approving the media lines.

- Last-minute copy editing, literally. One minute before the call, someone felt the French copy should list the time as 18 h, not 18h00.

- Finally, at 6:24 p.m., sending out the conference call invitation on a commercial wire service — 24 minutes after the call began.

When the call was actually held (at 6 PM) only 3 media representatives were on the line, which wasn’t surprising since the advisory hadn’t even been sent out yet. So it was basically a waste of time as, in the final analysis, the media and the Canadian public got their information from other, non-Canadian-government sources.

But that’s what controlling the message ultimately gets you – irrelevance.

Andrew Weaver of the University of Victoria’s Earth and Ocean Sciences School summed it up best when he said, “The prime minister believes that the civil service is there to work for him and his government, and not the Canadian public”.

How true.

Read more:

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Even a blind squirrel can find a nut now and then.

I have nothing but disdain for Tony Clement so it almost pains me to say this. But this time he’s got it right.

As reported in the Globe, Clement has come out quite strongly against any further taxes on smart phones and handhelds to compensate artists for file swapping.

Mr. Clement says it's up to artists to find a new way to make money in the age of Internet distribution.

ACTRA have long been lobbying governments of all stripes to implement various taxes and surcharges on commonly used items based on an assumption that they were being used to cheat its members out of their due rewards. As a result we have been paying a few cents extra on every blank CD and DVD purchased (and cassette tape before that), whether or not they were ever used to copy copyright materials.

Now as technology progresses they’re going after smart phones and handhelds.

I fully appreciate the frustration many artists must feel when the results of their talents and hard work are depreciated to nil because of illegal distribution. However as one whose MP3 collection consists only of the music taken from the CDs on my bookshelf or purchased through iTunes, I don’t appreciate being forced to pay extra on any products or devices (tiny though the amounts may be) because the industry still operates with a 1970’s mindset.

And if they are successful, what is the message being sent? Obviously that it’s okay to download music and videos because you paid extra for your cell phone/iPad/DVD recorder to compensate the artists for that very use. I can’t imagine that’s what ACTRA wants people to think, but it is a logical extension of indiscriminately imposing these extra surcharges/taxes on entire ranges of products.

So Tony, I agree with you. Just don’t let it go to your head.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

With a little help from my friends – Con style

A Barrie city councillor, Michael Prowes, ran out of money in his communications budget but still wanted to reach out to his constituents. There was, after all, an election coming up in a few  months and he wanted to be seen to be proactive on a particular development issue.

So he called his Con MP, Patrick Brown, who agreed to mail out the councillor’s literature using his (Brown’s) House of Commons free mailing privileges. (News flash to Brown: It may be referred to as “free”, but it really isn’t you know. The taxpayer (remember us?) is paying for it.)

Brown said he saw no issue with this but, ever the ethical Con MP, he claims he would have refused to mail out Prowes’ information had it been closer to the municipal election date to avoid the perception that he was getting involved in the municipal election.

Well Patrick Brown, to state the blindingly obvious, as soon as that flyer arrived under your letterhead you became involved whether you intended to or not. And just what in hell ever gave you the idea that you were entitled to use federal taxpayer dollars to publicly support a municipal councillor running for re-election in the first place?

This shit drives me crazy, and one can only hope the good residents of Barrie feel the same way come the next federal election.

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Saturday, November 6, 2010

Harper’s prison escapade

I’m always interested in the (usually unintentional) juxtaposition of news stories and the opportunities they present for comment.

This morning, National Newswatch ( referenced these two stories, linking to the Montreal Gazette and the Ottawa Citizen respectively.

Prisons - Harper

While I am not in any way comparing what happened in the Prison at Lonsky with the imageCanadian penal system, I can’t help but think that Harper would benefit from touring a prison or two in his home country instead of just as a tourist abroad. Perhaps then the Harpercons might begin to understand the implications of their blinkered tough-on-crime agenda and the very real negative impact it has and will have on Canadian society as a whole.

C’mon Steve, visit a Canadian prison. Talk to the inmates. Learn something.

Monday, November 1, 2010

It’s MY MONEY dammit!

There’s an old expression that goes something like “Look after the pennies and the dollars will look after themselves.”

meeting room$24 Million dollars isn’t a huge amount as a percentage of the tens of billions of dollars spent by the government every year. But put $24 million for 4 temporary meeting rooms in the context of that old adage and it serves as an apt example of why governments and the highly proficient spendthrifts who work for them have absolutely no fiscal credibility.

I live in a rural area. We have a population of about 5,000 people spread over 1000 square kilometres. We have a Town Hall, arena, library, fire service, road maintenance, and all the other amenities you would expect in a rural area. And our municipal budget is under $6 million per year.

So the cost of those 4 temporary meeting rooms would run our township for 4 years, with some left over for decent coffee and really good doughnuts at the council meetings.

But someone in the upper reaches of the federal bureaucracy decided $24 million was a fair price to pay for 4 temporary meeting rooms. And someone at the political level (I assume) signed off on it.

Is it because when you are used to dealing in billions a few million here or there don’t actually show up on anyone’s radar? Are we all so inured to the $50 billion deficit and the multi-billion F-35 deal (numbers which no normal person can even begin to get their head around) that neither the MSM nor the politicos understand that $24 million is still real money?

Because all those billions are spent a few million at a time, and someone should be paying attention.