It’s going to be a very long, and not particularly relaxing weekend for senior civil servants.
First, there was last night’s eyebrow-raising report from Canadian Press, in which “government insiders past and present” spoke out against the Conservatives’ alleged use of taxpayer dollars for partisan purposes. Not surprisingly, not one was willing to go on the record — and really, does anyone out there not agree that in this case, that “fear of reprisal” is entirely justified? — but the concerns that they expressed seem to be remarkably consistent:
A partisan government advertising campaign paid for by taxpayers raised alarms from the outset among senior public servants who serve Prime Minister Stephen Harper, The Canadian Press has learned.
The Privy Council Office, the non-partisan bureaucratic arm of the Prime Minister’s Office, has never been comfortable administering the website for the Economic Action Plan — and informed Harper of its misgivings at the time of last January’s federal budget.
Those misgivings were heard, but overruled.
While the story is being denied by both PCO and PMO, the extraordinary claim originates from several sources within the famously discreet Privy Council Office.
The fact the story is being aired at all — even under the cloak of anonymity — suggests just how far the Conservatives are stretching the traditional boundaries of partisan behaviour in Canada’s professional bureaucracy. […]
In interviews with past and present government insiders, The Canadian Press was told the Tories are trampling the admittedly grey area between partisanship and policy.
More than one career bureaucrat said they’ve never seen anything so blatant as the current use of the office for self-promotion.
None would speak on the record, some for fear of reprisals, but many said it is a story that needs to be told.
“You have a political party that is not constrained by what conventionally would be perceived as overtly partisan actions,” said one former insider.
“I can tell you every funding program across the government is being politicized,” said another public servant.
“They do it for their own needs and they don’t do it to help people. Welcome to Stephen Harper’s world.”
The CP story ran last night. This morning, during the post-QP scrums, Martha Hall Findlay seemed to be suggesting that similarly senior civil servants have also been in touch with the Liberals:
Question: Okay. Individual came forward, who was it anyway? I haven’t had a chance to –
Martha Hall Findlay: Well, at this point I’m not going to disclose their names because out of protection for them at this point.
Question: But you actually spoke to someone personally.
Martha Hall Findlay: I have not spoken to that person personally but that person has spoken to members of our group, absolutely.
Question: Right. And then –
Question: Are you talking about a private conversation? Like what’s the source of all this?
Martha Hall Findlay: Well, we’ve already seen there have been a number of reports of senior civil servants. In this particular circumstance, to disclose their names would be I think very, very troubling for them. So we want to make sure that we are in fact protecting them.
Question: This is a –
Martha Hall Findlay: A process.
Question: — a civil servant who came to the Liberal caucus to talk to you about this?
Martha Hall Findlay: We have had – and they may not be the same people because we have had newspaper reports of senior civil servants actually making statements to members of the media. We also have had conversations internally with others who have raised the same concerns. But at this point it’s not fair to them to disclose who they are.
This, ITQ would humbly suggest, is exactly why in camera committee meetings were invented. If there are, in fact, witnesses who would like to come forward with information, but who are too afraid of retribution to do so publicly, that would be the perfect forum for them to air their concerns, securely protected by parliamentary immunity. She wouldn’t even gripe about not being allowed to liveblog it.