Friday, April 28, 2006

The Department Formerly Known As Prince

Canadian governments tend to reorganize departments with an alacrity that puzzles many foreign observers, especially in America, where the creation of new Cabinet-level departments is a relatively infrequent occurence.

It suggests a certain instability in the public service and lack of focus, even if does keep the bureaucrats hopping to please their political masters.

To say nothing about the costs of changing letterhead:

The Harper government's decision, and that of the Martin administration before that, to merge or split up what is called today the Department of Human Resources and Social Development, comes with a steep cost to taxpayers, according to internal government memos -- something in the order of $2-million.

When a new leader decides a department should have a new name, it means stationary, letterhead, envelopes and calling cards all have to be replaced with new ones, while Web sites, e-forms, exterior signs and interior directory boards need to be updated.

When Paul Martin became prime minister in December, 2003, he split up the scandal-ridden Human Resources and Development Canada. It became the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada and the Department of Social Development Canada.

Fast-forward to this year when Stephen Harper took over the Prime Minister's Office. He promptly put the two departments back together again into the new Department of Human Resources and Social Development. Once again, the name change carried the cost of letterhead, business cards, signs and updated Web sites.

Perhaps the differences can be found in the much sharper separation of executive and legislative branches in the American system--new Cabinet-level departments cannot be created at the President's whim, but require Congressional approval. Difficult to obtain, but once obtained, the departments remain entrenched.

Only four new Cabinet-level departments have been created in the last 30 years in the United States--Health & Human Services, Education (from the split-up of Health, Education & Welfare), Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security.

Quite a contrast.

And one that makes for more stable bureaucracy and certainty in government. Nothing like knowing your role from day-to-day and year-to-year.

Source: National Post

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