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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Part 2: Parliamentary Committees and the public service

(This is Part 2 of "The descent of national politics into irrelevance and insignificance: Can it be reversed?" Part 1 is below).

Parliament and the national public service must regain the respect of a cynical people and once again attract the best and the brightest to implement a creative national agenda.

This requires new national leadership who makes it incontrovertibly clear that MPs and public servants are first and foremost working to serve the national interest, not kowtowing like sycophants to the Prime Minister’s Office.

We need new national leadership that will demand much higher standards of conduct of all our members of parliament and public servants.

We must put an end to the widespread practice of outsourcing government to over-paid consultants, and constant polling on unimportant matters, such as the current popularity of the government.

We must build up the ranks of the public service not only to reflect our diversity, but also to provide creative and innovative advice to elected representatives.

And we must put all MPs to productive work on well-resourced, televised parliamentary committees, and take the focus off our dysfunctional Question Period.

Committee work has a real impact on government policies and initiatives and is central to regaining respect for national politics. We must ensure that MPs have the expert advice and guidance they need to be serious legislators, including easy access to advisors on international affairs. This requires a substantial increase in the budget of the Library of Parliament responsible for servicing the parliamentary committees on a non-partisan basis (something that political commentator Donald Savoie has recommended for years).

Currently, committees are under-resourced and produce reports that are largely ignored by the government. This is exacerbated by a prime minister who manipulates committees to serve purely partisan purposes. The committee to investigate the caregiver dispute with Liberal M.P. Ruby Dhalla was not only unfair and inappropriate, but also a clever ruse by the Harper government to avoid dealing with the real problem - how to protect caregivers and prevent abuses of the caregiver program. It also gratified the alpha male mentality prevalent on Parliament Hill by pretending to defend immigrant women, while in fact diminishing both them and women MPs.

Committee funds have been further reduced by the Harper government’s insistence that the budget of the Parliamentary Budget Officer – the refreshingly direct and informative Kevin Page who is proving to be an irritant to the government that appointed him – draw funds from the same inadequate pool of resources available to the Library of Parliament.

Committee reform, more responsibility for MPs, improving and diversifying the public service – all must be top priority items for the next prime minister and national government.

To be continued. Part Three will deal with policy areas that need to be at arms-length from politicians and Parliament

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