I have been watching, with a growing sense of unease, the ongoing sagas of:
- Veterans’ Affairs‘ poor decision to provide support to a convicted murderer, of a police officer, because it is, generally, good policy to treat a veteran’s whole family when he (the veteran) has PTSD. In this case the murderer never served a day in uniform but his father did and he, the father, suffers from PTSD and someone decided, perhaps for good reasons, that the father would suffer if support was not offered to his son, the convicted cop killer; and
- Corrections Canada‘s equally poor decision to move a convicted child killer to a First Nations healing lodge.
This social media post by Professor Benjamin Perrin caught my eye …
… because he says what I’m thinking.
I think both decisions were poor ones, even though I suspect that in each case there were, and still are good, solid clinical/policy grounds to make them.
I agree that when a soldier suffers from any wound, physical or mental, his whole family needs to be, usually, part of the healing process, spouses and children need help, too … I just think that there might be, perhaps ought to be some limits on just how far that support extends. I also agree that the convicted child killer will, eventually, be released to society ~ we do not have a “life means life” policy of incarceration in Canada ~ and it is up to officials in Corrections Canada to do their best to make her safe (a bit safer, anyway) before she is released … but, again, I wonder if there are or ought not to be some limits.
I hope I understand the murdered girl’s father’s anguish; this letter was also posted on social media, I’m assuming it’s not “fake news” …
… and I understand why the opposition can, should and even must ask the Minister to reverse the decision. Ditto with the outrage over the PTSD treatment for a cop killer. It, holding the government’s feet to fire over things like this, is both part of the opposition’s parliamentary duty and part of our adversarial political process … and in both cases the opposition did and the ministers answered …
… now I, and perhaps you, to, might not find the ministers’ answers to be wholly or even partially satisfactory, but, it seems to me, that there is a risk in the opposition trying to force the minister to, publicly, overrule officials who acted within the (maybe too lose) bounds of existing policy. We have a (generally) apolitical civil service which ought to be the envy of the world … it’s far from perfect, none is or ever will be, but, by and large, it operates within parameters set, over the years and decades, by successive Conservative and Liberal governments. Maybe ~ in fact it’s never a maybe ~ the rules need review; maybe civil servants need to be reminded that they don’t need to push the edge of the regulatory ‘envelope’ on every case; while the civil service must be apolitical it does, always, have to be politically sensitive; in these two cases I suspect that ministers and senior officials wish that ‘front line’ officials had been more sensitive when making clinical decisions.
Now, the brass ring in a Westminster parliamentary democracy, which we have, is to force a ministerial resignation. The great strength of our system, what makes it so much better than the representative democracy that our American neighbours have, is that we have a responsible government, meaning that, every day, the government of the day must have the confidence of parliament which represents the people and on any given day elected ministers must answer, in the House, for the actions of their departments and the government might fall if enough MPs disapprove of what it, through its many and varied ministries, is doing. But I don’t think that either Minister Goodale are Minister O’Regan are likely to be toppled … neither department has done something that is beyond the pale; politically inept, perhaps, but not, fundamentally, wrong; plus Mr Goodale is too valuable and Mr O’Regan is a close friend of the prime minister and he represents a valuable constituency, the LBGTQetc community. (It is true that Justin Trudeau already has a LGBTQetc ‘grown up’ in his cabinet in the person of Scott Brison, but rumours, and that’s all they are, say that Prime Minister Trudeau and Mr Brison do not get along, Mr Brison is a known fiscal moderate and, I have heard, he and the PM disagree on many fiscal issues.)
So what are the Conservatives trying to achieve with this sort of thing?
It’s not going to force a change … this government will not back down to appease this opposition; and, arguably, on political grounds, it should not back down until after this brouhaha has faded away. The purpose, I think, is to keep attacking the Liberals on as many issues as possible for as long as possible in order to weaken the political ‘bounce’ that President Trump’s bullyboy tactics has given to the Trudeau Liberals. But nipping at the government’s heels, like a small, annoying dog, is not, I think the best tactic … I believe that the Conservatives need to start, soon, enunciating a programme, a platform of fiscal, social, trade, environmental and job creating measures that appeal to working and middle Canadians and make sense to Canadians, young and old; and I’m glad to see that Andrew Scheer is starting to do that. Of course it is important to ‘stir the pot’ on issues that annoy Canadians, as these two certainly do, but it is important to stop short of asking ministers to micro-manage the proper functions of the civil service.
In general the Canadian civil service runs things on something of a utilitarian basis …
… but the practical constraints of budgets and the popular will mean that, in general, most programme simply aim to do as much good as possible for most people. Decisions like granting support to the convicted murderer son of veteran or moving a child murderer to a healing lodge are well intentioned attempts to stretch the “good” towards the “greatest number,” but, although well intentioned, they are actually harmful because they erode public support which, consequently, causes the political centre to withhold funding. I’m 99.9% sure that Deputy Minister of Veterans’ Affairs Walt Natynczyk and Corrections Canada Commissioner Anne Kelly both know that and I’m equally certain that both will take calm, quiet action to rectify things … after the fuss has died down.
For now, while I share the frustration that many Canadians feel, and while I want the Conservatives to succeed at showing Canadians that the Trudeau Liberals are bunglers who need to be sent to the political rubbish heap, I also share Professor Perrin’s concern that legitimate political criticism is being pushed a bit too far. I remind Conservatives that they will, sooner rather than later, I hope, be on the Treasury Benches again and what goes around comes around, too: