June 26th, 2019

Would electing bureaucrats improve democracy?

By Medicine Hat News Opinon on January 11, 2019.

Perhaps the people who actually pull the strings should be elected rather than appointed.

In a recent News story about what to expect provincially and federally this year, Medicine Hat political observer Ian Parkinson said it would not matter which party was in power because it is the bureaucrats, such as deputy and assistant deputy ministers, who actually influence decision making. They are also in place indefinitely regardless of any change in government, he said.

Carl Nohr, in a recent letter to the editor about the rezoning and development of the green space in Primrose, questioned the consultation process that had taken place with a lot of opposition expressed to city’s plans for the area, and then the apparent indifference some councillors showed when voting.

“There may be something else going on that I don’t understand, but it looked like these members of council showed indifference to residents and deference to staff,” he wrote.

It raises an interesting question of influence at the municipal level and the possibility of “deference to staff.” This would be the commissioners and senior managers who could impact decisions made by elected councillors.

In the U.S., commissioners at the local level and judges have to be elected.

It would be interesting to know how many readers know the names of deputy ministers in the various ministries, the commissioners at city hall and even general managers.

In an interview with Parkinson, he noted that even when a new government is elected, with perhaps MLAs who have very little experience and suddenly find themselves appointed as a minister, the ministries continue to function at a reasonable level without interruption.

It is the deputy and assistant deputy ministers who really understand the issues and it is they who provide guidance to the ministers for government to continue functioning. They also have the ear of the minister, in fact their undivided attention, and potentially are able to sway the choices the minister makes. It would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for an elected minister to function without a deputy and assistant deputy minister.

If you have ever watched the British TV series called “Yes Minister” you get an idea of the power ofbureaucrats. If you have ever had an opportunity to work in government at a high level it is not hard to identify with the characters in the TV series.

At the local level council also depends on city officials to raise potential issues, provide appropriate background information and present options, which can be very influential in decision-making by council.

So imagine for a minute if these influential bureaucrats had to run for election. They would suddenly no longer be faceless names that you would have to search for on the internet and even then have difficulty finding any contact information for them. They would see the potential of being available to the electorate.

Having to be elected would be an opportunity for voters/residents to hear their views and gain an understanding of how they would influence decision makers.

If their terms of office were for a limited time there would also be the opportunity to turf them out if they had not listened to what the public wanted.

This could take us to a whole new level of democracy.

(Gillian Slade is a News reporter. To comment on this and other editorials, go to https://www.medicinehatnews.com/opinions, email her at gslade@medicinehatnews.com or call her at 403-528-8635.)

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