Thursday, March 04, 2004


I got two different looks at the senior civil service yesterday.

First in Ed Broadbent's class. Prof. Broadbent brought in a guest lectrurer, Mary Dawson an associate deputy minister in the federal justice department. Ms. Dawson is a graduate of McGill's law school (another example of what you can do with your McGill degree) and she has been in the justice department for over twenty years. She is a legal scholar who has written several articles on legal and rights related topics in Canada as well she was heavily involved in the drafting of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Clarity Act.

Ms. Dawson talked about working in the justice department in the post Charter era, she feels like the role of the justice department has become more central in the drafting of all legistlation. We also talked about the Notwithstanding Clause (more on that to come) and gay rights. She also discussed the dynamics of keeping justice department work separate from the politics of the party and minister in power. The most interesting example had to do with Supreme Court appointments. The minister and his staff have a role in the process but the deputies and other civil servants have no involvement at all. On this particular issue there is such separationg that Ms. Dawson does not even know what the process is for the selection of justices. If the selection of justices is so secretive that the deputy ministers don't even know how it is carried out, we may need this process to be more public.

The second look at the civil service was far less personal. Last night on the CBC-series Snakes and Ladders Shannon has a run-in with a particularly obnoxious deputy minister. One of the main stories of the episode involved this deputy trying and eventually succeeding in finding dubious reasons to deny a reporter's access to information requests that would have revealed a government scandal (hmm, a topical and decently produced CBC drama). Anyway, at one point this deputy minister goes on a tirade about how he is the real government and how he holds all the real responsibily and that this is both a great deal of power and burden. It made me wonder how truthful a depiction it was of deputy ministers and not in a good way.

Ms. Dawson, however was very personable and seemed very competent, intelligent, and trustworthy, but then, she is a McGill grad.

Posted by Matthew @ 1:31 a.m.