Canada Needs a Super-Civil Service

Clarion call for a modern and efficient business government for Canada is made by General Currie.

SIR ARTHUR W. CURRIE November 1 1924

Canada Needs a Super-Civil Service

Clarion call for a modern and efficient business government for Canada is made by General Currie.

SIR ARTHUR W. CURRIE November 1 1924

Canada Needs a Super-Civil Service


Clarion call for a modern and efficient business government for Canada is made by General Currie.

THERE is probably no country where it is so easy for the average citizen to make his weight felt in public affairs as it is in Canada. Our population, comparatively small and spread over a large area, is divided into more or less well defined groups, any one of which is small enough for the man who takes an interest in the government of his country to exercise within it a very considerable influence. It is no very long step for him to deal with a federal or provincial cabinet: the man who can influence the views of a group of any importance, who can estimate their reactions to a policy or a proposal is generally a very welcome adviser. He is probably well acquainted with one or more Cabinet Ministers who not only wish to maintain his friendship and confidence, but will be quite honestly desirous of his help, and the man who is outside the House looking in has sometimes more to say regarding the policy of his party than the member who is inside looking out.

In spite of this easy path to a voice in the business of government, we can scarcely claim that the average Canadian takes a very great interest in the affairs of his country. There are indeed many individuals, just as there are many clubs and societies, who display bursts of enthusiasm over some federal or civic project, but as a rule the man in the street exercises his right to vote at an election—sometimes he does not even do that—and then, for the term of the next parliament, sits back in his office chair and condemns whatever government happens to have come into power. If he does anything more, it is because some decision is likely to affect his own pocket, his own constituency or his own political influence. It is partly in consequence of this indifference to the common good that the duties of government have been left almost entirely to those who have made of them their life-work, whom for want of a better word we call politicians. It is a further result of the same conditions that the very word "politics,” which should mean the affairs of state, has come to mean the affairs of a political party. It has become very difficult for anyone to be a patriot without being a partisan, and the man who displays any interest in public matters is generally supposed to be carrying on his part in some deep-laid party campaign.

None of these things is as it should be. It is not so long since our national energies were directed to one aim, since all our efforts were devoted to our part in the great struggle which we hoped would bring about a new world. Surely there are men in Canada who think of Canada first, who can feel real enthusiasm for her progress and her prosperity, an enthusiasm which shall make itself felt not only in words, but in active and lively interest!

Government by Cabinet

THERE is no ground for the expression of such a hope as this being taken as an indictment either of our principles of government or of the men who administer them. We must remember, however, that the people of Canada have some duty as regards the conduct of Canada’s affairs; they are just as integral a part of the machinery as the Crown and the Parliament, and since the. people cannot avoid this responsibility, it rests on them to do their share by intelligent thought and wellconsidered comment. Unless and until we learn how urgent it is that we should think in national terms, that we should not limit ourselves to provinces and parishes, we shall not accomplish prosperity, for we shall not deserve prosperity.

The government of Canada resembles that of any other part of the British Empire in that its practice does not always follow its theory. We are all well accustomed to the fiction which is more or less ill expressed in the

saying that "the King rules, but does not govern.” We know that even the shadowy right of veto has long since departed from the Crown, that the “Governor-General in Council” sets the sign manual of approval on orders in the framing of which the Governor-General takes no part. Yet many of us have failed to note another change which has crept almost unnoticed into our practice of government.

A stranger who studied our constitution might very easily come to the conclusion that the Parliament in which is vested the power of legislation was an originating body, that laws and policies arose from its deliberations and that the executive merely followed its instructions. This, of course, is nothing like what really happens. Bills containing projects of legislation of a national importance, if they are to have any chance of becoming law, are introduced by the government, that is to say by the Cabinet. It is true that before proposals are brought in, the ground is usually well prepared beforehand: the probable popular opinion is judged by observing the reaction to inspired articles in the newspapers, and by consultations with friends of the Cabinet: possibly a party caucus is held; there may be an agreement with the leader of some important bloc in the House, But the

fact remains that the Cabinet not only administers the country, but also frames its laws.

Dean Inge, who, whatever we think of his customary pessimism, is a most acute observer, declared in an article published last year in the Atlantic Monthly that the Cabinet had practically taken over the control of the country, that the Parliament had become merely a tool of the Prime Minister. This may be going too far, but it cannot be denied that Parliament’s part in legislation has been practically reduced to the giving or withholding of sanction. The failure of a government bill to carry no longer necessarily involves, if we are to accept the recent practice in England, the resignation of the Cabinet. The debate on such a measure is very largely made up of quite useless discussion, since everyone knows the result beforehand. This does not mean that all opposition is useless—a strong Opposition is one of the most valuable possessions of a parliament—but it does mean that a number of speeches are made more for the benefit of the press and the speakers’ constituencies, than with a view to their value in the discussion.

It is a necessary consequence of the transition by which so much power and so much initiative has passed to the executive, that its work has increased enormously in volume , and importance. It is a further necessary consequence that the permanent staff which was originally organized by the Crown, purely for purposes of routine administration, has been obliged to take on duties of far greater moment. Whether we are concerned with the legislative or executive responsibilities of the Ministry, without the Civil Service the work of governing the country would come to a complete standstill.

Duties of the Civil Service

BROADLY speaking, the duties of a Civil Service fall into two main branches, each of which may again be further subdivided. In the first place it serves the government by supplying the information necessary in the conduct of the country’s affairs. In the second place it is essential to the actual work of administration. No Cabinet selected under our system can do more than exercise a general control. We have recently observed a most remarkable example óf the manner in which a thoroughly trained staff can see a completely inexperienced ministry through the complications of national business. The Labor Government of Great Britain, unused as they were to the conduct of affairs, without even the benefit of the early training in political administration undergone by most young men of the traditional governing class, yet succeeded in avoiding the administrative mistakes which might easily have been expected. There is no question but that they owed much of this success to the splendid traditions of the Civil Service which has been built up in Britain.

When some important step has to be taken, some policy to be framed, it is of urgent importance that every minister should have at his disposal the most recent and the fullest details on any subject with which he may be concerned. The Minister of Finance, who is responsible for preparing the annual budget, must be able to obtain through the machinery of his own department a thousand definite facts regarding trade, population, natural resources and conditions of business. The department of Customs and Excise needs an almost incredible quantity of data regarding any number of businesses, must be able to deal with the problems that present themselves to the oil-salesman, the fisherman, the candy-manufacturer or the University, not to mention a score of others.

The department of External Affairs is not worthy of its name unless it contains men who have a thorough acquaintance with history and diplomacy, who understand constitutional law, and to whom the drafting of a treaty does not present any great difficulty. The members of its staff must be able to understand the interlocking of economics and politics, which means that they must have a thorough knowledge of world commerce as well as of general economic and political theories. While most of the members of the staff of the department of National Defence are military and not civil, they are nevertheless servants of the state, bearing the same relation to their own head: the Minister must depend on them for his knowledge of developments in the science of warfare by land, sea and air, of new weapons of defence and offence, of the effect on strategy and tactics of the most recent changes.

Another kind of information is that which is needed with a view to the ordinary day to day administration. The Department of the Interior, for example, requires a knowledge of our natural resources, of the whereabouts of our minerals and fuel supplies, of our agricultural products and agricultural methods. The Department of Railways and Canals must be informed as to commodities, routes and rates, as to means and cost of transportation and as to transportation experience in other parts of the world.

Executive Responsibilities

T T IS quite clear that no Minister without ■*a staff could ever obtain or be able to use the tremendous amount of knowledge required in order that matters with which his department deals may receive proper attention. It would never enter our heads that he would even think of doing so, indeed a great deal of this information is never used by him at all. Nevertheless, if a department is to function with even an approach to efficiency, a complete intelligence system is an absolute essential.

If the obtaining and classifying of information is an important part of the work of the permanent staff of the government, the second branch of its duties is even more important. In the executive administration of the country it plays an indispensable part. Here again the duties of the permanent staff are of a two-fold nature. In the first place we have those duties which may be classified as technical. In this category comes such work as the administration of the customs and excise regulations and the compilation of returns in many departments.

Very definite qualifications both in education and intelligence are needed for much of this technical work. Often decisions have to be made which require careful thought and the exercise of a certain amount of discretion. Much of it on the other hand is merely routine and must be carried on in complete obedience to a set of instructions. If we are to judge by their requirements in originality and initiative, which after all is the criterion for the importance of staff work of any kind, these technical duties of administration cannot be placed in so high a class as those to which we are about to refer. Of all the work in connection with the government of the country, for help in which we must look to our Civil Service, there is none so important as that higher type of administrative effort which is concerned with progress and development.

There have been a great many attacks on the Civil Service of Canada, many of them more or less uninformed and containing little but general accusations of inefficiency. The Civil Service has been reformed, has been reorganized, has been subjected to the machinery of a commission and put through the sieve of efficiency engineers without in reality remedying the faults which many Canadians feel must exist, but few can name.

Probably we should be coming near the truth if we said that the fault lay not with those who compose the system, but in our very conception of the work to be done. Our Civil Service as it exists to-day is the present form of a system adopted piecemeal to meet the needs which have arisen from time to time. In all its branches it has indeed numbered highly-trained, energetic and loyal men whose service was never measured by the remuneration ^they received. Such men as George Dawson, Sanford Fleming, R. E. Young, left records of which any man might well be proud. Yet it must be admitted that the standard of the service as a whole was lowered by the fact that unsuitable appointments have often been made as a result of political favoritism; that jobs have been created without any very clear idea as to their place in the general scheme of government.

It is true that some steps have been taken which indicate an appreciation of the fact that improvement is necessary. Various commissions and advisory boards composed at least in part of members of the Civil Service have functioned more or less successfully. The Advisory Board on Wild Life Protection organized in 1916, the Destructive Insect and Pest Act Advisory Board created in 1922 and the Advisory Board on Mining Regulations have done much valuable work along the lines indicated by their names. In the preamble to the report of the Privy Council constituting the Fuel Board, which con-

sisted entirely of members of the Civil Service, we find these interesting paragraphs:

“The Minister states that in the several Departments of the Federal Service there are permanent officers who have been giving these problems extensive study, and have already accumulated in their respective offices a great deal of valuable information respecting the available fuel supply of Canada, and are engaged in investigations having a direct bearing on the solution of these problems.

“That the duties of advising upon, extending and supplementing the studies and investigations now in

DR. F. G. BANTING, discoverer of insulin, winner of the Nobel Prize, and Canada’s outstanding research scientist, has written a striking article for MACLEAN'S showing what this country is doing in research work in various fields. Canada has made astounding strides. This will appear next issue.

progress, looking to the solutions of these problems can be most expeditiously, effectively and economically performed by a departmental Board composed of permanent members of the Federal Civil Service.”

The Fuel Board, like the other boards referred to, has done most important work, but though it has been shown in the operations of these organizations that we may expect much from the individual members of our Civil Service, tneir creation does not get us very far. They are not part of a general and well-thought-out-system, nor do they begin to cover the field of national activity.

Economic Penetration

' I 'HE country might have been able to get along with a Civil Service of its present type when her population and her activities were smaller, but we need only consider the tremendous increase in the commerce, wealth, development and population of the Dominion to realize that times have changed and that it behooves us to overhaul our governmental macninery.

In 1900 there were 14,600 industrial establishments; in

1920 there were 42,206. The value of our manufactured products rose from four hundred million dollars in 1900 to about one thousand million in 1912 and to four thousand million in 1922. In the ten years from 1911-

1921 our population increased by almost twenty-two per cent. One change which cannot but be of the greatest importance is that whereas before the war Great Britain had more than four times the capital invested in Canada than had the United States, we have to-day more than two thousand five hundred million dollars of American capital, while the British capital still stands at less than two thousand million.

Between 1910-1920 the amount of wages paid to Canadian wage-earners increased by more than one hundred and thirty per cent. Our mineral products doubled in value from 1913-1923; our wood products more than doubled. Facts and figures such as these gathered though they are at random cannot but impress upon our minds the fact that Canada has ceased to be in her infancy; yet the development, remarkable though it is, has but started. To take one example alone: In 1900 the developed horse-power of hydro-electric plants was only one hundred and fifty thousand; to-day we have three million, and even at the present rate of growth, which is insufficient for the demand, we shall have in excess of four mi'lion by 1930. Even when this has been completed, less than nine per cent, of our available resources will have been utilized.

On the other side of the picture the changes are equally remarkable. Our net debt increased from three hundred and forty millions in 1912 to twenty-four hundred millions in 1922. We have acquired a national railway system with twenty-two thousand miles of track and two thousand millions of liabilities, and a merchant marine which has been a continuous source of heavy loss.

Canada has ceased to be even technically a colony, since her own representatives signed the treaty of Versailles on her behalf, since she became a member-state of the League of Nations and the Irish Treaty took her for a model of “Dominion Status.” Having assumed a new place in the world, she must live up to her words and deal with foreign affairs from a new point of view. We are in an era of national progress, the like of which has never been known, yet at the same time we are faced by problems of appalling magnitude. Our snip of state whose voyages hitherto have been in peaceful waters is bound

to-day for far more dangerous seas. We must see that her engines and her steering-gear are ready for the need.

When we consider these essential facts, the great increase in the responsibility assumed by the executive of which the Civil Service is the machinery and the unprecedented growth of our national obligations, is it remarkable if we feel that the system which was good enough for Canada a quarter of a century ago is not good enough to-day? Is it not rather likely that we must modify and improve it to meet our national needs, to cope with these national problems, whose magnitude has so immeasurably grown?

What Should a Minister Do?

TV/Í ORE than ten years ago Sir George Murray, who was ■ITJasked by Sir Robert Borden to examine the public services of Canada, submitted a report in which were included the following paragraphs:

“The business of a Minister is not to administer, but to direct policy. When a Minister has laid down a line of policy to be adopted in nis department, the carrying out of this policy, or in other words the administration of the Department, should be left to his subordinates.

“If we venture to make this statement in a rather dogmatic form it is because I am convinced that it is the foundation of any sound system of departmental organization.

“Under the conditions which now prevail in Canada, and to which I have already referred, it is essential that a minister, if he is to have time for the consideration of questions of policy and for other important duties, should be relieved as far as possible of all purely administrative work. This, of course, involves the imposition of greater responsibility on the Deputy Heads of Departments. Their duty should be to give executive effect to the Ministers’ decisions; they should be charged with the whole responsibility for the administration of their Departments, and should be the only channel through which the Minister acts.

“I realize, of course, that under any such scheme the Deputy Heads would require to be selected with great care, and that more power would be placed in their hands than under the existing system. But I cannot believe that it is impossible to find competent men to fill these positions under the new conditions which I have indicated.

“I have one further suggestion to make by which more relief could be given to Ministers.

“Under present conditions there is only one political officer in each Department, namely, the Minister in charge of it. As a Cabinet Minister he has work of the highest importance to perform outside his Department; and even if the relief which I have above indicated could be afforded to him within his Department, his parliamentary and other duties would still be a heavy tax on his time, especially in the case of those Ministers who are in charge of the more important Departments. I suggest that in those Departments, probably four or five in number, a political Deputy Minister should be appointed who would be able to relieve the Minister himself not only of some of the departmental work but of many interviews and negotiations with Members of Parliament and others. It would, of course, be necessary that he should enjoy the full confidence of the Minister, so that he could speak generally in the name of the latter without specific reference to him, and in other cases could refer for directions as occasion required.”

Is Parliamentary Control Real?

OEVEN years later a committee under the chairman-

ship of the Hon. John S. McLennan made a report, the conclusion of which reads as follows:

“Further provision is needed in the sphere of civil government for the continuous acquisition of knowledge and the prosecution of research, in order to furnish a proper basis for policy.

“The distribution of business between administrative departments should be governed by the nature of the service which is assigned to each department. But close regard should be paid to the necessity for co-operation between departments in dealing with business of common interest.

“In the organization of individual departments special importance should be attached to securing proper consideration of proposals for expenditure, unimpaired ministerial responsibility, co-operation with advisory bodies in matters which bring departments into contact with the public, and the extended employment of qualified women.

“A more efficient public service may expose the State to the evils of bureaucracy unless the reality of Parliamentary control is so enforced as to keep pace with any improvement in departmental methods.”

We find a distinguished expert on government and a special committee of which five of the most able Senators of the Dominion were members, agreeing upon the necessity of a change both in the quality and in the status and importance of the permanent political staff of Canada. The need now is far more urgent than it was in 1912 or even in 1919, yet all we have done is to crystallize by regulations the system which has twice been branded as inadequate. If Canada is to go forward upon the path of progress, if we are to overcome the handicap of debt under which we at present labor, we stand in need of a body of men thoroughly educated, trained not only in governmental methods, but in the subject with which they have to deal, who can devote themselves to formulating plans of progress and to administrative tasks of the greatest difficulty.

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Let us admit, for it is true, that no Minister can do more than lay down a general policy. His ideas must be put into form; a practical method of working them out must be found; perhaps some modification must be adopted; it is in such duties that a high qualified staff is essential. Where questions of national development are concerned it is impossible for a minister to do more than decide what natural resources must be encouraged, what industries are of sufficient importance to need assistance. He must look to his permanent staff to frame plans for development and methods of aid.

Indeed, even had a Minister under our system the necessary technical knowledge and professional education to enable him to cope with the problems that lie before him, it is an almost necessary consequence of our form of government that calls upon his time, which he must of necessity answer, are too frequent to allow him to supervise the administrative work of his office very effectively. It is impossible for any one who has watched the usual waiting crowd in a Minister’s ante-room to fail to realize that the unfortunate member of the Cabinet who must interview twenty visitors in a morning can spare very little more time than that which is needed for his duties in the House.

No Piece-Meal Changes

THE need of to-day is not one which can be met by any piecemeal and haphazard changes. The position must be reviewed as a whole, and in the broadest. possible manner, and it seems to be an inevitable result from our survey of the question that w e should organize a senior branch of the Civil Service, a branch

which if we could only divest the words of their connection with party controversy and give them somewhat the meaning which they have in India, we might call the Political Staff. The political deputy ministers suggested by Sir George Murray would without doubt be officials of the greatest value, but such appointments standing by themselves would scarcely fulfill our requirements.

An efficient staff is not constructed from a number of individuals appointed and working in a disconnected manner.

It must be a more or less homogeneous organization designed with a definite object in view, possessed of a true corporate mind, of an esprit de corps of its own, united against any other influence than that of the call of duty.

It would be work requiring far too great elaboration for the limits of a single article to suggest in any detail how such a corps should be organized and how it should function in various departments.

It would without doubt absorb many men who are now carrying on or who are well able to carry on some of the duties which we see to be so necessary, but we should find that we must supplement their numbers by others, both juniors and seniors, trained and able to learn similar duties.

The senior members of the staff in any department must be able to depend upon the support and assistance of a body of highly educated subordinates in that staff trained for and aiming at something more than routine duty. Again these senior members must be recruited from junior grades, and as our service is organized to-day we have no definite body of thoroughly trained men from whom we could count upon obtaining officials of such importance. There are certainly in our Civil Service many who possess the necessary education and ability, but their work is too often not running along lines furnishing them with the requisite générerai knowledge of governmental questions.

For the new members of our political staff we must comb the lists of University graduates. The class A civil servant in England must not only be in possession of a University degree representing a very high rank of graduation, but must be capable of passing an examination even more exacting than that to which he has already been subjected. It is among trained young men of this kind that we must look for our recruits; their apprenticeship must thereafter be served in the surroundings where their work will lie. Their previous training along any one line is not the only advantage possessed by University graduates. Experience has shown that it is much easier for them to change from one department to another, that in other words they are much more generally useful members of a staff than are those who have not been fortunate enough to go through the same preliminary studies. There is again a natural esprit de corps among them and in such a service they might well transfer from their colleges to their new service the loyalty they learned as undergraduates.

To control such a staff, composed as it must be of men chosen from among the best and ablest of our educated citizens, the Civil Service Commission on its present basis could hardly be expected to suffice. There would be needed a commission or other group of men of the very highest academic attainments, capable of examining, judging and placing applicants and permanent officials of the utmost professional skill. For work of this grade the present commission was never intended, and it is no reflection upon it when we say that it would scarcely serve the turn. Its principles in examination and selection, its subsequent methods in classification and promotion are unsuitable for dealing with a corps such as is here suggested.

Duties of Political Staff

THE-duties of our Political Staff we can only visualize in a very general way. It would form in itself a complete organization with sections in each department of the government, yet each of these sections would join with the balance of its own department to form a homogeneous whole. It would be responsible that the government, in framing policies, be in possession not only of general information, but of all information necessary to enable the particular policies in question to be framed wisely. It would be its duty next to give professional aid to the government where any course of action came up for decision, to point out where necessary the consequences and reactions that might be expected from whatever step might be proposed. Finally, and primarily, upon it would rest the duty of conducting the business of government once the lines and the methods had been laid down.

One of the first results of forming such an organization would be to insure us against much waste of time and much waste of money. Co-ordination between departments would eliminate overlapping effort and duplicated expense. Complete and intelligent information collected with a view to the purpose in mind would prevent the hasty adoption of policies to be later scrapped and thrown in the waste paper basket.

The preparation of government plans would go on at much greater speed with a corps of trained and skilled officials ready and able to reduce a general proposal to terms of practical possibility, to work out its details with members of other departments, to report on its possible effect from their knowledge of the subject with which their own department dealt. Administration would proceed more smoothly if the devolution of administra-

tive authority, which the work of such a staff would allow, were effected.

Finally, in the departments themselves, there is no doubt that great economy would be brought about; efficiency is not attained by random cheese-paring, but by putting the right man in the right place. If we had such a branch of the Civil Service as is here suggested, if the service were worthy of and were given the authority and regard which would be a necessary consequence,. it would be to the service itself, not to business experts, that we should look for the provision of an efficient organization.

Criticisms Anticipated

IT IS, of course, easy to say that these proposals smack of bureaucracy, that they veil insidious attacks on our methods of government, that our ministers would lose authority, would lose respect, that our government would fall into the hands of a clique at Ottawa, responsible to nothing and to no one but a more or less powerless commission, but none would use such arguments who had really given the question the consideration which every interest of our country urges us to give.

The very history of our Civil Service proves that we may expect from those who are its members the utmost degree of service and no attempt at official tyranny. There have been, it is true, cliques which have had far too much influence with the government of the country, but they have been cliques of office-seekers and lobbyists, not of members of the Civil Service. To go further, there is no question but that a ministry backed by such a staff would find _ its duties far easier, would find far more time free for the consideration of the problems before us and for the general supervision of national administration. To say that a skilled and capable staff is a danger is just as absurd as to say that a ship armed with muzzle loaders is better off than one possessed of modern ordnance. It is only the weak and inefficient superior who is afraid of a good subordinate; if the government of Canada could not use the best of staffs, then something must be very wrong with the Government of Canada.

There are again some who will declare when a proposal of this kind is put forward, that such a matter should be left to the government, and there will be those who will say that to raise such propositions is tantamount to accusing _ the government of negligence. Both ideas would illustrate points of view too common in Canada. We either “pass the buck” and then complain because we think that something should or should not be done, or else we cannot think of the government öf our country except in terms of partisan manoeuvering. Too often we forget that every citizen of Canada is a trustee of Canada, that it is not only his right but his duty to offer his best contributions in word and in deed. The time has come when we must apply ourselves to the business of Canada with the same energy and the same earnestness with which we have applied ourselves to the development of her thousands of private undertakings, when we must show in our efforts towards her progress in peace the same determination, the same loyalty which not so long ago were directed towards her victory in war.