For Canada’s one million unemployed, who already face inflation of 12 per cent and mortgage rates of 17 per cent, “em-SURD” sounded absurd and “DRY” seemed about as helpful as dust. But the new acronyms created a hot flash in sub-zero Ottawa last week as the Trudeau government announced yet another of its periodic reorganizations—this one with a decidedly commercial beat. In the shuffle, Senator
Bud Olson took over the new ministry of state for economic and regional development (MSERD). For his part, Industry Minister Herb Gray also assumed responsibility for the department of regional industrial expansion (DRIE) and an expanded external affairs department got a new mandate to promote international trade.
With Finance Minister Allan MacEachen’s budget in tatters, the shakeup was designed to proclaim a new resolve on the bridge over a roiling economic sea. In the process, selected ministers and mandarins were rewarded with new titles and responsibilities, and the trend toward powerful central agencies—an old British custom—was pushed forward by Prime Minister Trudeau.
The most vivid change came at External. There, the minister, Mark MacGuigan, who has appeared uncertain with his massive portfolio, becomes head of a new triumvirate with a salesman’s slant. Ed Lumley moves up the ranks as minister for international trade, taking from the disbanded industry, trade and commerce ministry the responsibility for the foreign trade commissioners, a trading agency and an
export development bank. Pierre De Bañé, former minister for the dismantled department of regional economic expansion, also moves to External. De Bañé will be the minister in charge of hoisting the federalist flag in francophone nations and dealing with humanitarian issues such as refugees.
Accompanying Lumley and-De Bañé in their new jobs are two powerful civil servants. Gordon Osbaldeston, a muchadmired 28-year veteran of the mandarinate (he is only 51), leaves the stewardship of the ministry of state for economic development to replace Allan Gotlieb (now ambassador to Washington) as under-secretary at external affairs. A former trade commissioner, Osbaldeston will oversee the sensitive merger of the proud trade types with the effete foreign policy professionals. He arrives with a record as a grand conciliator and as a promoter of exports. During his stint as deputy minister of trade and commerce, Osbaldeston was given to launching missions by declaring: “We are going to put on all I the bells, whistles and tassels.”
1 As part of the reorganization, ¿ Alberta Senator Olson will become the political boss of a new, expanded MSERD that will set policy and spending levels for industrial incentives—with a special emphasis on promoting regional equality programs and energy mega-projects. Curiously, the old industry section of trade and commerce under Herb Gray also will take on a regional expansion role. That move appeared to contain an element of face-saving for Gray. Insiders noted that, while Olson’s shop will set policy, Gray’s department will deliver programs. Gray also will keep his treasured Foreign Investment Review Agency.
Trudeau readily admitted that the razzle-dazzle will not by itself solve inflation and unemployment. He also holds out the promise of a major cabinet shuffle in late winter or spring. But pending proof of performance, embattled citizens were left to ponder the sentiments of York University’s bureaucracy expert, Colin Campbell,* who commented tartly, “Basically, these guys are diddling around with organizational reform, instead of getting on with their work.” —ROBERT LEWIS
*Coauthor, with fellow York political scientist George Szablowski, of The Superbureaucrats.
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