Paul Wells: The government has appointed two cabinet committees with identical terms, in a system that is sure to collapse under the weight of its own absurdity.
What is the most important thing your workplace does? Maybe you work in a restaurant, so preparing food is the key to success. Maybe you are in journalism, so you need to sell advertising. If you work in trucks, logistics – keeping track of cargo, fuel, and carriers – could be what keeps you up at night.
Have you ever considered splitting your core operation, the one thing that will make or break your organization, in two?
Instead of one kitchen, have two, with the same size staff and identical mandates. Orders for fried steaks sometimes go to one kitchen, sometimes to another. Instead of an advertising department, have two teams of the same size calling the same customers (or different customers! Who knows?) And proposing ad sales to them. When it comes to trucking, why not have two offices lining up supplies, tracking shipments, and assigning work shifts?
You may be saying, “No, Paul, I’ve never considered doing this because it would be a recipe for chaos. Some customers at my hypothetical restaurant would get two steaks. Some would get none. Rivalries between the staff of the two kitchens or advertising departments or logistics centers would be inevitable. The effort would be uselessly duplicated or would have to be carefully coordinated. It might make sense to have a tasty kitchen and a dessert kitchen, but two full-service kitchens running at the same time? That’s weird “.
I tend to agree. That is why the latest list of cabinet committees released Friday by the federal government. Cabinet committees are often the first point of entry for major government decisions to be scrutinized by a group of cabinet ministers, rather than just the minister directly responsible. The committees consider plans, draft bills, important decisions before they are brought to the full cabinet. It is an important job.
The most recent list is mostly made up of committees that we have seen before. “Agenda, Results and Communications” is roughly the Planning and Priorities Committee that played a coordinating role in previous governments. “Operations” also has a lot of antecedents. Treasury Board, Canada and the World and several others are self explanatory.
But what are we going to do with the “Cabinet Committee on the Economy, Inclusion and Climate ‘A’” and its identical twin, the “Cabinet Committee on the Economy, Inclusion and Climate ‘B’”?
These are the two largest committees on the list, each with 14 members. They have very broad mandates: integrating economic and climate concerns is the Holy Grail of modern governance, but it is not a walk in the park. Adding “inclusion” to the mandate hardly simplifies things.
But having decided to integrate all these issues into one cabinet committee, why then decide to have two committees?
Perhaps their mandates are different. But that’s not what it says in the statement. Committee “A”, it says here, “considers issues such as sustainable and inclusive social and economic development, post-pandemic recovery, decarbonization and the environment, as well as improving the health and quality of life of Canadians.” . Committee “B” must do the same things. In the same words. In the same order.
By now, he might be saying, “Look, Paul, ask the government.” I am way ahead of you. On Friday I wrote to the prime minister’s office:
“Can someone explain to me why there are now two cabinet climate committees, with identical mandates? Will they divide their work or duplicate it in parallel, with the aim of arriving at a better policy? Why is climate the only topic that receives two committees, as opposed to ‘results’ or ‘the world’? “
My source sent me the original press release that had inspired these questions. Then in the background so I can’t quote them, which is fine, because these answers never come from a single person, but rather from a collective process, they sent this more complete answer:
“This structural change will deliver results for Canadians by accelerating the fulfillment of our platform commitments. As we finish the fight against COVID-19 and build a resilient recovery, the two committees will be able to work on policies to ensure they promote economic growth that works for Canadians and builds a cleaner, greener future. “
Perhaps this answer is informative. I can not say the same. To me, it’s a laughable answer: the dog ate my homework. It does nothing to answer why there are two committees. It doesn’t say whether each will tackle the same job, the way Ben Bradlee used to assign the same story to two young reporters at the Washington Post, knowing that each would work hard to beat the other, or if some bills will go through committee A and others through committee B.
It sure is the latest. If both committees consider Bill X, that’s not a time-saving exercise, it’s hugely redundant time.debilitating exercise. But the government is also not far ahead if the two committees get different workloads. Think about it: if Committee A considers Bill X, and then B receives Bill Y, the proper consideration of which depends on a bit of context from Bill X, then B is not well placed to understand this new bill. Of law. It’s like dividing your Book Club in half and handing over only the odd chapters of each new book to the New Book Club A and the even chapters to the new Book Club B. This probably sounds like an efficient way to read books, if never you have read a book.
It’s also worth noting that Jonathan Wilkinson, the former environment minister now assigned to natural resources, is on committee A, while Steven Guilbeault, the new environment minister, is on B. Natural resources and the environment have a long history of not getting along. Of course, this government believes that it has solved this problem in the same way that it solved planning problems. prime minister trips: waiting the best. Launching every minister half billiard cue it may not be useful in the long run.
In the end, I doubt this is a big deal because I hope this system will collapse under the weight of its own absurdity. It is such a silly way of organizing a government that it is hard to imagine it lasting beyond Easter. The two committees with identical mandates will become one larger committee, or two committees with explicitly different areas of focus. Trudeau’s cabinet had a “Canada in the World and Public Safety” committee for years. It now has a “Canada and the World” committee and a “Safety, Security and Emergencies” committee. This change would have come even earlier if there had been two world and security committees that have been viewed with suspicion from the beginning.
I burden you with all of this for a couple of reasons. The first is that after six years in power and one of the slowest post-election transitions in the last 20 years, this government is still capable of coming up with wildly bad ideas.
The other is that while it was a lot of fun giving me a terrible answer to some basic questions, they weren’t giving you, dear reader, a better answer either. And I’m pretty sure it’s because none of them have thought to answer the question.