Public Administration and/or Public Purpose
This page is concerned with the tension between our public institution's conflicting obligations to
the public interest, to their political masters and to their administrative self-interest.
The goal of effective public policy is often defeated by the means and, in Ottawa, process
always trumps objective.
I mean no disrespect here to the vast majority of civil servants who do their job honestly.
Rather, I make the observations below having seen how the institution of government stifles so
many great individuals who believe in public service. So often 'civil service' is placed ahead
of 'public service'.
"Throughout the West, we are led by elected and nonelected elites who do not believe in the public.
They cooperate with the established representational systems of democracy.
But they do not believe in the value of the public's contribution."
The examples below highlight situations were 'officialdom' - that professional elite -
uses the political and administrative levers of government as an instrument to ensure that
their interests are advanced (usually using tax preferences). These programs are usually open-ended
with few restrictions.
That done, they then turn their attention to seperate programs developed "on behalf of" the less fortunate,
largely without their input. Here the the guiding principles are targetting, (limiting benefits
to those most in need), asset limits and regulations. Regulations rob beneficiaries of autonomy,
sometimes their dignity and often defeat the purpose of the program.
The words of Paulo Freire below are particularly apt.
"Revolutionary leaders cannot think without the people, nor for the people, but only with the people.
The dominant elites, on the other hand, can-and do-think without the people-although they do not permit
themselves the luxury of failing to think about the people in order to know them better and thus dominate
them more efficiently.
The exclusion of vulnerable Canadians from policy formation is based on a lack of trust but also
an intellectual arrogance.
We, smart guys, design programs on behalf of others who
can't be trusted with input into the policy development
Examples where the Public Interest was Set-Aside
Welfare recipients not allowed to improve their lot.
I thought this story couldn't be true until an official confirmed it. She then went on to defend it, getting quite angry with me.
In the N.W.T. the Bingo Hall sends a list of the names of 'winners' to the welfare office.
'Winnings' are then deducted from the next welfare cheque.
Of course, its not net but gross winnings that are deducted. So loss $200 then win $100 and
they only deduct the $100.
Now, I'm not a great fan of bingo but here 'officialdom' is just being cruel, making a financially harmful behaviour into one which is punishing.
Welfare recipients not allowed to have an education fund.
This story was told to me by Felicia a strong single mom who I met at St. Christopher House in Toronto. Our conversation changed much of how I now see policy research.
Felicia was saving $26 per month from her welfare cheque in an education fund for her
daughter, but she had been warned by her welfare worker that the fund was near $800 which
was the maximum amount that she was allowed to have in savings.
When she got to the asset limit the financial institution which sold her the plan wound up her plan less the salesman's commission ($500) - she lost most of her money and is basically not allowed to save for her daughter.
I was told this story while we sat in a drop-in centre. On top of the story, she
told me more unforgetable things.
"I shudder each time my Child
Benefit cheque increases because I know that my next welfare cheque is going down."
She showed me the 80 cents that she had in her pocket, which she would make do until her next cheque.
RP has three children - adolescent boys aged 14, 15 and 16 whose father died in 1989.
She just recently discovered that the CPP program for survivor benefits included children.
These benefits were paid for by the contributions of the boy's father.
She applied for the benefit but ran into the HRDC retroactivity limits… under the current
legislation HRDC only pays retroactive benefits for 11 months
(unless the department made an Administrative Error or the person was incapitated).
I might have thought the department could have taken the position that the boys were not able to apply -
being children and paid the full retroactive benefits.
So RP only got about 11 months of back payments for the boys - she took the funds,
bought them a pair of shoes and put the rest in an education fund.
UNTILL - her welfare worker found out about this.
Her next welfare cheques was reduced by the amounts received from CPP.
She was no further ahead.
HRDC says that 89% of the labour force would be eligible for EI if they
were laid off.
Their own studies show further that about 80% of the unemployed are eligible for benefits. But only about 60% of EI contributors are eligible for benefits. Fewer than half of the unemployed who were EI contributors were receiving benefits at the time of the survey.
If fact the more likely you are to get unemployed the less likely you are to
be eligible for EI benefits. When HRDC changed the criteria for determining
benefits from 'weeks worked in the last week' to 'hours worked in the last week'
they made it harder for those working part-time to receive benefits; women and
young people - and the poor. (see their own admission of this at:
To see a deeper analysis of EI coverage see: Measuring UI coverage.
|CPP regulations provide for only 11 months of retroactive benefits for those who apply late.||
Making RRSPs futile: