The Moncton author, now in his 66th year, is still making politicians and bureaucrats squirm. His latest book, Whatever Happened to the Music Teacher?, challenges the widely held belief that government should be run like a business.
(The title — likely to puzzle non-Maritimers — came from a conversation Savoie had with a leading Canadian businessman. The Nova Scotia-born magnate had grown up in a small village where the music teacher, a provincial employee, worked alongside the two-person bureau of the Department of Natural Resources. “Today we are told we can no longer afford a music teacher in our community,” the businessman said. “However, the Department of Natural Resources is now housed in two fine buildings employing 150 people.”)
To Savoie, this anecdote encapsulated what has happened to Canada’s public service over the past 30 years: front-line workers have been sacrificed to make way for offices full of paper-pushers, managers, supervisors and evaluators. “It is ill-conceived, costly and misguided.”
The bottom-line doctrine took hold under prime minister Brian Mulroney, who decided the public sector should operate with the same market discipline as private enterprise. His four successors have adhered to it slavishly.
It has never worked and it never will, Savoie says.
The remedy is obvious, Savoie says with the same clear-sightedness that once scandalized his boss. Figure out what a government department is supposed to do, then fit the employment level to the workload.
Ottawa still won’t like it, but this time it comes from a man with a global reputation for smart public policy at a time when taxpayers want to know why they pay so many bureaucrats to provide such poor service.