An Independent Civil Service Is Anti-Democratic

Up in Canada, the federal Green Party has some bizarre views on what a democracy actually is.  Given the global coordination of many green parties, some of the ideology being spewed forth by Canadian greens warrants international attention.

During a recent talk at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, the leader of the national Green Party -- Elizabeth May -- claimed that the governing Conservative Party's oversight of federal government civil servants, especially scientists, is somehow "completely undemocratic" and leading to "a rapid erosion of the federal civil service" that is threatening the "fundamental pillars of Westminster Parliamentary Democracy."

Based on their leader's repeated public statements on this issue, it appears the Green Party of Canada does not fully understand what a democracy is.  May is nearly hysterical that "government researchers and scientists ... are no longer allowed to talk publicly or publish their findings without approval."  What is amazing is that they ever were allowed such broad and unsupervised privileges, which May is apparently suggesting should be constitutionally entrenched rights.

Any science that has policy implications (environmental science is notable) is politicized, whether one wants to believe it or not.  Fantasies over a pure and objective scientific establishment operating without bias must end.  Reality needs to set in.

An independent civil service that is able to operate outside direct parliamentary oversight is anti-democratic.  The civil service is most certainly not non-partisan and objective.  Like academia, it has a generally liberal bias -- thereby supporting the parties of government (which are not typically conservative).  However, in contrast to some sectors of academia, the federal civil service does not have the equivalent of academic freedom, nor should it.  Federal governmental civil servants, including scientists and researchers, are -- by definition -- direct employees of their respective departments, and the ministers of these individual departments collectively report to the prime minister.

Consequently, to be blunt, these federal government employees must serve their political masters.  At present, the political master at the end of the responsibility train is Prime Minister Stephen Harper.  If the Canadian parliament were displeased at how the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) is dealing with civil servants, the elected parliament could readily call a non-confidence motion against the prime minister and effectively immediately remove him from his position of leadership.  This is direct parliamentary accountability and democracy in the Westminster tradition, and it is still fully operational in Canada.

Any claims to the contrary are nonsense. Perhaps May and other Canadians do not like the decisions the PMO are making with respect to the civil service, but this in no way justifies ridiculous claims of a "completely undemocratic" system.  On the contrary, we are seeing democracy in action.

Canada is dominantly a left-of-center nation, and the majority of the civil service human infrastructure was constructed by the Liberal Party of Canada, a party which held office in an essentially continuous nature from 1963 through 1984 and from 1993 to 2006.  The current civil service complaints against the governing conservative party are nothing more than employee/employer ideological differences hiding behind unjustifiable screams of a purported "elected dictatorship."  The howls of protest are taking place simply because many liberal civil servants do not agree with the political views of their political masters, and they do not like enacting conservative policies.  But this is their job, pure and simple.  For a civil service to be able to obstruct the implementation of policies by an elected government is the textbook definition of "undemocratic."