Friday news is rarely good

When political news breaks on a Friday afternoon, it usually isn’t for good-news stories.  More often this is when a government will make embarrassing admissions in an attempt to bury stories as people are focussed on the weekend ahead.  Of course, there can always be exceptions, and that was the case last week when Canada’s Chief Statistician resigned in a very public manner and news rooms around the country took notice.

The reason offered by Wayne Smith was to draw attention to the failure of the government to meet their commitment to grant greater independence to Statistics Canada.  Mr. Smith’s issue relates to the government’s new centralized Information Technology system, Shared Services Canada, which he says compromises Statistics Canada’s ability to fulfil its mandate. 

Having already flagged the issue with the Prime Minister and his government, Mr. Smith concluded they would not be addressing the problem.   He felt he could not carry on and preside over the weakening of Statistics Canada. That is a damning accusation levelled at a government that claimed to be interested in making evidence based decisions and promised to remove the muzzle from our civil servants in order to do that.

Shared Services Canada was supposed to save money and it is not clear if it is even doing that.  New Democrats are calling on the government to investigate all concerns raised regarding Shared Services and are vowing to defend the independence of Statistics Canada and fact-based decisions, so that it is free from political interference.  This is happening against the backdrop of the problematic Phoenix pay system.  Both were installed by the Conservatives to ostensibly save money, and while Phoenix’s problems have been more prominent, it appears both initiatives may turn out to be very costly in the end.

It is still early in the Liberal mandate but little things can turn into a larger narrative if the government is not careful.   What seems odd is how they defend Conservative initiatives having claimed to oppose so many of them for years. Most people understand that words don’t replace actions, but that is a lesson that this government seems intent on learning the hard way. 

In other news, we should all be as lucky as the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff and Principle Secretary.  Those were the two individuals at the heart of the moving expense revelations that the government had to explain this week.  The moving costs are in excess of $200,000 for two households to relocate to Ottawa from Toronto and the large sum left people scratching their heads.

The government explained that the costs included the real estate and legal fees for the moves, but it didn’t make the spending look any better.  While they claim it is in line with the rules as they are written, it isn’t something most Canadians will ever experience.  It is easier to understand reimbursement like this when they are used for our armed forces who are actually ordered to move, but nobody was ordering these individuals to do anything.  They chose to accept their jobs and should pay their fees like anyone else who moves for work they want.  It’s easy to imagine the government would have preferred this story break on a Friday afternoon too.