Driving at night versus public policy

The Campbell administration has, from time to time, been criticized for seeming to write its policies on the back of a napkin. There are also those who have wondered about the rapid ascension of finance deputy minister Graham Whitmarsh, who joined the bureaucracy in 2007 and was soon put in charge of the government's climate action secretariat - despite an apparent lack of environmental qualifications. Well, we think a recent profile of Mr. Whitmarsh, published in the September issue of Canadian Government Executive magazine, helps explain both curiosities.

According to the profile's author - environment ministry public affairs officer David Currie - Mr. Whitmarsh reportedly cited three reason for the "success" of the secretariat - "they deliberately overlooked obstacles, consistently acted decisively and capitalized on the sense of pride British Columbians felt about the environment and where they lived."

"Working behind the scenes as a newcomer to government meant there were no shortage of obstacles," explained Mr. Currie. As a result, Mr. Whitmarsh's "strategy was to overlook some of the obvious gaps in the plan, because as he sees it, 'it's not always about having a perfect plan on how to get to your goal and where you end up. It's like driving at night: you see enough of the road ahead of you to know you're going in the right direction. You can't see every inch of road in between here and there, nor do you have to. If you simply look over what obstacles are there, it is surprising how far you can get."

No kidding!

3 Comments

I wonder when someone is going to speak the obvious here. The fact of the matter is that Whitmarsh doesn't have any background in government finance and that's the way the Premier's Office (aka Jessica MacDonald) likes it. The battles between MacDonald and the able Tamara Vrooman over policy decisions were legendary. Not to mention she was fully backed by the able, and only Minister willing to go toe to toe with the Premier, Carole Taylor. Vrooman leaves, Taylor steps aside, Trumpy retires, and the two patsies Whitmarsh and Hansen are assigned. I hope that's a clear enough picture for you folks. There used to be a natural check and balance between the Premier's Office and the Minister of Finance's office that protected the public. That no longer exists. All policy decisions, social and financial are now determined in one single office. Not good.

I recall a discussion on climate change in which a great conservationist was trying to explain the importance of the precautionary principle. As she put it, what we're doing right now is like driving at night down a foggy road with no headlights. The precautionary principle reflects the simple logic that it makes sense in such circumstances to slow down instead of continuing to charge ahead at full speed.

I think everyone gets that you can't allow a lack of perfect information to paralyze you. But to the extent that you think you're all-knowing and all-powerful, you don't see the value of caution to allow for the things that approach from left field that you don't expect - the unknowns that you don't know about, in Rumsfeld's famously-mangled homily.

Such hubris is what allowed us to stage a brief visit to the moom in the 20th century while we laid waste to the habitable planet all around us.

For once, Jim Shmim and I concur.

But let me say that this Premier quite frankly earned Premiership of the 2010 Games. Premier Campbell has given so much to that noble cause alone...

BUT after the Paraolympics, he's earned himself for just about every announcement and antic between picking a great cabinet & now the right to pick his retirement date. Why?

The Finance Office should be staffed by someone loyal enough - yes, loyal enough - to the Province & the Premier to tell the Premier NO. That's how British Columbia would have missed the Optimist Budget of 2009 that is now resulting in our hero the Hon. Mary Polak, MLA in the dark of a Vancouver night rushing to Global TV to spin the latest MCFD cut... as the autism/EIBI cut facebook board is as alive as BCLibHQ on NDP lies, Sean Holman on the forest fire policy or Bryan Adams with a new tune.

Great going, Jessica. Great going, Graham. Have you two no shame? You two are just as bad as the morons trying to spin the PacifiCat wake wash!!!

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