Public servants in Canada have a rough job. They are the experts that keep the machinery of government working. They provide continuity in a business that is full of bureaucracy. But on top of that, they have to acquiesce to their Minister, someone who is, regardless of the representative authority and quite necessarily, an amateur. After a few years on the job, the public servants start hoping for a change. Thank goodness for frequent elections and cabinet shuffles. But the honeymoon doesn’t last long before the servants start finding fault with their new master. Its not that they want a new one, they just want the current one to go away.
If you are in the public service, you either recognize this sentiment or you can ask around. I bet you can find a good percentage of the people in your office that agree with the phrase “I don’t work for the Minister.” The general feeling is that the Minister is a pain, constantly needing to be informed with briefings and memos, and all this effort gets in the way of the real work – the reason the servant is there. The sentiment is right up there with the musing of the past waitress who thought the restaurant would be a better place to work if there were no customers. The real work is keeping the ketchup jars filled.
For the public servants, the real job, the tough job, is recognizing that the minister represents the authority of the people. As impartial servants, they have a duty to inform and shape the views of the minister but, in the end, they must obey the Minister whether they agree or not. Fearless comments and loyal implementation.