Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Head statistician shows 'great integrity' for resigning post

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OTTAWA -- Fearless advice and loyal implementation isn't as catchy as the rain, sleet and snow motto of the post office, but it's beloved by Canada's public service as their credo all the same.

So observers say career bureaucrat Munir Sheikh had no choice but to count himself out as the head of Statistics Canada.

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Though Sheikh disagreed with the government's decision to do away with the mandatory long form census, he had been prepared to go ahead with it. That's the loyal implementation part of the code.

"He was very careful not to say how he sees things," said Alex Himelfarb, a former clerk of the Privy Council.

"I think he acted with great integrity."

The fearless advice element is part of a deal with the government: civil servants give them counsel under the guise of anonymity and without fear of repercussions.

Industry Minister Tony Clement broke that deal, suggesting Sheikh had told him moving to a voluntary survey would be fine, when that's not what he said.

So, Sheikh resigned after nearly 30 years inside government.

He'd stuck to the old code and it was ignored, which is proof observers say there's a new motto for those who work behind the doors of power: loyal advice and fearful implementation.

"It looks to me that people are fearful about giving good advice, if it's not the kind of advice that the government wants to hear," said John Langford, a professor in the school of public administration at the University of Victoria.

"It's a very unpleasant atmosphere because it means your advice is not being respected and you're being asked to do things that may really only have an ideological basis but there is no evidence to suggest they will work."

Linda Keen was fired as the head of the nuclear safety commission after she refused to authorize the restarting of an aging reactor that produces half the world's supply of medical isotopes.

Parliament voted to bypass the order of the safety regulator and restart the reactor.

She later resigned her post on the commission's board saying she couldn't work if "I will be constantly second-guessed as to my motivations for reaching decisions."

 

-- The Canadian Press

 

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 23, 2010 A4

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