Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Phone books helped keep tabs on bureaucracy

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The last printed telephone directories for the Manitoba government (2002) and City of Winnipeg (2005) provided the most accurate and useful way for Manitobans to fathom the size and composition of the two governments and to find the people who work for them.

The directories showed at a glance the full structure and organization, listing -- by department and section -- the names, positions, office addresses and phone numbers of about 10,000 Manitoba and 3,200 city government employees and elected representatives. Print directories were not 100 per cent complete or current. Staff in sensitive areas of justice, police and child and family services were not included and like any phone directory -- print or electronic -- there was a lag period as staff retired or moved and positions were filled.

Compiled primarily for civil servants' ease of use, the books were authoritative records. Current copies were available in public libraries. Manitoba's could be purchased for $8 from statutory publications. The provincial archives hold the government phone books.

Fast forward to 2014. The Manitoba government's online phone book lists all MLAs, departments and most officials spread across three categories: "people," "organizations" and "towns." Jack Marquardson, Manitoba communications co-ordinator, explained that as of June 10, there were 11,496 unique listings on the internal-to-government, intranet site and 9,593 listings on the external, Internet site accessible to the public and opposition parties. There are about 15,000 civil service employees in total. The online phone book falls down in its depiction of structural organization within departments. Depending on the department, some pages are simply blank while others have lists of names in alphabetical order rather than outlining organizational structure.

Why the loss of information moving from print to electronic phone book? Around 2003, the Manitoba government introduced a new communications strategy, At your service Manitoba, designed to facilitate electronic and telephone communications with the public. In 2005, the government introduced an opt-out policy that formalized opting-out for safety and security reasons and gave departments ultimate authority respecting what information and how much of it to publish on the Internet.

Manitobans can decide which party machine or candidate model to vote for but they can't lift up the hood and see the engine design and how the parts fit together to make government work. A major cabinet and government reorganization in October saw whole departments sliced up and reconfigured, but the public would be hard-pressed to see the details at the organizational level from the online phone book or to trace accountability over time through annual reports. The City of Winnipeg has departmental organizational charts online but no phone book since most calls are channelled through 311. Although 311 offers efficiencies, the city's 10,000 employees have never been so anonymous.

There are still a couple of print directories. First, there are the 2014 MTS blue page government listings, which have dwindled to 10 pages of Manitoba programs and services and three for the city. The mayor, councillors and Manitoba's cabinet ministers are listed. Other MLAs and deputy ministers are no longer included. Second, Governments Canada, a directory by Grey House Publishing, comes out biannually and is now the most authoritative record Manitobans have for the upper-level structure of their government. Geared to businesses and lobbyists, it provides access to the key decision-makers in the federal and provincial governments. At $399 per year, it is now too expensive for the legislative library, but the Millennium Library keeps a reference copy. The deputy minister and commissioner of the civil service commission is listed in Governments Canada although not in the government's own phone book. The premier's chief of staff is unlisted in both.

Compared to print, online phone books are ephemeral. I was able to follow my grandfather's career (1920-1952) in the U.K., thanks to the British Imperial Calendar and Civil Service List. His positions within two departments and several sections, Whitehall address and phone number, and his salary were listed annually until he retired. Descendants of Manitoba civil servants may well find their ancestors' work lives have disappeared unless they made it into the Grey House directory.

The Grey House organizational depiction of the Manitoba government is excellent as far as it goes. A more complete, authoritative print version -- either dated, computerized files or, better still, small runs on recycled paper -- would do much to inform Manitobans about their civil service and the people who work there.

 

Elizabeth Fleming is a freelance writer living in Winnipeg.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 7, 2014 A9

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