CIVIL SERVICE REFORM.
Address by Rev. Father L. Minehan, of Toronto, before the Empire Club of Canada, on November 8th, 1906.
Mr. Chairman and Members o f the Empire Club,--I may say, at the outset, that my contribution will not be, by any means, as valuable as that just announced. (A contribution of $100 by Mr. H. C. Osborne to the funds of the Club.) I feel very deeply the honour of addressing a club such as the Empire Club, that numbers in its membership financiers whose names are household words throughout Canada; authors, whose books argon the shelves of our libraries; military officers, whose works on tactics are favourably known in both hemispheres; and commercial leaders, whose ideas have been put into effect in some of the greatest centres of the world. You have entertained and been addressed by some of the most distinguished characters of the British empire, and the descent from these to one who is a Rector of what was called a few years ago a suburban parish, is a tremendous descent indeed, and one that would make me hesitate very much to address you were I not sure of the kindness and consideration which will be extended to me.
The subject upon which I will address you is one in which I take a great interest; namely, Civil Service Reform, and it is also one I think eminently worthy of the support of such a club as this, which makes its specialty the promotion of that standard, that high ideal, which has made British statesmanship an honour to the world. Associations such as this in ancient times in no small measure developed that galaxy of poets and statesmen, and orators, whose names are immortal, and whose influence is potent in all times. Their gatherings were subjected to badinage on the part of the wits and wags of that time; Aristophanes being especially distinguished in that respect. I understand the Empire Club has suffered in that way. Pleasing jokes have been made at its expense; luckily they are more good-natured and less dangerous than the jokes to which the ancient clubs just referred to were subjected. I do not think that these bits of badinage will in any way influence the course of the Empire Club; will in any way divert it from its purpose of making us think imperially and making us realize better the grandeur of the resources of this Canada of ours with its one foot in the Atlantic and one in the Pacific, and its almost illimitable resources. I think the empire Club will go on making us realize our importance as a centre of that array of Commonwealths which are still building up the greatest empire that the world has ever seen.
I think it is thoroughly in harmony with the ideals of the empire Club to take up the subject of Civil Service Reform, to inscribe it on their banners and to try to make it, as soon as possible, the foundation of our administrative system. By Civil Service Reform, I mean appointment to all public offices by competitive examination. I lay special stress on the term "competitive" examination, because it is possible to have an examination that would certify only to a man's fitness. Competitive examination means in the first place, a fair field for all, and it means then, that appointment will be made, and made only, in accordance with the number of marks obtained by the candidate. The examination must be conducted by an independent board. It may be news to you to know that this very system was one of the reforms of the great Catholic Council of Trent, three hundred and fifty years ago. That august body, in the course of its reforms, decreed that all parochial appointments should be made by competitive examination. Three centuries after this the Imperial Government in Great Britain introduced the same system into the British Isles. The first step was taken about 1855. A number of officers about that time wrote the competitive examination. The present system dates from 1870, and with the exception, I believe, of the Foreign Office, all appointments in the public service of the British Isles are now filled in this way.
The British Government was then just about three hundred years behind the Church in making that step. I claim that our present system of appointment in Canada is a violation of that fundamental principle of popular government--the government of the whole people by the whole people. At the present time our public officers are appointed according to the political party in power; and that means, of course, that only a certain portion--those who think as the party in power does--are appointed to public offices. Now, we must have party politics as long as men will differ on important questions. But once the Government reaches power; once the reins of government are placed in the hands of any set of men; then they should cease at once to belong to the party, and are bound to belong to the country. As I have said, our present appointments are simply party appointments, and the result is that we have government by a party, and sometimes we have government for a party, perhaps misgovernment for the remainder. In making these remarks I do not wish to reflect upon the present occupants of Civil Service positions. I think one of our public boasts is that we have men of self-sacrificing dispositions, men of high ideals, men who have remained poor when they could have been rich, because of their devotion to their duties.
The present condition of our Civil Service is one of our proudest boasts, but at the same time we owe that to Canadian honesty, and not to the system tinder which they are appointed. They are honest in spite of the system, rather than because of it. Coming to another point, I think you will all agree that our present system of appointment to public office is demoralizing to political parties. It is the plague of the able representative, and it is the crutch of the inefficient one. The man who is able to win on his merits finds himself surrounded by a troop of camp followers, the inefficient representative expects to be carried to victory on their shoulders. Homer describes the Grecian troops defiling on the plains before Troy, before making an attack on the city, and hoping after the capture to rake in the spoils. He compares them to the multitudinous swarms of flies that hover around cattle-sheds in the early spring. If he lived amongst us, and if he saw the mad rush for a Toronto license inspectorship, his comparison would seem very weak indeed.
Now the question arises, why have we this read scramble for office in a country with such varied I, resources, which presents so many opportunities fox a young man of ambition? Why have we these crowds scrambling for every petty office? This is not the case in Great Britain, although, on account of the congestion of population, of course the opportunities for advancement and individual work are not so great there as here. In the older land every man knows that he will obtain an office only after years of study and within a certain age limit-17 to 24. Here, however, anyone who has not attained to a patriarchal age can obtain an office. All he has to do is to chase some votes for a candidate, and then chase the candidate until he gets seated in a quiet and snug, birth. The natural result of such a system is that it will create a lot of hungry office seekers. Of this system, I think I may say, paraphrasing the words of Shakespeare, " It curseth him that gives and him that takes." For example, a man in whose hands rests the power of appointing is continually assailed by applicants, and when he makes an appointment, his motives are subject to misrepresentation. He is accused of making the appointment for sectarian or such like motives.
The man who obtains his office simply and purely by merit has a more exalted sense of his duties and is likely to do his work better. A man who obtains his office by political intrigue knows that his advancement must depend on the same thing, and he is more likely to think of currying political favour than of entering heart and soul into his duties. And in regard to this matter, I would advocate 4 more radical procedure with regard to public office than obtains in the British Isles. I do not think municipal offices, there, are decided by competitive examination. I would advocate competitive examination for all municipal offices, and that promotions, as far as possible, be decided by the same test. In the case of promotions, length of service and capacity should be taken into consideration. It would be easy to quote many other arguments in favour of abolishing our present system of appointment to public office. We could show that this system ignores the essential nonpolitical character of administrative action; we could also point out that this system of appointment by political favour, if persevered in, will lead to the spoils system; we could also point out the dangers of such a system in the way of entrenching a party in office.
Let it not be said that such dangers do not exist among us. Again and again we have heard political leaders say that they were defeated simply because of the official phalanx the party in power could command. I am not discussing now, for a moment, how much truth is under that assertion. It has been made again and again. Editorials have been written stating that the Mackenzie Government in Ottawa was handicapped by the treachery of civil servants, appointed by their predecessors, and continued in office by them. I am dealing now simply and purely with the system, and I say the system inevitably leads to expressions of that particular kind. Now, there are many reasons of this kind why we should do away with the present system. I do not see that there is any reason whatever for continuing the present system. In fact, the arguments I have used in advocating Civil Service reforms are threadbare. They have been used so often that they have almost become truisms. My excuse, in bringing them forward, is that of the late Bishop Strachan, in ordering a certain Rector to preach a sermon again, that he had preached several times before. Some members of his congregation complained that this Rector had preached the same sermon three times at short intervals. The Bishop asked them what was the text, what was the nature of the remarks, and he did not find them very clear on this point, so he said, "I will write to him and order him to preach the same sermon next Sunday."
In the same manner, I say, these arguments have been used again and again, but it will be necessary to reiterate them until something practical be done, until we make a move to abolish the present system and substitute in its place the system I advocate of Civil Service reform. I think the advocacy of such a system would be eminently worthy of the Empire Club. If the Empire Club will inscribe "Civil Service Reform" on its banner, I think it would become a practical issue and I think it would help to introduce into this country those high ideals which do honour to British officialdom. British officialdom has a reputation for cleanness that commands respect everywhere. We want the same here; we want to aim for high ideals; because the carrying of high ideals into our political life will alone make us worthy of our great heritage, the heritage of the resources of Canada, and of that great Empire, our devotion to which is signified by the name of this Club.