- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 5 Dec 1907, p. 126-131
- Willison, J.S., Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- What Civil Service means: that appointments to the public service and promotions therein shall be determined by competitive examinations. This reform not recommended as a perfect system, but as a vast improvement over the system of appointments by patronage committees and of the exercise of partisan pressure in order to effect promotions alike in the inside and in the outside services. Some illustrative instances. Abating, but not eliminating, the nuisance of patronage. No darker days in British history than those in which a despotic monarch and a debauched parliament employed the public offices to destroy public freedom and control public policy. No page in American history so foul with corruption as when the public offices were made the spoil of party. The story in Canada, less sordid, but where an administration of patronage has been a fruitful source of public evils, an intolerable nuisance, and a noxious, evil-smelling thing to citizens. The crying need for reform of the Civil Service in Canada and for the protection of honest and efficient public officers from the spoils elements which corrupts and bedevils the administration of public affairs. A consideration of Government controls over appointments to various Services and Departments, to the Supreme Court and provincial courts, over selection of governors of the provinces and appointments to the Senate. The speaker's contention that reform of the Senate should go hand in hand with reform of the Civil Service. The benefits of a strong and independent civil service. Reform demanded in the interest of the service, in the interest of public morals, and in the interest of national efficiency.
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- 5 Dec 1907
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- Full Text
- CIVIL SERVICE REFORM IN CANADA.
Address by Mr. J. S. WILLISON, LL.D., F.R.S.C., Editor of the Toronto News, before the Empire Club of Canada, on December 5th, 1907.
Mr. President and Gentlemen,
Civil Service reform means, in brief, that appointments to the public service and promotions therein shall be determined by competitive examinations. It is not recommended as a perfect system. It is recommended as a vast improvement over the system of appointments by patronage committees and of the exercise of partisan pressure in order to effect promotions alike in the inside and in the outside services. It is not a new system which has still to be subjected to the test of experience and proved by results. It is the system which prevails in Great Britain, in all the chief Continental countries, and which covers nearly 200,000 of the 300,000 federal offices in the United States, which has been extended to the service in the Philippines, and which governs many of the appointments on the Panama Canal.
Mr. Gladstone once declared that, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, he had no more power to make an appointment in the Treasury Department than the most uninfluential voter in the United Kingdom. In the British Customs and Postal Departments there are special regulations against recourse to political influence. A candidate in whose behalf a member of Parliament intervenes is refused appointment or promotion, as the case may, if he cannot show that he was ignorant of the attempt to use political influence in his support. The American system is less rigid, and attempts at the exercise of political pressure are still common; but, in the main, political influence has been generally eliminated from the inside service, and there is a steady approach towards the adoption of the British system in its integrity.
It will not be pretended, however, that the party system has been affected; that it is any more difficult to obtain workers in election contests; that there is less vigour in public controversy, or less devotion to the business of government. Instead, the nuisance of patronage is abated. Ministers and members are relieved of the intolerable importunities of the patronage element. The Government and the representatives of the people are permitted to devote themselves to consideration of the public business and the great questions of public policy which are the legitimate concern of Parliament. It is a reasonable assumption that nothing would induce the public men of Great Britain to restore the old patronage system, with its great train of evils and abuses, and, it is certain that its restoration would affect the whole character of British public life, vitally lower the tone, and vitally impair the efficiency of the old mother of parliaments.
There are no darker days in British history than those in which a despotic monarch and I a debauched parliament employed the public offices to destroy public freedom and control public policy. There is no page in American history so foul with corruption as when the public offices were made the spoil of party. The story is less sordid in Canada, but here, too, the administration of patronage has been a fruitful source of public evils, an intolerable nuisance to sensitive, honourable, high-minded ministers and members, and a noxious, evil-smelling thing to patriotic citizens who turn from the mean practices and the mercenary considerations which it brings into public life with weariness and disgust. Some of you may feel that this is strong language, and that it is not warranted by the conditions which prevail in Canada. Some of you, perhaps, would protest in the language of a certain Western bridegroom. When he was required to repeat after the clergyman, " I take this woman to be my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until death do us part," he interrupted with a touch of anger, " There ain't no use makin' the outlook of this weddin' so darn gloomy." But, whatever may be the measure of our political evils, and it is not my purpose to denounce public men or to use a word which can have any partisan significance, there is surely a crying need for reform of the Civil Service in Canada and for the protection of honest and efficient public officers from the spoils element which corrupts and bedevils the administration of public affairs.
When we consider that the Government controls appointments to the Intercolonial Railway Service, to the Postal Service, and to the Customs Service, controls the vast patronage of the Interior Department, controls appointments to the Supreme Court and to the provincial courts, selects the governors of the provinces and appointments to the Senate, generally on strict grounds of party service, we get some idea of what powerful influences it possesses to compel obedience within the party; to hold in subjection senatorial aspirants who look for a life refuge, with social dignity and a respectable annuity; to command the support of legal members of the House of Commons and of members of the legal profession outside who may aspire to places on the bench; and to discipline other members of the House by withdrawing their control of patronage in their own constituencies. No such enormous reserve of power can wisely be reposed in any government, and we who criticize the men by wham it is administered probably would do no better if its disposition was in our hands. It is the system we attack. We believe that under any administration it must yield its natural results. So far as I know, no country in the world reposes such a vast patronage in the hands of its Government as does this Confederation, and it is remarkable that this feature of our system was not more deeply considered by the founders of the constitution.
If, in addition to the patronage which it now controls, an administration at Washington had also the sole power to make appointments to the Senate and to appoint the state governors and the state judges throughout the whole Republic, there would be established under the form of free institutions such an autocracy as the world never saw; and yet that is very much our situation in Canada. It is for this reason that I contend that reform of the Senate should go hand in hand with reform of the Civil Service, for to vest in any group of Ministers who for the moment control the House of Commons the power to create a co-ordinate legislative body means inevitably a dependent second chamber, and s certainly affects the independence of the elected body In short, we shall strive in vain to maintain a fair average of independent citizenship, and f to ensure independence and integrity in Parliament, while the high places on the bench, the seats in the Senate, and the public offices generally are treated as the private property of party and disbursed as the rewards of partisan docility, of partisan activity, or of partisan criminality. " All patronage of all descriptions," said Sir Robert Peel, " so far from being of the least advantage personally to a minister, involves him in nothing but embarrassment." But it is the strong fortress of the boss and the very temple of the machine.
Once, through some extraordinary operation of Divine Providence, the Republicans carried Kentucky in the state elections, and a veteran soldier of the grand old party, who had been voting straight for nearly a generation, came down to the capital in order to see if there was any prospect that his faith and zeal would be rewarded. He hung around for weeks in more or less splendid isolation, but finally mounted his old grey mare, turned her head towards the mountains, and said to a bystander as he rode away: " If you hear of any office that seems to be seeking the man, just say that Jim Stokes is riding down the Pike road, and that he's going down slow." But the Jim Stokeses seldom return on such an invitation in any community where the patronage system prevails. The partisans ride out for the offices, and they go in whole battalions. Ministers of the Crown will tell you that patronage is an intolerable nuisance.
There are few representatives of constituencies but will make the same confession. Not five percent of the electorate are interested in the offices. The zeal of this busy element is often a cause of scandal and confusion.
We have no greater infusion of mercenary patriotism than other communities. It is not true that devotion to public affairs must necessarily be stimulated by office and emoluments. The civil servant is entitled to the same security of employment, the same chance of promotion, the same reward for industry and efficiency, as the rest of us enjoy in our various pursuits, and this he cannot have while the public offices are treated as the spoil of party and the high places of the service are reserved for untrained politicians who must be fitted for their duties by the very men whom they supplant.
At the best, the area of patronage can only be restricted, for judicial appointments, the appointments to public commissions, to lieutenant-governorships, and to various other places of great trust and dignity, can be made only by government, and in all of these political considerations will always be more or less influential. But it is seldom that scandal arises out of this class of appointments. It is not here that the chief evils of patronage exist. They lie in general partisan interference in the inside service, in general partisan control of the outside service, in the activity of patronage committees, in the management of party caucuses and party conventions by the office-hunting element.
A strong and independent civil service makes for honesty, as well as for efficiency, in the public administration. It cannot be disputed that contracts are not always fairly awarded, that specifications are not always observed, that the .system of purchase by contract is often disregarded, that favouritism obtains in many branches of the service, that supplies are handled by greedy and unscrupulous middlemen, and extortionate prices exacted. All this is facilitated by feeble or dishonest ministers and by a dependent civil service. J Much of this would be impossible under a permanent nonpartisan service independent of unfaithful ministers, fearless of greedy political brokers, and responsible to a Civil Service Board for the honest conduct of the public business. The reform is demanded in the interest of the service, in the interest of public morals, in the interest of national efficiency. It is true that all the evils of our politics will not be eradicated by the establishment of a permanent non-partisan civil service and the disappearance of patronage as a stimulus to political activity, but at least there would be a great increase of independent action in the constituencies, public men would be relieved from dependence upon the mercenary element which now exercises a baneful authority in the political organizations, the civil service would be greatly strengthened in character and efficiency, the independence of parliament would be materialy enhanced, and the great and serious problems of administration and high political debate upon broad questions of policy and principle would become the chief business of statesmen and the people.