A blog to give a voice to our concern about the continued erosion of our democratic processes not only within the House of Commons and within our electoral system but also throughout our society. Here you will find articles about the current problems within our parliamentary democracy, about actions both good and bad by our elected representatives, about possible solutions, opinions and debate about the state of democracy in Canada, and about our roles/responsibilities as democratic citizens. We invite your thoughtful and polite comments upon our posts and ask those who wish to post longer articles or share ideas on this subject to submit them for inclusion as a guest post.
Contact us at democracyunderfire@gmail.com

Sunday, March 7, 2010

PCO / PMO – Who? What?

With the focus upon who or what department can and cannot release documents and / or is responsible for deciding if they are a “security” matter I thought I would take a look at exactly how the Privy Council Office and the Prime Ministers Office operate and what their mandate is. Much of what follows is extracted from mapleleafweb which site I highly recommend if you need more information on how our parliamentary system works.

The Privy Council Office is an administrative body, staffed by professional public servants, or bureaucrats, that is intended to provide non-partisan and expert support to the prime minister, cabinet, and government departments. In its role, the PCO is often consider to be the most important and most senior of the central agencies of government. The term “central agencies” refers to a group of government administrative bodies whose responsibilities extend across all policies areas. Other key central agencies include the Department of Finance, the Treasury Board Secretariat, the Public Service Commission, and the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).

Broadly speaking, the Privy Council Office serves as the Prime Minister’s public service department and secretariat to the Cabinet. It provides support to the prime minister, ministers who are included under the prime minister’s portfolio, including the deputy prime minister, leader (and deputy leader) in the House of Commons and Senate, the cabinet as a whole, and the many smaller cabinet committees.

While PCO is small (relative to other government departments) and delivers no programs to Canadians, it nevertheless incurs significant annual expenses. In the 2007-08 fiscal year, for example, PCO expenses totalled almost $151 million (Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, 2009).

The PCO,s primary tasks are to:

Provide non-partisan advice to the Prime Minister, Cabinet and Cabinet committees on matters of national and international importance;

Ensure the smooth functioning of the Cabinet decision-making process and facilitate the implementation of the Government's agenda;

Foster a high-performing and accountable Public Service.

PCO is also responsible for providing administrative and financial support to commissions of inquiry.

It consists of a number of departments with specific areas of interest, overseen by deputy ministers who report directly to the PM and / cabinet. One such department of current interest is:-

The Deputy Minister, Afghanistan Task Force, provides advice and support to the Prime Minister and the Cabinet Committee on Afghanistan in the delivery of a strategic plan to transform Canada’s role in Afghanistan.

Key deliverables for the task force include:

Preparing a renewed diplomatic strategy, to be led by the Prime Minister, to advance Canada’s goals in Afghanistan;

Supporting the Prime Minister’s efforts to secure an additional battle group and key equipment;

Sesigning a reprofiled development assistance program to enhance the profile and resonance of Canada’s contribution in Kandahar;

Establishing metrics for measuring progress toward each of these deliverables; and

Redesigning Government communications on Afghanistan.

The other of considerable interest is:-

The Director (Access to Information and Privacy) administers the Department's programs relating to the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act. His or her office also coordinates requests to written parliamentary questions, petitions and motions that have been referred to the Privy Council Office.

Whilst the various departments and Deputy Ministers are charged with “providing non-partisan advice to the Prime Minister & Cabinet” they are to some extend subject to the whims of the PM of the day. The PM “on the advice of the head of the PCO (referred to as the “Clerk of the Privy Council”), appoints the senior staff of the agency” so it would seem that whilst these civil servants are supposed to be “non partisan” they are very much under the control of the PMO so far as their day to day actions and “recommendations”.

The PMO is in fact paid for out of the Privy Council Office budget but is clearly a more temporary and openly partisan office answerable only to the PM.

The Prime Minister's Office (PMO) is a central agency staffed with temporary political appointees rather than full-time, career civil servants and has no statutory base, its budget being a component of the estimates for the Privy Council Office. The Prime Minister determines the PMO's organization and role; its functions derive from the prime minister's political responsibilities as party leader rather than as head of government, though in practice the division between these responsibilities is not clear, thereby providing opportunities for the PMO to trespass on the more purely administrative preserves of other Central Agencies.

It is important to note that there exists some overlap between the PCO the Prime Minister’s Office. However, whereas the PMO provides support specifically to the prime minister, the PCO also provides support to the cabinet. Moreover, the PCO is intended to operate as a professional bureaucratic agency, staffed by senior public servants appointed on the basis of merit, and which provides non-partisan, expert support to the government. The PMO, by contrast, is made up of personnel who are loyal to the prime minister, and provide the prime minister partisan support in his/her dealings with the media, the governing political party, and other government institutions (such as the cabinet, the legislative branch and provincial/territorial governments).

So there it is, I am not sure I feel any more comfortable with the minimal accountability that exists within the PCO or reassured that it operates at all independently of the PMO, but at least I know where much of the advice to the PM stems from (not that he has to listen to it). We also wonder why they are charged with "redesigning" communications on Afghanistan and what needed to be changed that this was specifically included in their mandate.

Update:- For a more current view of the PCO / PMO check out these posts.

partisanship-at-pissed-off-pco and impolitical.blogspot.com

Support Democracy - Recommend this Post at Progressive Bloggers

No comments: