Monday, June 10, 2013

National Public Non-Service Week

Does anyone remember that awards show when Fiona Apple got on stage and mumbled that strange 'acceptance' speech where she basically said that it made no sense for her to exist? That was the speech that threw her credibility right out the window with her music career, but she didn't leave without making an impression.

It was short, like a teenage 'life sucks' retort, and highly unconventional, since she basically thanked noone. Granted, it was refreshing to see someone give a speech where they didn't prattle on about God or the fans or their agent and roll off names that nobody knows; but we don't want to be remembered for the wrong reasons.

What does this have to do with the National Public Service Week? At first glance, nothing. But then consider the messaging of the Conservative government during this so-called appreciation week. The Statement by the Prime Minister talks about the dedication of public servants and how fitting this year's theme is: 'Proudly Serving Canadians'. But this line was the true coup de grace: "I look forward to continuing to work with our public service to enhance the prosperity and well-being of Canadians.”

If by 'working with' you mean cutting jobs, removing severance, slashing budgets, and the newly-minted attack on sick days which is about to be announced sometime today to align with the ceremonial kick off of our 'appreciation' week, then this government has really outdone itself. How ironic to start a day meant to honour the public service with a kick off that is a ceremonial punting of our benefits.

It's a lot like waking up on Mother's Day and having to put out the fire in the kitchen that the kids started while trying to make breakfast in bed for you. Except in that scenario, there are nothing but good intentions. It baffles me that the government would choose to introduce this measure in a week that's dedicated to us. Did they really think that we would be too busy beaming from self-importance to realize that our benefits were being slashed? That we would all be grazing on smiley cookies and applause, oblivious to the fact that the measures designed to make us more 'effective' like the private sector are going to diminish our quality of life?

It's not certain what form this 'effectiveness' will be, but it's a pretty safe bet that the government will seek to reduce sick days for the public service, regardless of how the policy will be rolled out or presented. Every time this government has wanted the public service to be more effective, cutting back on budgets, staff and benefits has been the name of the game.

So in a way, this is a lot like the Fiona Apple speech: short, highly unconventional, thanking noone. And very likely to be remembered for all the wrong reasons.

Remember public servants based in Ottawa: when you go to the National Public Service Week barbecue which is supposed to be a symbolic gesture to thank you for your dedication and professionalism, and all the insincere words cause you to choke just a little bit on your badly charred hamburger- take a sick day. While you still have them.

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