Thursday, 18 August 2016

Another Government Move, Communicated Badly

Another Government Move, Communicated Badly

By: Ryan Young

In an attempt to maintain my promise to my readers to stay fair and level with my commentary, I would like to bring attention to a potentially positive move from our government. At least the government should be touting it as a positive move. The reason I feel that I have to talk about it, is that, as usual, the government has done a very poor job of communicating a significant change that they have made.

The move in question is the restructuring of several government departments in an effort to create a more efficient bureaucracy with better communication and less expense on the final budget line. The department of Child, Youth, and Family Services will merge with the department of Seniors, Wellness, and Social Development, becoming the Department of Children, Seniors, and Social Development. The Forestry and Agrifoods Agency will combine with the existing Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture to become the Department of Fisheries, Forestry, and Agrifoods. The Office of Climate Change has been combined with the Environment portfolio to create the Department of the Environment and Climate Change, and the Labour Relations Agency will now be managed under the Department of Advanced Education and Skills. In addition to these changes, the Access to Information Office will now fall under the Department of Justice and Public Safety, Fire and Emergency Services will now be under the Department of Municipal Affairs, and the Office of Public Engagement is now under Cabinet Communications.

The idea, one has to imagine, is to combine like minded departments and agencies to create a more cohesive unit with better opportunities for in-house communication and more efficient service delivery for taxpayers. According to the media reports, five Deputy Minister positions will be eliminated, in addition to a 19% reduction in staffing in the affected departments. The number of related savings has not been released. Reports have also surfaced that indicate that new Deputy Minister positions have been filled by Liberal insiders, but I will address that in another post.

In my last post, I wrote about the recent shake-up in the premier’s communication staff, but it seems that the new crew working on the eighth floor are determined to make the same mistakes as their predecessors. The departmental restructuring news should have been announced with much fanfare and a press conference by Dwight Ball, telling us all how his government is committed to keeping the promises it made last November. Instead, all we got was a few snippets in the local media outlets. The premier was travelling and unavailable for comment, and they did not even bother to add a news release to the government website. You would think that they would be eager to pat themselves on the back and try to win some public support but instead they chose to remain in hiding as they have been for most of the summer.  Did they not have faith in their own decision, or is the new policy to avoid all media and public interaction, good or bad?

I will not pass full judgement on these changes until the full details and savings have been released to the public. All of which should have been included in the news release that should have accompanied the announcements. It reminds me of when Dale Kirby announced changes to the inclusion program in the Early Childhood Development division earlier this summer. The Child Care Coalition of NL had been advocating for those changes for over a year and they were not even consulted or informed of the decision until Kirby made the announcement publicly. It would have been a great opportunity for Minister Kirby to bridge the gap and ease some strained relations with a very important segment of the workforce, but instead the changes were made, almost in passing. At least Kirby gave a press conference to tell us why the changes were being made. With this latest government shake-up, we were not even given the courtesy of being able to ask questions about what the changes really mean.

If this government intends to ever start repairing the damage they have done to their reputation they are going to have to stop running scared and start facing and working with the people of this province. If this is the best that the new communications experts have to offer, maybe it is time to roll the dice again Mr. Premier.

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