Qualified Policy Staffers Are Critical For Successful Governments

Elected officials, particularly those who hold the levers of power in governments, are only as effective as the staff they employ. Staying true to the principles that got them elected […]
Published on July 26, 2023

Elected officials, particularly those who hold the levers of power in governments, are only as effective as the staff they employ. Staying true to the principles that got them elected is much easier when they have staff that are all-in on the mission of the party who were elected. These are not the civil servants I speak of, but those “political” staff who come and go with different governments. MLAs and MPs can only do so much, and they need a team of staff to ensure the civil service doesn’t put up unnecessary roadblocks to advancing the policy goals of elected representatives.

Why are these staffers so important? Preston Manning said it best at a September 2022 Lunch on the Frontier in Winnipeg. He noted that in politics, there are not only political parties that influence policy but also a more opaque “third” bureaucratic party that has its own agenda. It is sometimes referred to in the USA, as the “administrative state” or more darkly the “Deep State.” Thus, it is important for democratically elected representatives as the creators of the public policy vision or agenda who carry out the will of the people to have a team of political staff who will help them ride the “bureaucratic bull” of the administrative state whose role is to execute that vision and push its  agenda forward.

The challenge in politics is to maintain a steady and sufficient number of qualified and experienced political staff to keep the administrative state, which is by nature risk averse and procedure oriented, in check and on track to achieve the government’s objectives. To achieve the vision it is the responsibility of the elected representative government to hire an adequate number of ideologically aligned staff to continue advancing the mission. They are the cavalry of the elected government and play a key role.

In Manitoba, at least on paper and more so historically, there have been two broad policy visions on offer to citizens.  The NDP, leaning left, envision a much greater role for government (and the administrative state) in the economy, with healthcare, education, and public services supplied by unionized public sector monopolies. It believes government investment has a substantial role in driving economic growth. This is accompanied by higher taxes and more regulations in the marketplace.

The Conservatives, leaning right, on the other hand, have traditionally advocated for efficient, effective and more limited government, with both economic growth and job creation through private enterprise, entrepreneurship, and commercial competitiveness fostered by creation of an even playing field for all.

Manitoba’s present Conservative government has, however, drifted from its free enterprise roots. For example, the government has increased the minimum wage to over $15/hour, and holding a spot at the top end of provinces is not good policy, nor is it grounded in principles that would foster job creation through private enterprise and entrepreneurship. In a province where the cost of living is around the middle of the country, it makes no sense to have a minimum wage that is near the top on the national list. It also flies in the face of reason, as countless studies and analyses have shown that increases to the minimum wage result in price increases for consumers, and fewer jobs and hours for minimum wage workers.

Repeated calls for a higher minimum wage from left of centre parties and labour groups were resisted for years by the provincial government. But it finally blinked revealing the governments willingness to cave on principles in an effort to capture the votes of people who, ironically, are unlikely to vote for it anyway. This is what happens when conservative politicians fail to clearly understand their  objectives and when inexperienced and under-qualified political staff cavalry succumb to the biases of the administrative state  bureaucrats and the media attack dogs.

When the PCs under Brian Pallister swept into office in 2016, they took 40 of 57 possible seats. It would not be a stretch to say that this was historic. After 17 years of the NDP rule, Manitobans wanted a change in approach to how their tax dollars were used to fund the government and the principles used in setting public policy. The PCs came in with a fresh team of motivated individuals that supported a clear mandate from Manitobans. Over the years as people came and went, that talent pool tended to shrink.  It didn’t help that entry level staffers in Ministers’ offices were too often the product of university programs that were graduating young people steeped in progressive orthodoxies on economic and social policies that are largely at odds with the traditional conservative perspective that governments should have a less expansive role in society.

As Manitoba moves towards the October 2023 election, the issue of having talented policy capacity to support the elected leadership of government looms large as always.

Where is the pipeline of qualified policy staffers who align with the values of the parties? How is the talent pool being developed, maintained, and grown? These are questions need to be answered by all political parties if they want to have any success. Presently, there are no prerequisites for being a political staffer, except for loyalty to the party and a shared world view. Beyond this minimal set, no other competencies are required.

If the PCs want to be known as the party of less government, greater efficiency, and unleashing the power of citizens in a free market, they need to get much more serious about executing a compelling growth agenda for Manitoba.  A big part of that puzzle will require finding better educated and more sophisticated staffers who will be able to overcome the overbearing administrative state and its bias towards watered-down policies coming from left of centre parties.


Claudius Sowellus is an anonymous, recently retired policy staffer from Manitoba

Related Items:

Read Jeffrey A. Tucker’s piece ‘No, Trump Is Not Planning To Be A Dictator’ here.

Read Timeless Wisdom – The Politics Of Successful Structural Reform by Sir Roger Douglas.

Read Gerry Bowler on the accountability of the civil service here.

Listen to this five minute clip on Creating A High Performance Civil Service. (2018)

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