The Blacklist: Why NS Business fears government – Part 2


This is what I got back after asking to include a couple of paragraphs from a private email response to yesterday’s blog in today’s edition

It is from a well known figure in business circles in the province. They had written to share their concerns over a government practice responsible for hobbling our ability to attract young professionals. It’s an entirely legitimate concern which I will get to in a moment.

What is very revealing is the response. I made a quick call to talk to our friend who I will call “Cautious”. In my conversation with Cautious, we spoke about yesterday’s post in which I wrote about the attitude of bureaucrats and how they will, for all intents and purposes, blacklist people who are publicly critical of government departments or actions. If you are a medical needs supplier, an engineering firm, a lawyer or, for that matter, an asphalt spreader, if you complain publicly about how contracts are awarded or wrong-headed decisions, you and your RFP moves to the bottom of the pile.

What is even more insidious, is the practice of telling other entrepreneurs and business folks if they do business with you, they too can expect to have any potential government work applications moved into the file that gets emptied by cleaners at the end of the night.

The circles aren’t big in this province. Word gets around. Some bureaucrats are now de facto overlords of fiefdoms and the fealty of a grateful private sector supplier is granted in silence. This used to be the purview of elected officials, in Nova Scotia it’s now the realm of the public servants. The mantra to Cabinet Ministers, you’re here for a good time, we’re here for a long time.

Back to the observation of our friend Cautious. They write,

It is a regular occurrence that people retire in one level of government and move to another. What is not understood is that this has two effects: Firstly as they have a pension they artificially deflate the wage market. They drive wages down for everyone. Just ask anyone who does contract work. Secondly they take places that young people with families are applying to and can’t get.
If we want to make REAL and MEANINGFUL change it has to stop.

It is a legitimate concern and a matter of public policy. In other words, something that needs to be addressed through legislation. There are a multitude of examples of people departing the public service in this province, collecting their generous defined benefit pension plan and then moving into high paying executive level job or consultancy positions again fed by public money.

One example is Viki Harnish. Harnish retired after 36 years in the public service after working her way up to Deputy Minister of Finance ( eligible for a maximum salary of $184,000). In a little over a month she landed at the South Shore Health authority as Vice President of Corporate Services. She is this year pulling in a salary of $146,000. Add this to what I calculated is well north of $120,000 per year in pension and Ms. Harnish is happily depositing cheques from the government totaling close to a quarter of a million a year.

Harnish is a well educated, accomplished public administrator so there is little question she is qualified for the job. That’s not the point.

This is only an example. There are multitudes of these folks enjoying truly golden years while other potential contributors to our public service are either leaving or staying away.The problem here is systemic….and being exploited within the political/public service culture.

The problem as identified by our anonymous friend is this;

  • a) We need people in this province. Our population is shrinking and we need strategies to fix it. Recycling ex-bureaucrats into these quality positions is counter-productive.
  • b) With the tight circle of fiefdoms in the public service and its inordinate control over almost all aspects of our economy whether through financial or regulatory levers, too much decision making power is being restricted to too few individuals.

It also has the added benefit of retarding refreshment of the public service. The Harper government brought in federal legislation to prohibit ex-political staff to involve themselves in lobbying for 5 years.

It’s completely fair for business people to raise this issue.

But it’s a scary thing to speak up about if you’re in a business that gets government contracts…or knows somebody who gets government contracts.

And guess what? That’s just about all of us.

What do you think?

PS: I’m still trying to get things figured out on my blog and how comments are posted. I’m a noob at blogging and haven’t quite got the WordPress thing figured out completely…but I’m working on it. I have about 70 responses which I’ve received over the last couple of days so tomorrow I’ll cut and past some of them into a post with some comment from me. If you want to add something…just leave a reply. Thanks for all your input…you’re awesome.


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  • your doing good work jordi

  • After my book Backwater came out, I noticed two things, one good and one bad. The bad thing is that I had several business people tell me how great the book was — an every-school-child-should read this sort of thing. They wanted me to start a crusade and write another. So I asked if they’d join the crusade, maybe write a letter to the editor. No, they preferred to remain quiet. It was shocking what milquetoast there is among our business leaders. Now the good thing is that I have suffered no blowback whatever for this book. I do business in Nova Scotia. There are provincial and federal departments and organizations that I do business with. All have recognized that the book was written with the best motives and that is was an attack on no individuals. My message is that business people can and should make rational, reasoned arguments without fear of reprisals.

  • Wouldn’t it be lovely if folks like Viki Harnish retired gracefully on their excellent pensions, and instead of taking another executive position, offered their expertise as a volunteer or mentor? This would create a win-win situation, where some of our smart, well-educated younger workers might actually be able to secure a great job in this province, and have the opportunity to be mentored by seasoned veterans. I believe that we need legislation that caps how much individuals can receive from public funds. If you already draw an excellent pension, you shouldn’t be eligible for a high-paying government job. It’s called sharing the wealth!

    Keep up the great work, Jordi, I enjoy reading your blog.

  • Simply put, once you retire from government, you shouldn’t be allowed to double dip. Problem solved.

  • Hi Jordi:
    Enjoy reading your Blogs and hope you keep them coming! Another area of double dipping that causes distress to the system and has a ripple effect through the entire education system is retired teachers coming back to substitute. I’m sure many of these teachers were very good. However, there are many well educated graduates trying to obtain teaching positions. But, they aren’t getting the opportunity to teach, even as a substitute teacher, because the individuals on the list above them are experienced, and friends with the people controlling the hiring. A simple solution is to implement a policy that states if they are already receiving a teacher’s pension, they shouldn’t be able to substitute teach ahead of qualified individuals who are trying to obtain a teaching position. This would ensure educated graduates would gain the experience while waiting for full time positions to become available. In addition, if an individual receiving a teachers pension still wants to substitute, they should offer their services as a volunteer, or as an in-room mentor for new teachers. This would create opportunities for new graduates and eliminate double dipping.


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Why Nova Scotia Business Fears Government – Part 1
Pass the Salt: The politics of snow