The two figures at the heart of the census brouhaha – Industry Minister Tony Clement and now former Statistics Canada boss Munir Sheikh – actually have a lot in common. But it’s the one major difference that really sets them apart.
Sheikh resigned yesterday on a point of principle, his position having been made largely untenable by the government and the minister his department falls under, Tony Clement. It was about more, I believe, than just the wrong-headed Conservative decision to end the mandatory long-form census and replace it with a voluntary one that will produce useless data for more money. If a senior civil servant resigned every time their political masters told them to do something stupid, there’d be no one left.
As important was Clement deliberately misrepresenting the advice he had received from and the position of Statistics Canada on the census changes. Clement tried to throw Sheikh’s department under the bus to deflect some of the blowback he was taking, knowing full well the civil servants weren’t in a position to publicly respond and correct the record; they'd essentially be calling BS on the government. Sheikh’s choice was either let Clement destroy the department’s hard-earned reputation for excellence and competence by letting the Clement-created contention they'd failed Grade 11 math stand, or resign on principle. He choose the honourable path, and also set a standard for the public service.
Which brings us back to Clement. What do he and Sheikh have in common? Well, it would seem they both agree going to a voluntary long-form is stupid, and bad policy.
Another source said that Clement had, in fact, advised against the decision, as had Finance Minister Jim Flaherty. Both were overruled. “It was a one-man decision,” Harper’s.
“The PMO thought nobody would care,” added the source. But now, it’s said to be stunned by the range and depth of the backlash, from right across the political spectrum.
But while Sheikh was willing to fall on his sword over principle, and to protect his integrity and that of his department at the cost of his job, Clement was not. His ministerial salary, car and driver, Challenger Jet access, and ability to sprinkle taxpayer dollars across his riding like Santa Claus was more important to him. Asked by the Prime Minister to implement policy he knew was badly flawed, he could have said no. He could have followed in Sheikh's path, in the path of Michael Chong, and stood on principle. But that's not easy.
Instead, Steamboat Tony is out in public and on Twitter making a fool of himself, resorting to nonsensical arguments and mythical Twitter supporters as he tries to lamely defend policy he himself knows to be wrong, all to keep his cushy job and please his political master. It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad, but that’s too much the norm in modern politics.
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