Taking It To The Street

Political Machinations and the Drummond Report

By Susanna Kelley

Susanna KelleyWith the Drummond Report about to be released, this is a good time to clear up a common misconception about how it, and other "independent" reports for governments, are written.

Many have wondered whether, or how many of economist Don Drummond's recommendations the McGuinty government will follow.

But contrary to popular belief, when Mr. Drummond delivers his report, it will be far from the first time the government has seen it.

In fact, the usual way these reports and their recommendations are produced is through back and forth negotiations between the government of the day and those given the task of writing them.

Draft copies of the reports are sent back and forth to government representatives to review.  Those representatives can be premier's office staff, ministerial staff, the Premier, cabinet ministers or paid consultants.

And the negotiations are tough, with governments holding most of the cards. 

It's not so much, as some believe, that the report's author was appointed and is being paid by the government to begin with (although it would be a rare, and, shall we say, less than politically clever government that would appoint someone with whose historical views it did not generally agree.  In this case, Mr. Drummond was a deputy minister in Ottawa under Paul Martin when the Liberal Finance Minister made massive cuts and downloaded services to the provinces in the early 1990's to balance the federal budget.)

No, rather, a government's power in these cases come when its representatives signal in no uncertain terms that they have no intention of following various recommendations suggested in initial drafts.  If the report's author wants to have his/her ideas sit on a shelf gathering dust or flatly rejected, he /she can go ahead and recommend this or that.

Put yourself in the author's position. Do you want your work to be all for naught and your report to go down in history as just another doorstopper?

Of course they don't, and so it's a delicate but tough series of negotiations.

And well before the report is released, both sides know exactly what is in it, and have a joint communications rollout planned.

That is why you have seen Mr. Drummond giving interviews to some Queen's Park media recently and why you've seen strategic leaks about his recommendations. 

It's also why Premier McGuinty has not ruled out any of the ideas that have been coming from Drummond (some might call them trial balloons.) They're hardly coming as a surprise to him, and have undoubtedly been the basis of much behind closed doors toing and froing between McGuinty and Drummond's representatives.

At any rate, the leaks are meant to pave the way for the report's rollout, ready the public for its recommendations (as is the possibility of even more consultations) and the Liberal government's eventual response. 

It is a classic political strategy.

The recommendations themselves are put out there for discussion to allow time for the ideas to sink in. And, if those involved have misread the public and one or two become controversial, it's Mr. Drummond that will take the flak.

It's a masterful way of providing political cover for the Premier to make the cuts/changes the Liberals feel are necessary in the upcoming spring budget.

The Premier gets to say one of Canada's most prominent and respected economists has recommended the tough medicine that is expected to follow.

Or he gets to say - that's too tough and we're going to do this a more humane way (I suspect this option is unlikely.)

Either way, we should not pretend this is the first time the government will have seen the report, nor that it hasn't had a hand in writing it.

You can find Susanna here: @susannakelley
Posted date : January 16, 2012
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