Today at Toronto City Hall, Ford-friendly councillors on the budget committee are raking the Integrity Commissioner, the Ombudsman, the Lobbyist Registrar, and the Auditor General over the coals for their budgets and the way they run their offices. Their attacks—we saw them, especially Giorgio Mammoliti, dig into Ombudsman just a few weeks ago at city council—on the “Accountability Officers” charged with keeping City Council honest stem pretty transparently from the unflattering reports that have come out about this administration from the Ombudsman and the Integrity Commissioner. It’s a part of an ongoing attack on staff independence that reached a very visible low point when TTC General Manager Gary Webster was publicly fired without cause for providing honest advice the Ford team didn’t want to take.
Anyhow, in that context, it’s interesting to read Andrew Coyne’s meditation on the differences and conflicts between politicians and the independent officers of government:
What is interesting is what happens when power collides with principle: when the pack confronts, not another pack, but a determined individual of conscience. Nothing has prepared the pack for this. Faced with someone they cannot frighten, and who does not want anything from them, they are bewildered. All of their normal tactics and approaches are suddenly useless. All of their power turns to dust.
We are seeing this just now with regard to the Parliamentary Budget Officer. Various ministers of the government have been sent out to smear him, first claiming he was incompetent, then, when his numbers were borne out, that he was exceeding his authority. Through it all the PBO has kept digging, kept issuing his reports, kept demanding to see the data to which he is entitled under the law. And slowly, grudgingly, the government has been forced to yield.
Incidentally, Coyne’s last line is, “But the reason we know what [conscience] sounds like is because we have had examples — because of those individuals in our past who have been willing to stand up, alone if necessary, against the power of the pack. I have in mind one such in particular.”
Andrew Coyne’s father, James Coyne, was the second Governor of the Bank of Canada, serving from 1955 to 1961. He died last week. A more direct, and stirringly personal, tribute from James’ children is here: “He was a quiet and constant presence in our lives, who taught more by example than by lectures. Yet he was also an inexhaustible source of arcane knowledge, with endless patience for the questions of small children. He was the kind of father who actually knew why the sky was blue, and how old was the universe, and the names of all the trees.”
My sympathies are with Andrew and his family. (And my thanks to Tabatha Southey and John McGrath for pointing me to the lovely obituary.)