Friday, 21 June 2013


This past March I wrote a piece entitled, "HIGH PRIESTS HAVE BOUNDARIES, TOO".  I reluctantly noted that two of the Province’s most senior public servants may have crossed a critical professional boundary line.    One has decided to move on.

The announcement of Donna Brewer as the Provincial Deputy Minister of Finance offers the possibility of strong new leadership, in a critical role.  The decision to bring her back to Finance, having previously held important positions there is important, for a number of reasons. 
In the first place, Brewer’s roles as Asst. Sectary to Treasury Board, Asst. Deputy Minister (Financial Planning and Benefits Administration), and most recently CEO of the Labour Relations Agency, will provide, at least a morale boost to a capable group in Finance, who mainly want respect, leadership and direction; though, that will not be enough.

Among those familiar with her record, Brewer has earned the reputation of “fixer”.  That is a big label.  Proof will be needed to confirm, to a wider group, she deserves it.  She is said to be a no-nonsense sort, one who is not threatened by having good people around her.  That, alone, is an admirable quality.

Still, Finance will not be an easy gig.

The ‘elected’ bosses do not take advice well; in addition, they possess no fiscal discipline or a vision of our economic future.  That is not unkind; it is merely to state what is already well known.  Most issues can be dealt with in the normal course of business, but not the major ones this Government has compiled.  It is running a large deficit, 40% of Government revenues are related to oil (more if a proper calculation were made) and Muskrat Falls is practically irreversible; the boondoggle’s DG-3 Cost Estimate will double, an already high number, making Dunderdale, Williams and Nalcor the laughing stock of the Country.  More importantly, for Ms. Brewer, it will become a horrible drain on the public coffers. One other challenge, to fiscal discipline, is that the Government is very unpopular.  

Ms. Brewer’s burden is that she, too, must be prepared to be unpopular.  She must deal with the politicians professionally and give them sensible options. She cannot be blamed if she is rebuffed. While no senior public servant is ignorant of political realities, her credibility hinges on whether she can eschew any deference to partisanship. Hopefully, Brewer will not be foolish enough to publicly trumpet Muskrat, as her predecessor did.

Ms. Brewer possesses solid academic qualifications; they are a good precursor to, but no guarantee of, leadership.  The ability to handle ‘big picture’ issues demands character as well as experience; that appraisal, I am certain, has already begun.

Brewer’s experience in Treasury Board may especially be useful.  A bloated public service suggests that a critical part of Government has been less than effective, for a long time.  The decision to incorporate it into the Department of Finance was one of the worst decisions of the Williams’ Administration, even if it served to silence unwelcomed bureaucratic dissent. The unwinding of the Justice Department cutbacks, alone, is proof that one of Treasury Board’s traditional jobs, that of providing inertia to irrational political and bureaucratic exuberance, has been rendered dysfunctional.   Familiar ground is not a bad place for her to begin.

Deputies of Finance must possess a heft that punches above all their Departmental equals. It is a big job for Brewer.  Only time will tell if she is up to the challenge.  

Now, possibly a new Clerk of the Executive Council, soon?