Our self-serving bureaucracies
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Nov 10, 2011  |  Vote 0    0

Our self-serving bureaucracies

Ottawa East News

Somewhere along the way, large organizations begin putting their own interests ahead of the people they serve. It happens everywhere – in private companies, in government, even in the non-profit sector.

It’s why everything takes so long and nobody answers the phone.

You see it all the time, although you don’t always recognize it. Organizations begin to do things for their own convenience, rather than the convenience of the public.

It is most dramatic in government, because government’s only function is to serve the public. The recent kerfuffle over public spaces at Library and Archives Canada is a classic example. For years, several ground floor rooms and a medium-sized auditorium have been rented out to community groups, large and small, at a modest cost. The Library even renovated its auditorium in 1994, to improve its acoustics and make it more comfortable, an apparent sign of continuing commitment to public programs.

Then the Library’s own public programming, including some outstanding musical and literary events, virtually disappeared, presumably for the usual budgetary reasons. Nevertheless, LAC continued to make its rooms available to community groups. A recent news story says that 350 events hosted by 45 different groups will have been held at the Library by years’ end.

That could change, if the government does not react to public pressure. LAC announced recently that Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC) would take control of the ground floor bookings starting in January. According to the announcement, the government would charge community groups market rental rates (translation: higher) and demand that groups wanting to use the auditorium and meeting rooms get permission from Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose.

Some vague security concerns were cited, along with a suggestion that the government might need those rooms for itself because of a shortage of meeting spaces in the capital. Both arguments were greeted with skepticism by the affected groups – the government needs more meeting spaces? Why not go to Bridgehead? Or, better yet, hold fewer meetings.

The government has begun backtracking and the final outcome of this particular struggle will take a while. Meanwhile it is useful to consider the words of a spokesperson for LAC, a contender for bureaucratic confusobabble of the year:

“LAC is not a department that is specialized in property management, so it was logical that it be transferred to PWGSC, the department that has both the responsibility and expertise in this area, of which LAC has always been a tenant.”

Roughly translated, what this means is that the public was becoming an inconvenience – you know, coming through the door, going into the rooms, sitting on the chairs. Serving the public took a certain amount of effort and it would be much easier if the government just served itself.

Serving themselves is what more and more large organizations are doing, both in government and in business. When you go into a big store and can’t find any staff, do you think that was done with you in mind? Do you think someone wanted to serve you better when they replaced human attendants in parking garages with machines?

It certainly didn’t serve the economy better, at a time of high unemployment. Which brings up another question: Do you think it’s to serve you that big corporations continue to lay off staff while governments speak of the need to create jobs?

Is it for you that the voice mail maze has replaced human receptionists? Is it for you that airlines now charge for checked baggage? Is it for you that computers telephone you at home?

Do you think gas stations switched to self-serve for you?

And is it really for your convenience, despite what the sign says, that you are being videotaped in stores?

The public has reacted quite strongly to the Library and Archives changes. But there’s lots more work to be done, although we might be videotaped doing it.


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