In case you hadn't noticed, I am writing a series of daily posts on ~36 reasons to not vote Conservative this Election Day. This was supposed to be yesterday's post, but was delayed by work.

The matter here is fairly simple: for almost two years at the beginning of their time in office, the Conservatives forced public servants to use the phrase Canada's New Government in the place of Government of Canada. More recently, they resurrected the tactic with the phrase Harper Government. Harper's magazine1 covered a related incident in typical (cheeky) fashion.

(Images: take a wild guess)

Often we use "government" to denote departments, ministries and agencies and the people who work in them. I usually call this the public- or civil service. Alternately, "government" can mean something very different: the Prime Minister, the members of Cabinet and the other MPs in the governing party. Sometimes this is capitalized—e.g. "the Official Opposition asked the Government…" The two are unlike each another in many ways—for instance, one is elected; the other is not.

In the United States there is separation of powers between the legislature, executive and judiciary; but in our parliamentary system the executive is drawn from members of the legislature, and is responsible directly to it. In Canada, agencies are granted authority directly by Parliament; they answer to Ministers who are usually MPs. In the United States, agencies are granted authority by Congress, but their directors are unelected appointees of the President (executive). These are important distinctions with important ramifications, and you sat through a Civics course in middle or high school that was supposed to help you understand how our system works.

We all recognize the logos above as identifying the public service (government-as-organization); not the government-as-elected-ruling-party. They contain the text "Government of Canada". I don't deny that this is branding, nor that it is an important way of ensuring people value, recognize and respect the public institutions which do so much work on their behalf. But we might expect that this brand should be stable.

To replace "Government of Canada" with some other phrase is re-_branding, which is unnecessary and makes little to no sense. When the re-branding is occasioned by a change in the _elected government, but the "new" label is applied to the permanent government, it creates confusion by effacing the distinction between the two.2 Unless one is paying close attention—and stayed awake in Civics—it was quite possible to miss this change this entirely.

This is, I assert, wrong—at the very least because it deeply undermines our education system. I would also be extremely interested in a comparative study of press releases and other government communications which did and did not use the label. A casual search reveals ministers galore using the label in press conferences and policy announcements, but one wonders: did the elected government also appropriate credit due to the public service when it produced bad news? Did anyone ever release language like, "Canada's New Government has published data showing an increase in the unemployment rate"?

The newer label ("Harper Government") is even worse, because it was not even ordered at the juncture of an election, and because it introduces further confusion with presidential systems in which the head of government is also the head of state.3 It pains me that I must repeat it, but we do not have a presidential system.

More generally, government is not easy work. There are more important, worthy issues to be dealt with than there is time or money for; this is the thing that necessitates difficult value judgements about policy priorities. Even if you wanted and tried to please everyone, you couldn't. That the Conservatives chose to work on a misleading re-branding exercise instead of insert-any-real-issue-here is an insult to the electorate, and my fourth reason to not vote for them on May 2.

Follow-up: The Globe and Mail has a guest column covering the same argument I made about the F-35 in my first post. It's better written.

Next: "No comment."

  1. One of my favourite periodicals. The name similiarity is a coincidence.↗ 

  2. It also raises the secondary question of what name the next government would use, if it repeats the Conservatives' mistake. Canada's Next Government? At that rate, we will run out of synonyms for "new" before too long. 

  3. Not so here. Pop quiz: name our head of state. 


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