Rewriting The National OS: Government, Inefficiency, and Job Security

I once read that the ideal blog post length is around 500 words. This is going to run longer.

I know a lot of people tweet at celebrities. All you need to do is run a twitter search on "@justinbieber" to see what I mean. And it's obvious that they won't all be responded to, but it's nice to think that they're at least being read (maybe not in Bieber's case, but I'd bet Justin Guarini reads his). That idea lead me, in response to this CBC story, to tweet at Industry Minister Tony Clement, that he should bear in mind that he's the Minister OF Industry, and not the Minister FOR Industry.

And then he shot me a private message asking me to hold off on any conclusions until a bill was actually tabled... which was a pretty reasonable request, so I did. I waited until C-32 was tabled, I waited for the responses of consumer lobbyists, corporate lobbyists, and the various MPs most closely associated with the bill, and here are my conclusions.

  • Tony Clement's a good guy. The fact that he went out of his way to address not only my criticisms, but also the myriad criticisms that came up after the bill was released, shows that he's actually listening to people and not just spewing talking points. That's important. While I'm not sure how much it'll help him get elected in a riding that's mostly rural, I think Minister Clement is doing a fantastic job using social media to communicate with Canadians both authentically and sincerely.
  • Bill C-32 is a flawed piece of legislation. It should not be illegal to bypass digital locks so that you can enjoy content you've legally purchased. Period. If I purchase a DVD of Star Trek, and later on I want to watch Star Trek on my iPhone, I shouldn't be risking legal action if I rip the movie. The legislation agrees, if I don't break a digital lock to do so, but when every Hollywood movie that's released comes with some form of encryption, these kinds of activities need legal protection. If a company sells you a game with broken DRM servers, they should not have the right to sue you for finding and using a workaround to access the content you paid for. They will have that right under the legislation as it stands. This is an easy fix, and it can be implemented without introducing protections for people downloading or uploading content they haven't paid for.
  • The Harper Government is doubling down on its mistakes. Rather than acknowledging that some provisions of C-32 skew the playing field too far in favour of content owners and need to be dialed back a little, we have Heritage Minister James Moore stating that the Canadian Chamber of Commerce approving of C-32 is a representation of consumer support. This is a group that refers to themselves as, and I quote, "The Voice of Canadian Business". And what would be harmed by going back to the drawing board and introducing an exemption for personal use? If you're pirating movies, music, software, or any other content, the rightsholders will still be able to go after you, as they should have the right to. No rational person is saying they shouldn't.

But this irrational insistence to stick to one's guns, even when the facts of the situation aren't on your side, is rampant in both the government and the public service (the private sector too, but they don't draw their funding from my pockets, so if they want to screw up, I say let them). Someone, at some point, thought it was a good idea to host the G20 meetings at the Metro Toronto Convention Center. When it became obvious that holding the meetings there would require fencing off the residences of hundreds of thousands, the workplaces of hundreds of thousands more, and effectively shutting down the largest transportation hub in the country, and when it became apparent that security for a summit of world leaders that takes place over a few days was going to cost more than SECURING THE ENTIRE FUCKING OLYMPICS, someone should have stepped up and said "hey, this is a bad idea, let's hold it elsewhere." And people in the media, on blogs, and in contacting their MPs, did. There's places in the GTA that would've been as secure or moreso, at a lower cost, with far less disruption to the citizens of Toronto.

But that would've required making a change, something a lot of people are loath to do. No one wants to acknowledge that their first impulse was anything but infallible, so they'll cling to it longer than is wise. And as I mentioned before, when the only person who stands to lose from not adapting is the person making that choice, that's cool. But when the people left holding the bag are the taxpayers, I suddenly lose a lot of my patience and sympathy.

I know a lot of people who work in the public service, both friends and family, and from all the conversations I've had with them over the years, I feel pretty confident making the following assertions:

  • There's a lot of people in the public service who are change-averse. I know they're not the majority, but given the same complaints I hear from great public servants across all branches, departments, and roles... their impact is unmistakable. They'll argue against anything that inconveniences or alters their day-to-day routine, even when said changes improve productivity. Rather than make the right decisions that will contribute to forward progress, they'll run interference if so much as a dollar of their budget is threatened, and they'll do so until the other side gives up. Others simply aren't competent, motivated, or empowered enough to perform the jobs asked of them at a level that justifies their salary.
  • Union rules and regulations make it exceedingly difficult to get rid of these people.
  • Because these people exist at every level, and firing them isn't a viable option in most cases, very restrictive management processes have evolved as a form of damage prevention, at the cost of restricting efficiency and productivity as well.

Your job security, in any position, should never stem from it being a pain in the ass to fire you. Your job security should be the fact that you do fantastic work in everything you apply yourself to, both inside and outside the workplace. In the past year I've been on the job hunt twice, and I can attest that the more cool, creative stuff you have to point to as demonstration of your talents? The shorter those hunts are. The only people who oppose a more aggressive approach to cutting dead weight with a generous severance and supporting talent through through a smart combination of internal promotion and external recruitment? They're dead weight. They're terrified that they won't be have anything to point to.

And while I understand the fear of not having accomplished anything with your life, it's only the responsibility of the Canadian taxpayer to financially support it until you graduate university. Then you're on your own.

So, to sum up - problems with copyright, problems with the G8/G20 summit price tag, and problems with the public service... all stem from the same fundamental resistance to change. Moving past that resistance is critical to the success of Canada in the 21st century. We can make other moves in the meantime, but I truly believe that any Canadian initiatives that don't take this need into account... aren't going to be anything more than Band-Aid solutions.

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