The Harperman Debate

At the risk of promoting howls of outrage, I don’t think the “Harperman” case is as straightforward as the government “muzzling a scientist” — the composer/scientist wasn’t presenting scientific results after all — or even violating a citizen’s freedom of speech. There is a tricky balance to be struck here between public servants’ rights to political speech and the principles of neutrality and loyalty that are essential underpinnings of a permanent public service (and the memory and expertise that flow from that). For me, a lot depends on the type of work Turner does: does he directly or indirectly provide input to policy decisions? What management functions if any does he have? Questions for which I don’t know the answers, but neither, I suspect, do many of those who are outraged.

I’m trying to think about it in terms of the partisan flip side. Under an NDP or Liberal or Green government, under what circumstances would a government be justified in suspending an Environment Canada staffer who publicly campaigned against a “job-killing carbon price,” given the questions that would raise concerning the public servant’s loyalty in developing and implementing a government priority?

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