Monday, May 17, 2021

Where the House of Commons Should Focus And Where It Does, Civ-Mil Scandal Edition

 Damn those incentive structures, damn them to hell!  I know why Canada's defence committee is so lame, but it is still most frustrating.  I was talking to a reporter this morning who wanted to discuss the Defence Committee's focus on the partisan games--now focusing on what the Harper people did or did not do in 2015.  It does seem like the Conservatives in 2015 took these issues about as seriously as the Liberals did in 2018: hey, there are rumors Jon Vance has engaged in bad behavior, can do we do the minimum possible?  Ok.  

I tend to think that those in the highest offices should be held to a higher standard.  So, a Supreme Court nominee facing credible accusations of misconduct should be ditched.  A Chief of Defence Staff nominee who has multiple (two is multiple) allegations/rumors should either be dropped or should be micro-managed when it comes to issues relating to those rumors.  A Chief facing rumors again around the time a normal term ends should be moved from, easily.  

The fun part of the media and for the parties is that they can focus on the who knew what when in 2015 and 2018 rather than addressing the more important issues going forward: 

a) why wasn't the Deschamps report implemented?
b) why was the Duty to Report a centerpiece of Operation Honour despite it directly conflicting with Deschamps's recommendations?

These are the retrospective questions, among others, that can help us understand what happens next--will the military resist the next retired Supreme Court justice's recommendations?  Will the civilians at the top let that happen?  

In the interview Stéfanie von Hlatky and I had last week to be in our next #BattleRhythm podcast this Wednesday, we asked about this, and the answer was pretty striking. I am not going to step on our podcast, but I will say Sam Huntington might have been pleased but not so much anyone else.  We did not have time to push further, but I do think future study by the media, by relevant parliamentary committees, and by academics should examine why Vance and his team resisted the report, how they were able to resist it, and whether those dynamics are still in play.

In the US  and in other allies, resistance to moving prosecution of sexual misconduct outside the chain of command is crumbling, mostly because everyone has realized that militaries can't handle it adequately.  

And this gets us back to the politicians.  We have two committees working on this--the Defence Committee and the Status of Women committee.  The latter is consulting a wide variety of experts, trying to figure out how to make this stuff work better.  The former is mostly now engaged in point-scoring.  I am trying to figure out if there is a division of labour between the two or the two committees having different incentives.   

For me, it goes back to the paper I wrote with Phil Lagassé that was originally called "Ignorant Critic or Informed Overseer" which the editors insisted in changing.  Parties here reward politicians for scoring points, not for improving policies.  Party discipline is intense here, so politicians can't buck their masters to ask tough questions of their own party or go off message when asking questions of the opposing parties' officials.  So, in this matter, the focus turned to the Prime Minister's Chief of Staff rather than either remaining on the wounded Defence Minister or on real policy reforms.  

And, yes, the media plays along with it because a good, bloody fight between parties is a hell of a lot more fun than a policy fight.  I should disaggregate the media, as the reporters who have talked to the people who have survived the misconduct and abuse of power have revealed so much that needed to be exposed.  But so much of the conversation quickly then turns to the parties.  Both of the major parties messed up this file.  So, maybe there is some systemic stuff going on--not just within the CAF but within the political system as well.

Of course, the only folks who have incentives to study the stuff that is systemically broken are the academics.  Because that is what grants are made of?  Or just outraged outsiders venting their spleens?  The good news is that there are academics out there, including the Personnel Theme of the CDSN, looking into this stuff, who are not only appearing in the media but in front of these committees.  I need to chat with them to see if they get better questions from the Status of Women committee than from the Defence Committee, but I have a guess. 

Anyhow, listen to our podcast in two days (available at all of the usual podcast outlets including here) and let me know what you think.

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