Wednesday, 25 January 2012

The Ministry of the Inane: Part I

I am a Canadian federal public servant with about 15 years of pensionable service under my belt.  In my time in the public service I have witnessed my fair share of silliness, so I thought I'd write a few blog posts talking about some of my tales from the Ministry of the Inane.

A little background for my first story.  In Canada, Government decisions are made by Cabinet.  Various instruments, usually prepared by the bureaucrats, are employed to support the Cabinet in making these weighty decisions of state.  Key among these instruments are Memoranda to Cabinet (or plain old MC's in the trade).  These documents outline the issue up for discussion and decision and make recommendations to Cabinet about the best course of action.  As I say, the grunt work on MC's is done by public servants and part of this process involves having an "interdepartmental" meeting, where all the departments that have a stake in this particular decision review a draft of the MC and provide their input and raise concerns.

Writing MCs is a big deal in Government, an experience coveted by policy wonks throughout the public service and I was lucky enough to write one as a co-op student.  I worked hard on this document and after I produced several drafts, I was ready to hold the interdepartmental.  The meeting went off with nary a hitch just before the Christmas holidays.  Work slowed over the holidays, and when everyone was back in the new year, I continued polishing the document and navigating the minefield of process that needs to be followed to get ministerial approval for the MC and have it sent off to Cabinet for decision. 

Two months to the day after my interdepartmental meeting my phone rings.  I answer it and someone says "I'm So-and-So from the Department of Such-and-Such and I'm here for the interdepartmental meeting and nobody is in the conference room."  The lad was sounding pretty annoyed with me.  I was pretty annoyed, too, since I was the lead on the file and who was calling a meeting without telling me?  I confessed I didn't know about any meeting and this just ticked him off more, suggesting I wasn't competent.  This guy is in a huff and I hear him shuffling papers - he's going to read me the invitation to the meeting.  Then there is dead silence on the phone.

"Oh.  I think I made a very big mistake, " he says.  Turns out he showed up two months late for the meeting!

For my fellow public servants, or those who have had contact with the public service, I would love to hear your own tales from the Ministry of the Inane.


  1. That is hilarious! I've showed up for meetings on the wrong day before, but never in the wrong month!

  2. I went to a friend's public service retirement party last Friday. No one (I mean no one was there). After about a dozen calls to the Government of Canada, I finally got hold of a human who had no idea who or what I was talking about. Transferred 3 times more and found a voicemail of someone who should know, left message. Called some other numbers, no one answers. You know how everyone in Government leaves a message " ... if this is urgent please call so and so" I entered the labyrinth and followed a chain of different so and so's. Finally, I found someone who was entirely unfamiliar with who I was, the retiree, and maybe even which department she worked for, but was pretty certain the party had been changed to 4pm instead of 2:30pm. I left dozens of messages for people, and a week later still have no idea. I suspect that an email went out but on intra-departmental email. You'd think that, given the PSC is renowned for umpteen meetings a day, every day, practice would make perfect.