Thursday, June 5, 2008

Government can't hide behind consultants

Telegraph-Journal Editorial, Published Wednesday June 4th, 2008

A parents' group organized to fight the cancellation of early French immersion claims to have found a 'smoking gun' in government correspondence. The group has released portions of an e-mail message sent by French Second Language report co-author James Croll to an unnamed individual. The e-mail appears to discuss the difficulty of isolating data to support the report's arguments.

Much of the context surrounding the e-mail is missing, but the portions that haven't been blacked out raise legitimate questions. Parents want to know which came first: the commissioners' research, or the government's conclusions.

If it turns out the Department of Education took an active role in shaping the conclusions of the Croll-Lee report, the legitimacy of Mr. Lamrock's policy decisions will be undermined. At that point, not many people will be trying to determine whether his initiatives are good ones; what New Brunswickers will remember is the abuse of public trust.

The unspoken rules for government are fairly simple: If you know what you want to do, do it. If you haven't figured out what you want to do, hire an experienced, independent consultant to provide advice. But under no circumstances should a government hire consultants to propose and justify a course of action it has already chosen.

Doing so is an act of political cowardice. It crosses the line between consultation and spin-doctoring, and it can deeply erode a government's credibility.

We hope the government has not interfered in the commission process, because finding the right policy for public schools matters, and Mr. Lamrock seems committed to the quest. Battling over the political process is an unfortunate distraction from the main issue - whether the government's reforms will improve opportunities for New Brunswick's students.

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