- Canada's privatised shadow civil service: Tories claim governments are incompetent, Liberals prove it.
- Hey look at this: Delights to delectate.
- This day in history: 2003, 2008, 2013, 2018, 2022
- Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming/recent appearances, current writing projects, current reading
Canada's privatised shadow civil service (permalink)
PJ O'Rourke once quipped that "The Republicans are the party that says government doesn't work and then they get elected and prove it." But conservative parties have unlikely allies in the project to discredit public service: neoliberal "centrist" parties, like Canada's Liberal Party.
The Liberals have become embroiled in a series of scandals over the explosion of lucrative, secretive private contracts awarded to high-flying consultancy firms who charge hundreds of times more than public sector employees to do laughably bad work.
Front and centre in the scandal, is, of course, McKinsey, consligieri to opioid barons, murdering Saudi princes, and other unsavoury types. McKinsey was brought in to "consult" on strategy for the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), a Crown corporation that gives loans to Canadian businesses.
While there, McKinsey performed as per usual, veering from the farcical to the grotesquely wasteful. Most visible was the decision to spend $320,000 on a livecast fireside chat between BDC president Isabelle Hudon and a former Muchmusic VJ that was transmitted to all BDC employees, which featured Hudon and the host discussing a shopping trip they'd taken together in Paris.
Meanwhile, BDC has been hemorrhaging top people, which leaving the organisation with many holes in its leadership – the kind of thing that would pose an impediment to its lofty goals of substantially increasing the support it gives to businesses run by women, First Nations people and people of colour.
Hudon – a Trudeau appointee – vowed to "start from scratch" when she took over the organisation, but then went ahead and did what her predecessors had done: hired outside consultants who billed outrageous sums to repurpose anodyne slide-decks full of useless, generic advice, or unrealistic advice that no one could turn into actual policy. They also sucked up BDC employees' time with endless interviews.
The BDC has (reluctantly) disclosed $4.9m in contracts to McKinsey. The CBC also learned that Hudon parachuted several cronies from her previous job at Sun Life into top roles in the organisation, and that BDC had reneged on promised promotions for many long-term staffers. Hudon also repeatedly flew a chauffeur across the country from Montreal to BC to drive her around.
In Quebec, premier François Legault hired an army of McKinsey consultants at $35,000 per day to advise him on covid strategy, for a total bill of $8.6m. McKinsey's contract with the province stipulated that they wouldn't have to disclose their other clients, even in the event that they had conflicts of interest:
The contract was kept secret, as was the long-running, $38m contract between McKinsey and the Hydro Quebec power authority:
Most of the bad press McKinsey gets revolves around the evil advice it gives – like when it advised opioid companies to pay cash bonuses to pharma distributors for every death-by-overdose in their territory (no, I'm not making this up):
But these rare moments of competence should be understood in the broader context in which McKinsey isn't evil, they are merely utterly, totally fucking useless. The 2022 French Senate report on McKinsey really digs into this:
They find that a quarter of the work McKinsey turned in was "unacceptable or barely acceptable in quality." This is in line with the overall tenor of work performed by consultants. For example, when it came to giant Capgemini, the French Senate found that the work it provided was "of near-zero added value, indeed sometimes counterproductive."
And yet, despite the expense and "near-zero added value," hiring outside consultants is a reflex for neoliberal centrist leaders. Trudeau has presided over a massive expansion of the Canadian government's reliance on outside consultants:
After campaigning on a promise to reduce outside consultancy, the Trudeau administration increased consultant spending by 40%, to $11.8 billion. This shadow civil service is not just more expensive and less competent that the real civil service – it is also far more opaque, able to fend off open records requests with vague gestures towards "trade secrecy."
Since 2015, McKinsey has raked in $116.8m in federal contracts, even as the civil service has been starved of pay. Meanwhile, federal departments insist that they need to "protect Canada's economic interests" by not disclosing outside contracts, and list their total spend at $0.00.
The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada estimates that between 2011-21, the Canadian government squandered $18b on outside IT contracting that could have been performed by public servants. In 2022, the Government of Canada spent $2.3b on outsource IT contracts, while the wage bill for its own IT staff came in at $1.85b.
It's not like these outside IT contractors are good at their jobs, either. The most notorious example is the ArriveCAN covid-tracking app for travellers, the contract for which was awarded to GCstrategies, a two-person shop in Ottawa, who promptly turned around and outsourced it to KPMG and other contractors, whom they billed to the government at $1,000-1,500/day, raking off 15-30% in commissions.
For months, the origins of the ArriveCAN app were a mystery, with the government insisting that the details of the contractors involved were "confidential." But ArriveCAN was such a steaming pile of shit, and so many travellers (a population more likely to be well-off and politically connected than the median Canadian) had to deal with it, that eventually the truth came out.
The ArriveCAN scandal is ongoing – just last year, it cost the Canadian public $54m:
Trudeau's Liberals didn't invent outsourcing high-stakes IT projects to incompetent grifters. Under Conservative PM Stephen Harper, Canada paid IBM to build Phoenix, an utterly defective payroll system for federal employees that stole millions from civil servants, bringing government to a virtual standstill. Thus far, the Government of Canada – which paid IBM $309m to develop Phoenix, as a "cost savings measure" – has paid $506m in damages to make good on Phoenix's errors:
The Liberals didn't invent Phoenix – but they did deploy it, after campaigning on the wastefulness and incompetence of the Tories' outsourcing bonanza. And after Phoenix crashed and burned, the Liberals increased outsourcing spending.
All of this is well-crystallized in last week's Canadaland discussion between Jesse Brown and Nora Loreto:
And on his Substack, Paul Wells proposes that the Senate – a largely ornamental institution in Canadian politics – is the unlikely check of last resort on the Liberals' fetish for outsourcing:
There are former deputy ministers at the federal and provincial levels, secretaries to cabinet, a former Clerk of the Privy Council, a former chief of staff to a prime minister. A lot of them can remember the days when big decisions weren’t farmed out to firms that make their founders rich and are spared the rigours of accountability for their counsel. Surely some of them would like to shine a light?
(Image: Sam, Presidencia de la República Mexicana, CC BY 2.0, modified)
Hey look at this (permalink)
- Sci-Fi Short Film "Uprising!" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GhW-vN6TwUM
11 of the Sleaziest Snake Oil Ads From Trump's Truth Social https://gizmodo.com/donald-trump-truth-social-facebook-sleazy-snake-oil-ads-1850040614/
every small city has that one dictator chic house https://mcmansionhell.com/post/707909502449614849/every-small-city-has-that-one-dictator-chic-house
This day in history (permalink)
#20yrsago Patron Saint sought for Internet https://www.cnn.com/2003/TECH/internet/01/31/internet.saint/index.html
#20yrsago Space Shuttle runs free software and open protocols https://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/2709875.stm
#15yrsago Amazon buys Audible, promises to kill DRM if we complain https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/01/31/AR2008013101662.html
#10yrsago Noisebridge hackerspace explains fair use to Dreamworks https://www.noisebridge.net/wiki/DreamworksReply
#10yrsago 25 years of legal abortion in Canada https://torontoist.com/2013/01/r-v-morgentaler-25-years-later/
#10yrsago Copyright, plagiarism and the Internet https://www.theguardian.com/technology/blog/2013/jan/31/internet-copyright-law
#10yrsago Whitepaper on the 3D printing, patents, trademarks and copyrights https://web.archive.org/web/20130201091642/https://publicknowledge.org/Copyright-3DPrinting
#5yrsago Investors throw $300m at dog-walking startup that hired ex-CEO of fraudulent anti-fraud company Lifelock https://www.businessinsider.com/wag-raises-300-million-from-softbank-hires-hilary-schneider-as-ceo-2018-1
#5yrsago Australian government’s worst-ever state-secrets leak: accidentally selling filing cabinets full of classified docs in a surplus store https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-01-31/cabinet-files-reveal-inner-government-decisions/9168442
#5yrsago Automating Inequality: using algorithms to create a modern “digital poor-house” https://memex.craphound.com/2018/01/31/automating-inequality-using-algorithms-to-create-a-modern-digital-poor-house/
#5yrsago Tory Council Leader’s son gets plum job with government contractor, teen constituent damned as an “appalling little child” for asking about it https://kingstonmatters.wordpress.com/2018/01/31/responding-to-kevin-davis-statement/
#5yrsago CDC chief Brenda Fitzgerald quits after outed for buying into a tobacco company https://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/371592-cdc-head-resigns-after-report-she-traded-tobacco-stocks/
#5yrsago In-depth investigation of the Alibaba-to-Instagram pipeline for scammy crapgadgets with excellent branding https://www.jennyodell.com/museumofcapitalism_freewatch.pdf
#1yrago Podcasting about Pixsy, the copyleft trolls who tried to shake me down https://pluralistic.net/2022/01/31/heel-turn/#pixsy
#1yrago Grappling with Big Wrestling https://pluralistic.net/2022/01/31/heel-turn/#do-the-crusher
Today's top sources: Naked Capitalism (https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/).
- Picks and Shovels, a Martin Hench noir thriller about the heroic era of the PC. Yesterday's progress: 503 words (100178 words total)
The Bezzle, a Martin Hench noir thriller novel about the prison-tech industry. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, WAITING FOR EDITORIAL REVIEW
A Little Brother short story about DIY insulin PLANNING
The Internet Con: How to Seize the Means of Computation, a nonfiction book about interoperability for Verso. REVISIONS COMPLETE – AWAITING COPYEDIT
Vigilant, Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. ON SUBMISSION
Moral Hazard, a short story for MIT Tech Review's 12 Tomorrows. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, ACCEPTED FOR PUBLICATION
Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. ON SUBMISSION
A post-GND utopian novel, "The Lost Cause." FINISHED
A cyberpunk noir thriller novel, "Red Team Blues." FINISHED
Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.
Latest podcast: Social Quitting https://craphound.com/news/2023/01/22/social-quitting/
- Chokepoint Capitalism: Can It Be Defeated? (UCL Faculty of Laws), Feb 1
Avid Reader (Brisbane), Feb 8
Future of Arts, Culture & Technology, ACMI, (Melbourne), Feb 14
State Library of NSW (Sydney), Feb 15
ANU/Canberra Times Meet The Author (Canberra), Feb 16
Australian Digital Alliance Copyright Forum (Canberra), Feb 17
Antitrust, Regulation and the Political Economy (Brussels), Mar 2
- David Pakman Show
TikTok Isn’t For Creators Anymore (Slate ICMY)
Lunch on Laotian food (Eating the Fantastic)
- "Chokepoint Capitalism: How to Beat Big Tech, Tame Big Content, and Get Artists Paid, with Rebecca Giblin", on how to unrig the markets for creative labor, Beacon Press/Scribe 2022 https://chokepointcapitalism.com
"Attack Surface": The third Little Brother novel, a standalone technothriller for adults. The Washington Post called it "a political cyberthriller, vigorous, bold and savvy about the limits of revolution and resistance." Order signed, personalized copies from Dark Delicacies https://www.darkdel.com/store/p1840/Available_Now%3A_Attack_Surface.html
"How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism": an anti-monopoly pamphlet analyzing the true harms of surveillance capitalism and proposing a solution. https://onezero.medium.com/how-to-destroy-surveillance-capitalism-8135e6744d59 (print edition: https://bookshop.org/books/how-to-destroy-surveillance-capitalism/9781736205907) (signed copies: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p2024/Available_Now%3A__How_to_Destroy_Surveillance_Capitalism.html)
"Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new introduction by Edward Snowden: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250774583; personalized/signed copies here: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p1750/July%3A__Little_Brother_%26_Homeland.html
"Poesy the Monster Slayer" a picture book about monsters, bedtime, gender, and kicking ass. Order here: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781626723627. Get a personalized, signed copy here: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p2682/Corey_Doctorow%3A_Poesy_the_Monster_Slayer_HB.html#/.
- Red Team Blues: "A grabby, compulsive thriller that will leave you knowing more about how the world works than you did before." Tor Books, April 2023
This work licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. That means you can use it any way you like, including commercially, provided that you attribute it to me, Cory Doctorow, and include a link to pluralistic.net.
Quotations and images are not included in this license; they are included either under a limitation or exception to copyright, or on the basis of a separate license. Please exercise caution.
How to get Pluralistic:
Blog (no ads, tracking, or data-collection):
Newsletter (no ads, tracking, or data-collection):
Mastodon (no ads, tracking, or data-collection):
Medium (no ads, paywalled):
(Latest Medium column: "'Conversational' AI Is Really Bad At Conversations https://doctorow.medium.com/conversational-ai-is-really-bad-at-conversations-18a79ac4a83a)
Twitter (mass-scale, unrestricted, third-party surveillance and advertising):
Tumblr (mass-scale, unrestricted, third-party surveillance and advertising):
"When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla" -Joey "Accordion Guy" DeVilla