Upholding the Right
What happened to civilian oversight of the RCMP
On the morning of Saturday, June 26, 2010, the chair of the Toronto Police Services Board, Alok Mukherjee, was on the phone in his office at headquarters, chasing information about local G20 demonstrations for his members. Leaders of the world’s economic powerhouses, accompanied by massive entourages, had come together to hammer out deals that could shore up the teetering economy. Meanwhile, spotting a global platform, over 10,000 protesters, belligerent and peaceful alike, took to the streets. A deputy chief overheard Mukherjee, a human rights expert, and asked if he would like to see the demonstrations in action.
After watching about a half-hour of live streaming video in a neighbouring room, the deputy invited Mukherjee to visit the city’s command centre, at a police building that cannot be identified for security reasons. Inside, they found a conference hall jammed full of people—standing room only—but despite the crowd, it was quiet and disciplined. Dozens of security officers, some kitted out in headsets, manned a central bank of computers. At the back, a giant monitor played closed-circuit television feeds of Toronto from every imaginable angle. “It looked like a military operation,” recalls Mukherjee.
He recognized many civilian and sworn TPS staff in attendance, along with many more he did not know, whom he took to be members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. But where was his chief, Bill Blair? He finally spotted a half-open door leading into a side office. There was Blair, sitting alone at an empty desk, watching the G20 unfold on a small TV tuned to CP24, a local news station.
That was the moment when Mukherjee began to get nervous. Blair had assured him that all police agencies acting on Toronto turf would follow the Toronto model, which guarantees citizens the right to peaceful assembly, but seeing its advocate marginalized he suddenly doubted it. Who was really in charge of Toronto that weekend, and what were their priorities?
While the G20 passed without a major terrorist incident, storefronts outside the fenced-in summit zone were smashed, and police cruisers were abandoned and torched on Saturday afternoon, all while the Toronto police appeared to be hemmed in along the security fence, safeguarding visiting dignitaries and G20 business. With the damage done, the TPS suddenly sprang into action that evening, kettling masses of protesters in the streets, and ultimately arresting and holding 1,105 of them in processing centres that were little better than makeshift cages, for hours and in some cases days. It was the largest mass arrest in Canadian peacetime, and most detainees had no idea what they were being charged with.
As Mukherjee watched it all unfold on TV at home, like so many other Canadians, his anxiety gave way to anger. This was not the work of the chief he knew. While Alphonse MacNeil, the RCMP commander who headed up the G20 security operation, maintains that operational matters fell to the most local command levels possible (which explains why Blair was watching on TV), Mukherjee believes the federal government “simply took over Toronto” that weekend. He is not alone. The widespread perception that the RCMP had strong-armed local police and democratic institutions helped to prompt inquiries and reviews into the role of each security agency and level of government.
Mukherjee, who in addition to his near-decade of work on the TPS board served as president of the Canadian Association of Police Governance last year, maintains that the G20 security debacle could have been avoided if the RCMP had had some sort of civilian oversight body. Then the two boards could have collaborated, checking up on the division of responsibilities and making the rules in play clear to the public before the summit. Crucially, the Toronto board could have pushed its RCMP counterpart on the interests of civilians, in line with the Toronto model, as well as vetting the budget and equipment procurement processes, and saving taxpayers some portion of the summit’s nearly $1-billion cost.
Ironically, just such a body almost came into existence in the period leading up to the G20. Proposed in 2007 by the task force into much-needed organizational reform, which was headed by former Ontario Securities Commission chair David Brown, the idea for a civilian board of management to remake the RCMP would come to dominate the minds of the force’s leadership over the next three years.
However, by the summer of 2010, a few short weeks before the G20, in its first crack at reform legislation after Brown the Harper government appeared to reject the board of management. When subsequent legislation introduced in the House (after the Conservatives landed their strong, stable majority) became law this past summer, Vic Toews, then minister of public safety, pronounced the concept dead.
Today’s RCMP sits in the eye of a vicious storm, the result of more than a decade of public relations disasters, including the G20. Without an aggressive program for governance renewal, it will likely pitch from one crisis to another until the public eventually demands that the government pull the plug. Based on the weight of opinion behind the proposed board, the scuppering will hinder efforts to raise the force above its tarnished reputation, while unravelling the mystery of what happened to civilian oversight helps explain how it got that reputation in the first place.
The royal canadian mounted police, formerly the North West Mounted Police, began its institutional life in 1873 as a political instrument. Sir John A. Macdonald had in mind a federally loyal armed cavalry that would spread across the West to “civilize” the population, and pave the way to fully bring the territories into a peaceful, productive confederation. The only face of government across vast swaths of western territory, officers routinely made calls that went beyond mere law enforcement. As the RCMP approaches a century and a half of history, Maintiens le droit (“uphold the right”) remains its official motto.
Its dual legal-political mission is typical of colonial police forces. However, many of those institutions considered successful today heeded an important lesson: while upholding the right (beyond the strict letter of the law) is a blessing under robust public accountability, it becomes a curse under political interference. For example, when the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the RCMP’s closest relative, was remodelled through a lengthy peace process to become the Police Service of Northern Ireland in 2001, it prioritized a system for civilian governance that would assure the divided British unionist and Irish nationalist populations that the police were not in the pocket of one political faction or another.
On the other hand, the RCMP has always answered directly to the government. This relationship was formalized in the early 1980s, when the commissioner was designated a deputy minister, first within the department of the Solicitor General and now under Public Safety. As an appointee approved by the prime minister, whoever occupies the big chair serves at the pleasure of the government.
The arrangement is a classic reflection of what Donald Savoie, Canada Research Chair in public administration and governance at the Université de Moncton, calls “court government.” Within this system, the power of the PMO grows through a strategic network of deputy ministers and other key bureaucrats, while sidestepping cabinet and parliamentary oversight. Through his studies of the Canadian and British systems, Savoie has shown that the opacity of court government leads to poor departmental management, while the lure of power promotes opportunism.
Starting around 2000, the system’s pitfalls were revealed in a well-known series of scandals: the mismanagement of pension funds; the sharing of Maher Arar’s intelligence file with US agencies, which led to his torture in Syria as well as inconsistencies in the public account of what the RCMP leadership knew and when; the taser-induced death of Robert Dziekanski and suggestions of another apparent cover-up; and a litany of bullying, sexual harassment, and assault cases.
Surprisingly, it was not the most salacious scandals that led to sweeping recommendations for reform. Rather, in the spring of 2007, after a group of senior officers and civilian employees stood before a parliamentary committee, alleging that the brass tried to cover up serious irregularities in the management of the force’s pension and insurance plan, then public safety minister Stockwell Day struck an independent investigation under Brown. What was ultimately reported shook the RCMP to its core.
David Brown is an unlikely revolutionary. The soft-spoken corporate lawyer, who is based in Toronto, has built a track record of dogged but measured regulation. His work with the OSC, as well as the council of governors for the Canadian Public Accountability Board, which oversees audits of publicly traded companies in Canada, has been active and innovative but has not stirred major public controversy. However, after his initial investigation into the pension scandal, he publicly declared the RCMP’s culture “horribly broken” and “completely at odds with the reality of managing a $3-billion enterprise.” He further recommended that the government strike a task force to explore solutions to a problem “far more deep rooted than we had thought going in,” he says during a phone interview.
It was not a case of bad apples, as the RCMP often claimed through the scandal years, but a rotten culture. More specifically, an autocratic Mountie brass bred in the image of Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli had cultivated a culture of fear and deference; managers simply refused to accept any bad news, and therefore made uninformed, sometimes self-serving decisions, playing to the authorities above them. In this context, Brown described a disillusioned rank and file, suffering under “impossible demands” that compromised health and safety. In addition to under-resourcing, exacerbated by the lack of coherent organizational priorities, inconsistency and mystery hung over the evaluation, promotion, discipline, and grievance processes, sapping officer morale.
To break the cycle, Brown proposed a three-pillared program, beginning with a more independent public complaints process coupled with vigorous internal discipline. The second pillar, separate employer status, as well as the third, an independent board of management, were considerably more controversial; they would essentially render the RCMP responsible for its own decisions, in consultation with a body of civilian experts. The pillars could not be “cherry picked,” Brown points out, as they supported one another in a seamless architecture of complete institutional reinvention.
Indeed, Bill Sweeney, a deputy commissioner of the RCMP at the time, calls the proposed system of checks and balances wedged between the brass and the government a sea change. Initially, the Conservatives, perhaps not yet familiar with the benefits of court government, seemed ready to take up the bold challenge. Day, says Brown, was “very complimentary to the report.” Mukherjee adds that representatives from Public Safety told him that the minister was keen to proceed with Brown’s plan in its entirety, implementing pieces of it as they were ready to roll out.
On Brown’s recommendation, the government appointed the external Reform Implementation Council, headed by prominent Montreal attorney David McAusland, to provide guidance and give the occasional public push to police leaders, who would understandably have found it difficult to make the about-face. By the spring of 2008, however, as McAusland and Sweeney both confirm, senior staff’s thinking began to align.
Brown felt optimistic that the Conservatives would implement his recommendations within two years, but his optimism may not have accounted adequately for the pivotal role of certain individuals in the courtier system. As it turned out, nobody would be more important in this case than the commissioner. Not only would his job change the most if the RCMP were weaned from the government, but the government likely would not relinquish court power without his inducement.
On July 16, 2007, the same day Brown’s task force was announced, Prime Minister Stephen Harper introduced his permanent replacement for the embattled Zaccardelli. William J. S. (Bill) Elliott had enjoyed a long career in the public service, with heady appointments in Public Safety, with the Canadian Coast Guard, and within the Privy Council Office. He had even acted as national security adviser to Prime Minister Paul Martin. To that list, he could now add first civilian commissioner of the RCMP.
If Elliott said little about the Brown recommendations, beyond an initial amorphous endorsement, his command-level officers had little cause to worry. “What Brown was proposing with a board of management and separate employer status was a machinery-of-government-issue,” says Sweeney, now assistant deputy minister of Alberta’s public security division. “We looked at it like we needed a strong statement from our commissioner to indicate to the government that we were behind these radical reforms; but once the legislative process had started, I would see it as proper that our commissioner would not continue to comment publicly on these issues.”
Besides, Elliott had the independent Reform Implementation Council, which seemed to be doing the heavy lifting for him. McAusland’s tone became ever more urgent over a series of five reports published between September 2008 and December 2010, culminating with a warning: appoint an interim board in the event of any further legislative delay, or risk losing all reform momentum. “That council had to be invented to say the things the RCMP could not—and should not—say,” Sweeney explains.
Meanwhile, any enthusiasm the Conservatives might once have had for fundamental police governance reform appeared to evaporate. When Peter Van Loan replaced Day as minister of public safety in late 2008, Mukherjee says that “the consultative work just stopped.” He recalls, for example, rushing from his home in Toronto to Ottawa early one morning to discuss the most radical pillars of reform with the minister, only to spend hours waiting for an appointment that never materialized. And relations did not warm with the appointment of Vic Toews in January 2010. “His message was very guarded,” Mukherjee says. “It certainly seemed to us that the feds had no interest in stakeholders’ opinions.”
This was confirmed that June when the government presented a pair of bills that attempted to beef up the public complaints process and improve the labour relations regime for serving Mounties, while making no mention of the all-important separate employer status and board of management. Both bills would die on the table when Harper called a federal election the following spring, but the damage had been done.
It is easy to imagine why the prime minister, who had now been around the block a time or two, would be reluctant to cede control of the RCMP, but proof is much harder to come by. Journalists cannot pry open the inner workings of the PMO or cabinet meetings through access to information requests, and neither Day nor Toews responded to invitations to comment for this article. Investigation into RCMP decision making proved nearly as difficult. Interviews I conducted with several former high-ranking members of the force were cloak-and-dagger affairs, intended, I was told, to elude an informal sanctioning process that operates through networks of nods and winks, personally and professionally undermining those who breach the Mountie family trust. Only their strong desire for reform compelled them to speak.
A source I’ll call White, who ultimately left the RCMP, feeling disillusioned about the pace of reform, says he assumed from the start that Elliott had a handle on the process. “He was a bureaucrat,” he explains. “He knew the Town, and he knew the Centre, as we call it.” The Town is an Ottawa term for all of the stakeholders on a given issue who have the capacity to influence change. As it relates to the RCMP, this might include members of the government’s caucus, higher-profile Opposition MPs, senators, lobbyists, police governance associations across Canada, and, at the periphery, a handful of academics. Conversely, all of the executive power is concentrated in the small, dense Centre: the PMO and its courtiers. Any commissioner who wants to steer an institution in a particular direction must rally the former to exert pressure on the latter, a sort of politicking that requires savvy and connections across the landscape, which Elliott had in spades. It also requires a certain amount of grace.
I have a lot of respect for Bill Elliott’s intellect,” says Sweeney, who worked directly under the commissioner, “but he was a ‘ready, fire, aim’ kind of guy.” In the public record, Elliott has been painted rather more negatively as yet another bully who took little advice from his senior executive. When pressed for details of this dynamic, White describes a detail-oriented bureaucrat afraid to address the big picture, who shut down debates by nitpicking over grammar. “ ‘It is for whom, not for who,’ he would say during high-level meetings on reform,” he recalls angrily. “ ‘It is with respect to, not in respect of.’ I mean, is correcting my grammar going to help me get my message across to the room that day? To interrupt me and make me look stupid? ”
While Elliott was dismissive of his subordinates, another dissatisfied high-ranking former officer, whom I’ll call Jones, also perceived him as timid and fawning with his political bosses. “The government footprint was all over Bill Elliott,” he says. When the Conservatives revealed their hand in those two reform bills in June, Elliott was a target of blame among some senior staff. It now looked as if the commissioner was a much bigger part of the problem than of the solution. In Jones’s definitive opinion, “We don’t have a board of management because Bill Elliott was a puppet of the government.”
Heading into the G20, Elliott was in an unenviable position: caught between a senior command growing impatient with the reform process, and an unsympathetic government that also happened to have a great deal riding on the largest security operation in Canadian history. In the immediate aftermath, then deputy commissioner Raf Souccar, along with assistant commissioner Mike McDonell, went over Elliott’s head and complained directly to the government about their boss’s behaviour. They reported that his management style was a drain on morale and engagement throughout the force. McDonell spoke of “interference in operations,” noting that the commissioner’s decision to visit the G20 nerve centre was disruptive. Elaborating in parliamentary standing committee meetings held in February of the following year, he went so far as to say that senior officers suffered from something akin to “battered wife syndrome writ large” as a result of Elliott’s “browbeating.”
“People got to the point where they cumulatively lost faith and felt they had to do something,” Sweeney explains. He maintains that he did not reach that point, but he retired that summer, while another deputy commissioner who had been publicly loyal announced his own retirement. McDonell also retired and initially moved down in rank to join the Ontario Provincial Police; Souccar would be removed as head of federal policing in the fall, after the government executed a workplace assessment, investigating assertions that “the commissioner and his management style were a brake rather than an accelerator of change,” according to a Public Safety document accessed by the Globe and Mail. The results have been sealed, but Elliott publicly commented that they were not entirely flattering.
In the meantime, White says the leadership shakeup sent the wrong message within the force about reform, while the media seized on the story of infighting at the top. Many sources, including Sweeney and McAusland, point out that a board of management could have helped avert this public shaming, by addressing HR grievances, holding the involved individuals to account, and establishing clear management protocols. Without it, the force sustained another black mark. But how Elliott would come out of it was yet to be determined.
As the summer of 2010 turned to fall, photographers were called to the bucolic setting of the RCMP’s new headquarters in southern Ottawa. Elliott and his team were putting together a glossy magazine-style publication on the reform process for a general audience. In a brief passage buried midway through the document, which was released almost three full years after the Brown report, Elliott finally extolled the “prominent role played by external advisors,” singling out the Reform Implementation Council for pushing the force to improve its capacity to manage its people and resources. It seemed like a clear and direct endorsement of Brown’s two final pillars, separate employer status and a board of management.
Elliott spent the next several months championing the cause. In late November, he spoke about the importance of governance reform to an audience at the Canadian Club of Ottawa; afterwards, he told reporters, “Frankly, I’m not at all of the view that the government will come to the conclusion that it should give us more authority and more flexibility without some increased accountability to go along with it, and I think a board of management can provide that accountability.”
Actually, there were signs that the Conservatives were less keen than ever. Mukherjee says that as 2010 wound down, “Public Safety told us in private meetings that there was no political appetite for civilian oversight of the RCMP. They told us not to waste any more of our time pushing the minister or any parliamentary committees on it.”
Two senior government officials close to the issue, who wish to remain anonymous, suggest that if Elliott did support Brown’s recommendations, he had done too little behind the scenes to bring the Town and Centre with him. “His announcement in support of a board of management came out of nowhere for us,” one source says. “I was astounded. Elliott used to work with Public Safety, and he knew how this works.” Another potentially messy leadership melodrama seemed to be brewing on the main stage.
Then something curious happened: on February 4, 2011, Elliott announced that he was stepping aside as commissioner; several months later, it was confirmed that he would take a post at Interpol. Within the RCMP, it is widely understood that “Interpol, the UN, all these appointments are useful for moving old staff along,” explains Jones. “It allows them to save face, and it keeps people’s mouths shut who had troubles before.” However, unlike Zaccardelli, who had resigned from the force before moving to Interpol, Elliott was being seconded, meaning he would remain on the RCMP payroll.
And just as suddenly as Elliott had picked up the board cause, he appeared to drop it. In his last ten months as commissioner, virtually nothing from him on governance reform made it into the public record. White says he was hardly surprised: “Why would he fall on his sword if there was no government support for this issue? It was just easier for him to go quietly into the sunset.”
Bill elliott sounds wary at the outset of our telephone conversation—understandable, perhaps, given the media’s response to the bullying allegations. In a November 2010 Globe and Mail profile, he took the opportunity to defend himself at length—“I’m a loud guy. I’m big, loud, direct, plain-speaking. At times, I’m blunt to a fault. The fact that I’m the Commissioner of the RCMP exacerbates a challenge that I had long before I came to this job”—so I begin by asking him about reform instead.
Was Interpol some kind of quid pro quo for dropping the cause to implement Brown in full, for instance? He denies anything of the sort (Interpol, of which he was already a member, approached him, he explains). He maintains that he pushed for a board of management and separate employer status after the move to Interpol had been decided, just as he had done for a good part of his tenure as commissioner.
“At the outset, I was unconvinced,” he acknowledges in his firm baritone. He was concerned that a group of civilians might not know how to distinguish between appropriate police oversight and operational meddling. He also had doubts that the government would agree to go forward with these recommendations, and if it did he was not sure the RCMP had the internal skills and capacities necessary to “get there, and then carry on with it.”
However, he says he overcame his reservations and began to develop the case for a board of management from early 2010 onward: “As we ticked off the boxes with David McAusland, I began to do the consultations and background work I needed to do on the big governance questions.” As for his public overtures in the fall of 2010—the glossy brochure, his speech to the Canadian Club—he says they were necessary to build popular as well as rank-and-file understanding and support for Brown’s recommendations, which might in turn bring the government around. “I thought it would be helpful,” he says with a dry chuckle, “but history has proven me wrong.”
Choosing his words carefully, he adds that he finds it “surprising, and you can add disappointing,” that anonymous government officials would say they felt broadsided by his public position on reform. He maintains that he consulted widely, even on the question of whether to go public. Unfortunately, I would not have access to any documents that might prove it.
“What I told you is factually correct,” he says, his voice rising and his diction becoming more precise. “I met with people, and I consulted. Now I have no inclination, nor obligation, to prove that.” He pauses briefly, seeming to collect himself. “Even if it were in my own interests to break these confidences, to show you that I had been having all of these meetings, I still won’t do it. I feel very strongly about this, but I am not getting angry. I want to be clear about that. My passions have been taken for other emotions in the past, which has gotten me in trouble.…It would have made absolutely no sense for me not to have consulted,” he says finally. “I have been accused of many things, but never of being stupid. And that would have been stupid.”
He suggests instead that certain key officials were worried that devolving authority to the RCMP would open the floodgates for similar demands by other public agencies. Even while they allowed that separate employer status and a board of management might be good for the force, the general mood favoured centralization. “Opposition to devolving governance of the RCMP has a lot to do with wanting to not just maintain but expand authority over the RCMP,” he says.
When I contact Elliott several weeks later on his request, he wishes to address the charges of bullying. “I did not have my day in court, nor anything resembling an opportunity to tell my side of the story,” he explains. And his story is this: conceding some basis for the complaints, other “fabrications and gross exaggerations were motivated by a desire to further a plot to have me removed” for a preferred candidate. Who wanted him gone? Opportunists playing politics on the force who, he says, may have felt passed over for promotion, a problem made worse by a culture of entitlement that he claims his team had been fighting all along.
“The RCMP is not politically controlled,” he now says rather diplomatically, “but that does not mean vigilance is not required to keep the politics out of daily interactions with government.”
Who, then, is ultimately responsible for thwarting the RCMP’s move toward independence? So far, I have discovered that some senior RCMP staffers blame Elliott for being unduly influenced by the government; the government blames Elliott for not developing his case; and Elliott says he was stonewalled by the government and sidelined by opportunists. To find out if some treasure trove of official records exists that might help resolve the matter, I filed access to information requests. Within a month, I received a letter acknowledging my submissions; the access to information officer with whom I followed up at sixty days assured me that I would have the documents—in another ten months.
What we do know is that by the time Commanding Officer Kevin Brosseau was assigned to lead the force’s input into another legislative effort, at the beginning of 2012, none of the brass was talking about a board of management. His job, he explains over the phone, was to determine how best to modernize the force’s internal discipline, and “hard-wire a culture of individual responsibility and accountability” for operational and managerial decisions from the bottom up. “If you want to know what happened with the board of management,” he adds, “I think you would have to ask Commissioner Paulson.”
Bob Paulson was appointed to replace Elliott in November 2011. A former air force pilot with over a quarter century of RCMP service, he is by all accounts an operational star who has taken a tough but smart line through his career. When we meet in his office at the force’s southern Ottawa headquarters, he has a shade under two years’ experience as commissioner, during which time, he says proudly, the RCMP has finally moved from endless reform debate to action.
Bill C-42, which passed into law last June, instituted a more powerful public complaints body, which is not only able to compel evidence from officers in nearly all cases, but can make suggestions for policy and procedural reform directly to the commissioner and the minister. Under the legislation, his team has also streamlined the RCMP’s disciplinary process in co-operation with local commanders, and has pushed forward a corrective, rather than punitive, professional ethics agenda.
Paulson adds that the force is working closely with the departmental audit committee, an expenditure review mechanism adopted from other areas of the public service while Elliott served as commissioner, and there is now a greater emphasis on municipal and provincial input into tailoring contract policing services, a move he hopes will enhance RCMP interactions with all levels of government.
Note that this version of reform does not include separate employer status and a board of management, structures Paulson admits were not a part of his original pitch for the commissioner position. Echoing the logic espoused by the government throughout the latest legislative process, he argues that it realizes Brown’s objectives in a more efficient format, even while he concedes that it is “a complex soup” that may be difficult to understand. This is no small problem, as complexity tends to diminish public visibility, a fundamental principle of Brown’s reforms. As McAusland puts it, “The public perception that the RCMP is under political control has always been an important part of the problem.”
A handful of incidents since Paulson took office have perpetuated that notion, perhaps most disturbingly when the PMO issued a statement last summer that the RCMP should return guns seized in safety searches of abandoned homes in the wake of Calgary’s floods. But the commissioner, while acknowledging that he “serves at the pleasure” of the government, remains adamant that he has never felt inappropriately pressured by his political bosses; and that any time he has made a case to them for a power or an authority he needs, it has been granted.
Donald Savoie points out that court government can run smoothly when the right personalities are in place, or when there is an alignment of views from the top down. Even if that is now the case, history suggests that it is unlikely to last. The best chance to mitigate the failures of court government that played out during Elliott’s tenure remains a board of management, a third party to hold all decision makers accountable.
I say it is our best chance because, as Paulson notes, local police boards have been far from an unqualified success across Canada, running the gamut from toothless rubber stampers to meddlesome micromanagers. Mukherjee’s Police Services Board in Toronto, for example, was heavily criticized by one independent review for not pushing Chief Blair harder to ensure adequate operational planning for the G20. A well-equipped board of management would boost public confidence in the RCMP, while greater transparency would deter any would-be bullies or opportunists.
I scan Paulson’s office, which is decorated with sterling swords, pewter crests, and various insignia, along with a framed print of a plane that nods to his air force days—the usual trappings of high police rank. Then, on top of his giant desk, facing the visitors’ chairs, I spot a cheap wooden sign with painted lettering, the kind you see at roadside souvenir shops. It reads, “I’m from Missouri.”
It makes no sense—Paulson is from Lachute, Quebec—and at the end of the interview I finally ask about it. “That is the Show-Me State, man,” he responds, grinning broadly. I later learn that Missouri’s nickname is popularly attributed to late-nineteenth-century congressman Willard Vandiver, who reportedly declared that he hails “from a state that raises corn and cotton, cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I’m from Missouri, and you have got to show me.”
I take it as a sign (however flimsy) of hope for a board of management. My government insiders did hint at some internal support for reconsidering the idea, once existing reforms “take hold and settle a bit.” At one point during our interview, Paulson says that if gaps were to emerge in the current model, and “if it could be staffed properly—you probably do have a point—a board of management could add some value.” Maybe there will yet be an alignment of views from the top down that will finally cleave the Mounties from the government’s court, saving them in the process. Just don’t think it will be easy. “People want to come in here and peddle their ideas, they had better show me that it is going to work,” Paulson says, rising to shake my hand.
This appeared in the January/February 2014 issue.