"…That now I am the ruler of the RCMP"

By: Sandford BorinsYes, my title intentionally quotes the chorus of Gilbert and Sullivan's song from HMS Pinafore, “that now I am the ruler of the Queen's Navee.” In the song, a high-flying lawyer enters politics and is ultimately appointed ruler of the Queen's Navee (aka First Lord of the Admiralty) despite having no maritime experience. Let me explain its relevance to the RCMP.Acting on the unanimous recommendation of an independent search committee, the Harper Government recently appointed William Elliott as the new commissioner of the RCMP. In a break with tradition, Elliott is a public servant and did not come up through the Mounties' ranks. The appointment has met with some grumbling within the force and was publicly criticized by the parents of Brock Myrol, one of the four Mounties murdered in Mayerthorpe, Alberta.During the weekend, Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day sent what he described as a personal, uncensored e-mail to all Mounties asking them to support the new Commissioner.I have observations about both the medium (Day's e-mail) and the message. E-mail enables politicians to communicate personally and directly to the public service, by-passing the normal chain of command. This method of communication has important implications. A politician's broadcast e-mail about a controversial topic is intrinsically newsworthy, and it's no surprise it was immediately leaked to the main-stream media.E-mail also encourages informal expression. Day made the point that Elliott is not a police officer by writing: “It's true that he doesn't know what it's like to step out of that patrol car at midnight into a dark alley. And he doesn't know the feeling of being undercover and having a hardened criminal stare him in the face and say, 'if you're a cop I'll kill you!'” To me, that was unnecessary rhetoric and undermined the message about Elliott's qualifications for the job.I've long had the notion of inventing software called diplomacy-check. Like spell-check highlighting spelling errors, diplomacy-check would automatically go over a draft e-mail to highlight politically incorrect terms of reference, excessive displays of emotion, or over-the-top rhetoric. Day could have used diplomacy-check.Second, the message itself. The Mounties are an organization plagued by governance and management problems. They are in need of a turnaround. Turnaround management is the classic context for bringing in someone from outside the organization, and it's no surprise that the search committee advised the Harper Government to appoint an outsider to the Mounties who is, however, well-versed in security issues and governance.The staff in military or police organizations often believe that they are uniquely qualified to run their own show, with minimal civilian oversight. Gilbert and Sullivan in their famous song questioned how a politician with a legal background could become Ruler of the Queen's Navee. The answer, of course, is that the Royal Navy is ultimately accountable to civil authority, as is the RCMP.Finally Prime Minister Harper got it exactly right when he said that while he has tremendous sympathy and compassion for the parents of the constables murdered in Mayerthorpe, their views should not over-ride the advice of an independent and expert selection committee.

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