Sunday, July 8, 2007

Praise for Elliott from Collenette

No praise from politicians will probably help Elliott convince those who wanted someone from inside the force but Collenette must think he is quite good to give him this thumbs up. We will just have to wait and see.

New RCMP boss should fit in with the force, says former minister

Don Butler
CanWest News Service

Saturday, July 07, 2007

OTTAWA -- The next commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police is a blunt-spoken man of 53 who's committed to doing what's right for the country, says a former Liberal cabinet minister who worked closely with him for years.

And though some might find him a bit brusque, adds David Collenette, William Elliott's forthright style should be a good fit with the RCMP's para-military culture.

"He's a consummate public servant," says Collenette, who as minister of transport worked with the incoming commissioner from 2000 to 2003, when Elliott was Transport Canada's assistant deputy minister of safety and security.

"He's a very thorough person," he says. "He's very dogged. He's very balanced and fair-minded. He doesn't play any political games. He's very much up front."

Elliott, a senior public servant, lawyer and former Conservative political aide, will become the first outsider to lead the storied but troubled police service in its 134-year history when his appointment takes effect July 16.

Along with his wife Carolyn and their four children, he lives in an unpretentious two-storey house on a leafy suburban street in old Ottawa's west end, virtually the definition of a traditional middle-class neighbourhood.

But there's nothing traditional about his path to the top RCMP job. He has never been a police officer, or worked for any police organization.

After earning degrees in arts and law from the University of Ottawa in the 1970s, he was called to the bar in 1981.

He practised law until 1988, when he went to work for Don Mazankowski, then deputy prime minister in the Mulroney government. He later rose to become Mazankowski's chief of staff.

In 1992, in the dying days of the Conservative government, he joined the public service as a senior counsel and manager with Justice Canada, dealing with land claims and other legal issues involving Indian Affairs and Northern Development. That same year, he was appointed Queen's Counsel by Kim Campbell during her fleeting term as prime minister.

In 1998, the Chretien government named him deputy commissioner of the Coast Guard, a job he held until becoming assistant deputy minister at Transport in 2000.

When the 9/11 terrorist attacks occurred, Elliott was in Beijing attending a conference. With all flights into North America grounded, it took him three or four days to make it back to Ottawa.

"We really felt badly," Collenette recalls. "We couldn't get him back in time."

By the time Elliott was able to return, Collenette and his colleagues at Transport Canada were bleary-eyed and exhausted from working around the clock in the wake of the attacks.

"He came back raring to go," says Collenette. Elliott immediately tackled the urgent task of updating Canada's air safety regulations. "We redid all the aviation safety rules in two weeks," Collenette recalls. "It was an incredible effort."

From 2003 to 2005, Elliott worked as an assistant secretary to cabinet in the Privy Council Office, with responsibility for security and intelligence. He went on to serve as national security adviser to two prime ministers, Paul Martin and Stephen Harper, before moving to his present job as associate deputy minister of public safety in May 2006.

Collenette says one thing he liked about Elliott was that "he didn't have any fear of challenging the minister."

He says he appreciated that, because many public officials are obsequious and won't say what they think for fear of offending the minister.

"Really, you haven't got time for those games," Collenette says. "If you want to push back because you think the minister is saying something you don't agree with, then do that. And he did that, and we had some good exchanges. But they were always professional."

Collenette thinks the RCMP will appreciate their new commissioner's directness.

"He's not going to be mulling around, engaging in introspection and dancing around issues. He's going to say, look, here's the problem, this is how I think we should deal with it - what are your views?

"Some people may find that a bit brusque," he acknowledges. "But if you want to get results, you don't want to muck around playing all kinds of political head games. You want to just get to the point."

Though Elliott has already acknowledged his outsider status will present some special challenges, Collenette believes he is up to the task. "There's no question," he says. "If anyone can do it, it will be him."

Elliott's exposure to para-military cultures at the Coast Guard and, to a lesser degree, within Transport Canada, will serve him well, Collenette believes. "He understands how an organization like the RCMP functions."

When Elliott first came to work for Transport Canada, Collenette admits he was initially taken aback by his past life as a Tory political aide.

But he showed no sign of his political roots as assistant deputy minister, he says. "He was just another public servant, and was not partisan in the least."

Collenette doesn't share the concern that Elliott's appointment will erode the RCMP's independence from government.

"He's there for the greater good of the country. If the prime minister's staff try to cross the line, there's no way that he would allow that."

Ottawa Citizen

© CanWest News Service 2007

Copyright © 2007 CanWest Interactive, a division of CanWest MediaWorks Publications, Inc.. All rights reserved.

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