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Jeanne Sauvé, Madame Speaker

The Story

Speaker of the House Jeanne Sauvé has hired an administrator to help "clean up the administrative mess on Parliament Hill." Changes include cuts in support staff, new hiring practices and a decrease in paid overtime. It's a move many politicians applaud. But for some MPs, the cost-cutting actions have gone too far. As Progressive Conservative MP Jack Ellis explains in this 1983 news clip, "People have their own fiefdoms to preserve, and she was upsetting those fiefdoms." 

Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: Dec. 2, 1983
Guest(s): Robert Coates, Simon de Jong, Gerard Duquet, Jack Ellis, Ron Huntington, Jean Marchand, Jeanne Sauvé, Charles Turner
Anchor: Knowlton Nash
Reporter: Jason Moscovitz
Duration: 4:36

Did You know?

• Upon becoming Speaker, Sauvé soon realized that administrative spending on Parliament Hill was out of control. Most areas were grossly overstaffed -- especially maintenance and cafeterias. In a 1983 Saturday Night article, writer Charlotte Gray lists a number of examples of excesses: "Staffing in some cases was as high as 30 per cent above requirements. By custom, maintenance employees filled three-and-a-quarter hours of their seven-and-three-quarter days with coffee breaks, meal breaks and rest breaks."

• Even the most minor changes were often met with resentment from some MPs. When it was declared that all cafeteria customers would now have to remove their own dishes from the table -- a change that reduced the need for casual staff and resulted in annual savings of thousands of dollars -- some MPs were outraged. "We're not here to clear the table... We're here to do services for our constituents," Liberal MP Marcel Dionne told Canadian Press.

• Despite the fiery opposition from some MPs and Parliament Hill workers, many non-politicians supported Sauvé's cost-cutting measures and hiring reforms. A December 1980 editorial in the Victoria Times Colonist cheered her efforts in "cracking down on bureaucrats whose spending ambitions are equalled only by their sense of self-importance... Go to it, Madame Speaker."
• In the end, Sauvé's administrative reforms saved $18 million out of a $140-million budget and cut personnel by around 300 people.

• Syndicated columnist Richard Gwyn wrote in 1982 that Sauvé's reforms had actually managed to improve services while trimming spending. "The real story of what Sauvé has done, though, isn't about administrative efficiency, but about personal courage. The courage, that is, to take on the most powerful private club in the country and to force it to practice what so many of its members preach about economy and efficiency in public spending."

• Writer Charlotte Gray also applauded Sauvé's administrative cleanup. In a 1983 Saturday Night article, she analysed Sauvé's overall performance as Speaker. Gray maintained that although Sauvé had had major difficulties in the Speaker's chair, "in the execution of her other major responsibility -- the administration of the House -- Sauvé was demonstrating an activism in dramatic contrast to her performance in the chair... Sauvé has cleaned out the stable."

• During her time as Speaker, Sauvé also managed to establish the first daycare on Parliament Hill in 1982. It was for the children of MPs, senators and Hill employees. According to the book Her Excellency Jeanne Sauvé, it was a project dear to her heart and she considered it one of her most important achievements. As she explained in a note circulated when the daycare opened: "A daycare service is, above all other necessities, the most indispensable to a woman's entrée into the working world." jeanne sauve


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