Prime Minister Jean ChrÃ©tien's decision to extend his time in office until February, 2004 will place added pressure on an already over-extended federal bureaucracy which has been hard at work developing new policy ideas for the outgoing Liberal leader's activist agenda, say some Canadian public policy experts. There is concern that the long transition will force the bureaucracy to play a delicate balancing act for an unusually long period of time, namely trying to keep one eye on trying to implement Mr. ChrÃ©tien's multi-pronged agenda and the other eye on preparing for when a new Prime Minister takes over. One expert said this will have a significant influence on the mandarins working on the upper echelons of the bureaucracy. "It just complicates their jobs because they have to factor in this long transition mode. Usually, you have a transition period of maybe of a couple months. But this is a very long transition so there is going to be a lot of uncertainty about who will get to call the shots," said Evert Lindquist, director of the University of Victoria's school of public administration. "I think it does make it difficult and it does put public servants in an awkward position. They also have to grapple and understand insider Liberal politics. That's going to make for slightly more complicated territory to navigate." For weeks, speculation has run wild that Mr. ChrÃ©tien is planning to commit the government to a number of costly projects and initiatives, such as more money for cities and infrastructure, a better deal for low-income families and aboriginals, an injection into the country's ailing health care system, and a cost attached to ratifying the Kyoto Protocol. Some government watchers go so far as to say that senior public servants could be reluctant to move forward on this ambitious agenda knowing that the reins of power will change hands soon. One expert said he suspects senior mandarins may not cooperate with the Prime Minister's Office, pointing out that they may not be so enthusiastic to push for big-ticket spending initiatives when a new PM is waiting in line. "Most public servants know full well that they may have to reverse that legacy under a new leader," said Jonathan Malloy, a political scientist at Carleton University. "So why bother making more work for yourself. So I think it's fair to say that no matter what the PMO pushes for and what ChrÃ©tien loyalists push for, the bureaucracy will slow down and we will see a lame-duck government, particularly involving new spending which is what every one is talking about, the social policy agenda." The federal bureaucracy has already been hard at work piecing together a social policy agenda and has just experienced one of its busiest summers in recent memory. The Liberal Party's leadership feud led to the appointment of new Alex Himelfarb, Clerk of the Privy Council, whom many believe was brought in to develop Mr. ChrÃ©tien's activist social-policy agenda. One of Mr. Himelfarb's first orders of business was to create six powerful policy committees, each headed by a deputy minister, to report to the coordinating committee of deputy ministers which holds weekly meetings on Wednesdays. Not surprisingly, each of the six policy areas covered by the committees touches on an area that is expected to be a priority in Monday's Throne Speech. That includes child poverty, environment and sustainable development, health care, cities, government and ethics, and innovation and skills learning -- all of which are potentially big-ticket items. But big questions remain on how much of this aggressive agenda will see the light of day considering Paul Martin, who will likely replace Mr. ChrÃ©tien as Liberal leader and Prime Minister, may have a very different plan of action in mind. Mr. Martin has said his departure from Cabinet last June was the result of policy differences between himself and Mr. ChrÃ©tien. The former finance minister is considered to be fiscally conservative and could reverse any agenda that could bring the country back into a deficit situation. Mr. Martin is also the hands-on favourite to replace Mr. ChrÃ©tien when the Liberal Party selects its new leader in November, 2003, up to three months before Mr. ChrÃ©tien's scheduled retirement date. And Canadian political experts predict that this process will be fraught with uncertainties for the government at large. "This will be a pervasive problem. I don't think there's ever been a time in Canadian political history where a Prime Minister has announced a specific date for his or her departure 18 months in advance," said Arthur Kroeger, a former senior public servant who headed several federal departments and recently retired as chancellor of Carleton University. Unlike Mr. Malloy's predictions, Mr. Kroeger said the public service will cooperate with the PMO, but he predicted there will be a rough few months when the new leader of the party is elected and Prime Minister Jean ChrÃ©tien is still the sitting Prime Minister. "There will be ministers wondering what they will be ministers of, if indeed they will remain ministers. There will be uncertainty on the part of the provinces as to how they will deal with the future government and what credence to put in that might be proposed by the government that is still in power. And the public service would share this. have got to work for the people who are their bosses but they can't completely ignore that there will be uncertainty." Mr. Kroeger added that the real problems will only materialize after the Liberals select a new leader: "I would think there would be some stress in a period like that because at that point you've almost got two masters." However, he stressed that even though Mr. ChrÃ©tien has set out a long departure time-line, the bureaucracy won't go out of its way to create problems. "Canada is lucky in that in has a very professional public service and in my years I saw very few instances of people playing political games," he said. "What you learn from day one when you work in the public service is that you take your direction from people who are responsible, in other words elected people. "You can find individuals who may , particularly if they see a change of government coming. There can occasionally be individuals who function with an eye to what might happen in the future. But the public service as a whole, I've never observed that kind of conduct. In the public service you face a lot of uncertainties. It's part of the normal environment for them. My observation is that people will concentrate with getting on with the job. Donald Savoie, a well-known public administration expert from the University of Moncton, agreed that the federal bureaucracy usually acts in lock-step with whatever agenda the government puts forth, even when senior officials happen to disagree with that agenda. "I think one of the values of the public service is to be loyal to the government of the day. That's the nature of the public service, especially the senior public service," he said. "They are very loyal and I suspect they will work as best they can to make the plans stick as much as possible. And when there is a new government they will switch allegiances to the new government quite quickly. I don't think they will play games." When asked what will be the fate of Mr. Himbelfarb, who comes from a social policy background rather than an economic one like his predecessor, Mel Cappe, the experts said that his job is safe for the foreseeable future even though he is closely linked to Mr. ChrÃ©tien. They said that no government would risk the instability of turfing the clerk of the Privy Council after taking power, fearing the instability in would create within the bureaucracy. As part of the transition process, Mr. Lindquist said the role of the PCO Clerk, the most powerful mandarin in the bureaucracy, is to start getting the bureaucracy thinking about which political party and what leader will form the next government. "Just like in advance of an federal election, would be preparing the bureaucracy to think quite broadly about the future, and to get them thinking about the visions of different political parties that could be taking over," he said. "That is standard practice and I anticipate that that approach is being utilized right now, not only for the legacy agenda of ChrÃ©tien but also the Liberal leadership race." Mr. Lindquist added that Mr. Himbelfarb will also be looking to appear "neutral" during this transition period. "The big risk right now is that he was appointed by the Prime Minister at this time and he will look as if he is supporting the policy legacy of the Prime Minister. So I think that the challenge for Mr. Himbelfarb is to continue to look professional and neutral and to be seen to provide good advice and well prepare the bureaucracy for the next prime minister. That's got to be the ultimate goal." However, Mr. Malloy said that Mr. Himbelfarb's job might not be safe for long. " obviously doesn't want to be too closely associated with ChrÃ©tien. But from what I can gather, he already is," he said. "I don't think the Martin forces would want to remove him when they get in. But I don't think they would trust him fully and I don't think he will have a long career as Clerk. He will always be associated with ChrÃ©tien because of the way he was appointed at the height of the infighting." Paco Francoli's email address is email@example.com.