Formerly secret federal mandate letters to be open

Good for both an accountability and communications perspectives. While deputy ministers always saw these letters, and briefed downwards as appropriate, making them public makes it easier for all.

I am particularly interested in seeing Minister McCallum’s mandate with respect to citizenship issues, and Minister Joly’s mandate with respect to multiculturalism:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be the first to make public the traditionally secret mandate letters for ministers, another step in his government’s promise to be more open, transparent, accountable and committed to results.

The Liberals are following the lead of many provinces that already publicly release mandate letters – including British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick. Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne released mandate letters for her entire cabinet for the first time last October.

Liberal spokesman Dan Lauzon confirmed letters will be released shortly.

Mandate letters typically begin with a generic introduction outlining the overall approach and style of the new government and its priorities. They are tailored for each minister, listing roles, responsibilities, expectations — even timelines in some cases — for their portfolio.

Many say Trudeau’s letters will include messages that ministers should work with their cabinet colleagues and rely on public servants for advice and bring them back into the policy-making process.

This is a critical signal for a public service emerging from a decade under the previous Conservative government, which didn’t seek their advice and left many feeling marginalized.

Lauzon said open letters are a step to counter public perceptions about the secrecy of government and reducing the growing power concentrated in the Prime Minister’s Office. Making them public will ensure “clear direction, increased transparency and a higher degree of accountability for each minister,” he said.

The letters are expected to bring “clarity” and sharpen the ambiguity of past letters that weren’t made public.

They will make clear who is responsible for what and what policies have to be managed across departments — which is especially critical when departments and functions have been reconfigured in the new cabinet.

Tony Dean, a professor at the University of Toronto’s School of Public Policy and the former top bureaucrat in Ontario, said open mandate letters increase the accountability of ministers and public servants both externally and internally.

“When public servants are guessing about their goals and governments aren’t clear about their priorities … then the public service isn’t being optimized. When they are guessing at what the priorities are and what they should be working on, then the mandate letters really help. Everyone focuses on what is important to the prime minister,” said Dean.

Source: Formerly secret federal mandate letters to be open | Ottawa Citizen

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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