Trudeau tasks top bureaucrat to help reform patronage appointments

Will be interesting to see what system is developed and, after a number of years, whether the quality and diversity of appointments improves.

Just another aspect to implementing the “commitment to transparent, merit-based appointments, to help ensure gender parity and that Indigenous Canadians and minority groups are better reflected in positions of leadership:”

Michael Wernick, recently installed as the new Clerk of the Privy Council and the Prime Minister’s most senior adviser from the public service, has been given an important assignment by the man who appointed him: to advise on how to make a wide range of cabinet appointments – including that of his own future replacement – subject to more scrutiny.

In an interview with The Globe and Mail in his Langevin Block office, the career bureaucrat and head of the public service said the hundreds of political appointments at Crown corporations, tribunals and other agencies are “gifts” handed out by cabinet that should be subject to a more thorough hiring process.

That will mean opening up political appointments, including part-time positions, to more applicants, using more rigorous head-hunting, and setting clearer selection criteria. The goal is to increase accountability, ensure better representation and recruit higher quality talent for appointments to Canada’s public institutions, a reform of mainly patronage jobs that would be in line with the Liberal plan for merit-based appointments to the Senate.

“[Mr. Trudeau] wants to work his way around the appointment powers of the prime minister and put some process, some rigour, some inclusion and some transparency in front of those appointments before he makes them. I completely support that as a matter of good governance,” Mr. Wernick said. “You will see in the coming weeks a more rigorous process around Governor-in-Council appointments, like all of the 1,500 appointments or so that are the gift of cabinet to give.”

…Without any new process in place for appointments, Mr. Trudeau has already made some patronage appointments for senior positions, including new ambassadors and, in the Privy Council Office, Matthew Mendelsohn to head a new unit called “results and delivery.” Mr. Mendelsohn is an academic with the Mowat Centre in Toronto and former Ontario government deputy minister who last year worked on the Trudeau campaign.

Ironically, experts such as Donald Savoie, professor of public administration at Université de Moncton and Canada’s authority on the centralization of government, suggests the appointment of a Liberal campaign worker to a key position in PCO further centralizes power when Mr. Trudeau says he wants the opposite. But Dr. Savoie adds that bringing more transparency to appointments, starting with that of the clerk, would help diffuse PMO power. Transparency could come through a committee that recommends a public list of possible clerks to the Prime Minister who makes the final selection.

….Mr. Wernick has identified two priorities as Clerk. One is delivering the Liberal government’s agenda, and the second is increasing the capabilities of a public service whose employees are passionate and engaged but also frustrated. Without the latter priority, the first will be more difficult.

“We need to get better at being agile and responsive while still providing that sober advice on implementation. We have too many layers and too much middle management. We have too much process. We have people who take refuge in rules and process, and what we want is people to be guided by their values and competencies,” he said. “We have very strong foundations but we’re a bit of a fixer-upper… I’m quite optimistic we can get there.”

Source: Trudeau tasks top bureaucrat to help reform patronage appointments – The Globe and Mail

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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