Clerk of the Privy Council End-of-Year Message: Increased Religiosity

A friend of mine passed on this Christmas and Hanukah message of the Clerk, Ian Shugart (most senior federal public servant).
It is unusual compared to previous clerk messages in how explicit the religious references are (the previous Clerk Michael Wernick’s message, below, is much more neutral and secular).
To my ears, overly so for a senior public servant and one that could be read by non-Christians and non-Jews as exclusionary, or at least less inclusive, in a way that the more banal holiday or seasons’ greetings of his predecessor are not.
On the other hand, Shugart’s message is more personal and was likely written by him, in contrast to the “safer” version likely prepared by PCO Communications.
While politicians regularly issue statements or press releases for religious festivals and occasions (when I was in government working on multiculturalism, we were assiduous in ensuring all groups were included).
Curious to know how others in the public service and beyond react to this kind of end-of-year message (without situating this in a “war on Christmas” context):

“Nous sommes dans cette période de l’année où les jours sont les plus sombres – littéralement. À l’approche du solstice d’hiver, je songe à l’importance que revêt la lumière et à l’ampleur de ce que souvent les gens vont ressentir en raison de l’obscurité hivernale. La lumière est un symbole d’espoir.

La lumière est aussi au cœur même des fêtes que sont Hanoukka et Noël. Qu’elle rappelle le miracle de la fiole d’huile dans le temple nouvellement consacré ou l’étoile annonçant la naissance de Jésus, c’est un symbole d’espoir pour les fidèles de confession juive ou chrétienne.
Que vous célébriez Hanoukka, Noël ou ni l’une ni l’autre, je vous suis reconnaissant de votre dévouement et des excellents services rendus au public tout au long de cette année mouvementée qui tire à sa fin. Si vous devez travailler pendant cette période, je vous dis merci. Si vous êtes en congé, profitez du répit.
Joyeuse Hanoukka! Joyeux Noël!
Ian Shugart
Greffier du Conseil privé et secrétaire du Cabinet
 
These are the darkest days of the year – literally. As the winter solstice approaches, I have been reflecting on how important light is, and how people often really feel the dark days of winter. Light is a symbol of hope. 
 
Light is also a central theme of the festivals of Hanukkah and of Christmas. Whether remembering the oil that miraculously burned in the newly dedicated Temple, or the star announcing Jesus’ birth, light is a symbol of the hope that both faiths celebrate. 
 
As the year comes to an end, and whether you will be celebrating Hanukkah or Christmas or neither, I want you to know that I am grateful for your dedication and capable service to the people of Canada throughout this eventful year.  If you remain on duty during this period, thank you. If you are taking some leave, enjoy the break.
 
Happy Hanukkah!  Merry Christmas!
 
Ian Shugart
Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet”

For comparison, the previous clerk’s message:

“The holiday season is here, and so is the end of a very successful year.

I would like to thank you for all the work you do to serve Canadians and to help make Canada such an extraordinary country. Your extraordinary service is unparallelled; and you should be proud to be a part of the most effective public service in the world.

Each of you helps us, as a Public Service, to achieve our common goals – whether it is ensuring the health and safety of Canadians, improving services and operations, or advancing the priorities of our democratically elected government.

I hope that many of you are able to take some time during the holidays to rest and celebrate with your loved ones. If you have to hold down the fort at work for your team, please know that your dedication is noticed and appreciated.

At the close of this busy and productive year, I look ahead to 2019, which will bring new opportunities to achieve great things together.

I wish you, your friends and your families a safe and peaceful holiday season, as well as happiness and health in the New Year.

Michael Wernick
Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet”

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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