Input from public sector leaders needed in shaping a post COVID future

Reasonable call and consultation. However, I would hope that the focus would not just be at the deputy and ADM level, but executives and others closer to the front-line.

We have recently seen the disconnect between top levels and greater expertise in PHAC decisions and for such a survey to be more useful, it needs to draw on the deeper policy and subject expertise than in senior leaders who understandably have to focus more on policy management:

In a time of tremendous uncertainty, information overload and misinformation, Canadians are getting reams of advice and opinion on everything from how to manage the pandemic to the Supreme Court decision on climate change. The commentary comes from pundits, political actors, academics and interest groups, all important contributors to democratic debate. Some of it is informed, some of it is not.

Canadians are not hearing from those who, on a daily basis, are managing the challenges, developing the policies, implementing the programs and responding to the ever-changing political, legal and public opinion winds blowing on any given issue.

We are referring to senior, respected, professional public service executives who support elected municipal, provincial and federal representatives on complex challenges each and every day.

Who are these individuals?  Public sector executives and their organisations who are responsible for nearly 40 per cent of Canada’s GDP and an estimated 20 per cent of the country’s workforce.  They are distinguished by a ‘calling to serve’ and have a sense of duty to the community and a responsibility to help make things better.  They put collective interest over personal interest. While reasonably compensated it is often lower than the market compensation of their private sector counterparts.  And that’s okay.  These committed leaders are tireless in their pursuit of service and often burn the midnight oil through weekends and family events to help decision-makers make the best choices with the best advice.

These professional public servants wield tremendous influence on the quality of life we enjoy by advising, delivering services and providing effective stewardship of public resources to serve the priorities of democratically elected leadership.

Public sector leaders today are both driving and being driven by change. Facing paradigm shifts of seismic proportions, these experts and informed leaders are on the front line, supporting democratic institutions and governments, battling the pandemic, climate change and social polarization.  Public service executives are having to adapt, innovate and transform government organizations and services at top speed.

As we begin to consider what life will be like after the pandemic, and at a time when Canadian society is becoming increasingly polarized and diverse, and conflicts between different interest groups – including racialized tensions – are on the rise, the weight placed on the shoulders of this cadre of professional executives is unprecedented.  The pandemic and the difficult economic times are further straining public trust and governments will need to develop and enact policies and programs that address ongoing complex issues in a way that fosters better confidence in public institutions.

The chief administrative officer of a large metropolitan city or the deputy minister of a provincial or federal department has tremendous responsibility, knowledge and expertise.  They are impacted by changes to Canadian society, declining trust in government and concerned about whether or not their respective public institutions are equipped to deal with new, yet-to-be defined modern public administration practices.

Canadians need to hear from this informed cadre of dedicated experts. As vanguards of the public interest, they possess a unique knowledge, perspectives, and insights to the forces shaping society.  There is a need to give voice to, and share learnings from, the experience of public sector leaders regarding today’s issues and future challenges.

The Institute on Governance, with the support of the Mulroney Institute of Government, will be interviewing influential public sector leaders across the country and at all levels of government to collect their insights, learnings and assessments of the challenges and opportunities on the near and far horizons.  Knowing what is top of mind of this class of executives will offer an informed perspective to the important debates over Canada’s future and the role of governments in getting us there.

Toby Fyfe is the president of the Institute on Governance.  Stephen Van Dine is the senior vice president of public governance at the Institute on Governance.

Source: Input from public sector leaders needed in shaping a post COVID future

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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