Head: Focus on service delivery, not where bureaucrats’ work is done

Good column as service delivery is the poor cousin to policy and program development. And the TBS office return policy seems driven more by bureaucratic and political concerns than service delivery and outcomes:

I continue to be intrigued by the ongoing debate about the in-office work regime going on between the Treasury Board and federal public service unions. I want to say up front that both sides are entitled to their views and perspectives about what is required, and there are some legitimate arguments to be made on both sides. However, neither the Treasury Board nor the unions have focused on the needs of Canadians.

Most Canadians continue to be concerned about the access, quality, timeliness, and cost of services that are provided by the federal public service. There is no question that these elements have become more important since the onset of the pandemic. Consequently, where a public service employee performs their work is the least important issue for the public as opposed to the quality of the services received in an easily accessible and timely manner that does not create any additional costs to taxpayers.

There have been many examples in the media where the level of access and the quality of services have been at a standard that is unacceptable to Canadians and does not reflect experiences in previous years. While certain departments have established service delivery standards, those standards are not being met on a regular basis or are being changed to reflect the reality that has developed since 2020. One just has to phone some of the federal service agencies today only to be put on hold for lengthy periods of time. If you are lucky enough to get through to a service agent, you are likely to experience frustration because the quality of the phone connection is poor for a multitude of reasons, or the agent is not versed enough to deal with the issue being raised and you have to be put on hold again for a lengthy period time while being transferred to a more senior agent.

It is clear that some of these issues are directly related to federal public service employees working from home. The equipment they are using is not appropriate for providing the quality of service Canadians expect. As well, many service agents sound like they are working in a tin can. It is also not uncommon to be distracted by the background noise at the home of the service agent. In addition, public service employees do not have ready access to their expert network to assist with more complicated issues being raised by Canadians. These are not isolated issues as they are recurring examples of Canadians’ experiences dealing with the Canada Revenue Agency, the passport office, Service Canada agents, Veterans’ Affairs Canada, etc.

While these issues are real and significant, they are not insurmountable. Addressing these and other issues related to access, quality, and timeliness of services will truly make the discussion about where the services are provided a moot point. While this will require strong, effective leadership from the Treasury Board and all government departments, it also requires the unions to recognize that while the needs of employees are important, they do not trump the needs of Canadians.

Moving forward, there needs to be a major reformulation of the delivery of services to Canadians which reflects emerging and evolving societal needs, and how and when taxpayers access government services. While federal public service employees’ needs have evolved, so have the needs of Canadians. Accessing services between Monday and Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., with no access on federal statutory holidays or weekends, is a construct of the past. The evolving work-life balance needs of Canadian families must drive a new vision for service delivery in the federal public sector. This requires developing a service delivery model that is responsive, flexible, and adaptive to the evolving and changing dynamics of Canadian families.

Where these services are delivered from is a factor for consideration, but it is not the primary decision-making point. Any decisions regarding in-office hybrid models must be seen as an interim solution until a new, reformulated service delivery model is defined by the needs of Canadians and developed in a collaborative manner. Tinkering with one element of the terms and conditions of employment of public service employees while ignoring the need to evolve the basic service delivery model for Canadians will only lead to greater deterioration of support and confidence in the federal public service overall.

There is no question the Treasury Board and the unions must work together in moving forward on the larger agenda with constant and direct input from citizens. Tackling the service delivery model will truly instill greater confidence in Canadians that government services are accessible, timely, cost efficient, and of the highest quality. The definition of a new model will then logically lead to the development of meaningful dialogue and solutions between the Treasury Board and unions in relation to the needs of public service employees including their work locations, hours of work, compensation, and overall work-life balance.

There is no question that the pandemic and its effect on Canadians and the federal public service have actually created a unique opportunity. The time is now for reformulating, revitalizing, and reinvigorating the federal public service delivery model for the next decade and beyond—but it will only occur with determined commitment, dedicated collaboration, and effective leadership.

Don Head had a 40-year career in the public service, beginning in 1978. From 2008 until he retired in 2018, Head was the commissioner of the Correctional Service Canada and served on various deputy minister-level committees that were actively involved in various aspects of public service delivery. Head currently assists the Aleph Institute, which is a non-profit Jewish organization dedicated to assisting and caring for the well-being of members of specific populations that are isolated from the regular community.

Source: Focus on service delivery, not where bureaucrats’ work is done

Wernick: The pull and push of the centre that haunts the public service

Of note (my experience with Service Canada and the shift from initial ambition to provide a cross government platform for service delivery to returning to the more narrow focus on ESDC programs, with passports being an exception, is emblematic of the currents):

The federal public sector has been shaped by two easily identifiable democratic forces – the views of the people we elect about the role of the state in society and the economy as well as the federal government’s role within the federation. Federal institutions, direct programs and transfers to other levels of government have waxed and waned in response to these two forces and the public service has constantly adapted.

There is a third force that get far less attention but has driven fierce debates and waves of change initiatives within the public service itself. This third force is the ongoing tension between two perspectives. One sees the federal public service as a coherent entity that requires consistency, mobility and portability. The other argues for a public service that has more autonomy and flexibility for both the managers and their organizations. You can always find proponents of both camps and often it’s seen through the lens of “centralizing” or “decentralizing.” The debate is likely to go on forever.

Since 1970 the federal government has had a central management board – Treasury Board ministers and the Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS). It is the guardian of a wide swath of policies governing financial management, internal controls, risk management, human resources, information management, asset management, contracting, real property, transfer payments, and more. It makes it the vortex where both centralizing and decentralizing viewpoints meet. I have been part of countless committees and task forces over the years where they clashed.

Recently this tension has been revealed in heated discussions of post-pandemic workplaces. Should the “centre” impose consistency on hybrid-work arrangements or leave the discretion to individual deputy heads who could in turn delegate decisions further down in their organizations? The policy that came out tries to have it both ways, creating a common framework but leaving a lot of flexibility within it.

This debate about workplaces will continue in collective bargaining. That’s a centralizing process for drafting common rules and standards to apply across multiple organizations. The approach to collective bargaining in the Canadian public service is a choice to centralize bargaining and put it in the hands of a few specialists on each side, while other countries may let each department bargain by itself.

For many years there have been regular updates from the TBS to guide externally facing services. The 2000 policy was updated in 2014 and again in 2020. Service Canada was created in 2005 to create a single point of access for a range of key programs. Norms have been applied across all federal entities to ensure bilingual programming and more recently to ensure services meet the needs of persons with disabilities.

The drive toward coherence built upon the Federal Identity Program has evolved since the 1970s to bring greater order to signage and other visual identifiers. Successive governments have brought ever greater central control on paid advertising by federal entities. By now you are familiar with the Canada wordmark and jingle.

The most recent update of service policies includes a heavy emphasis on “digital.” The ongoing shift to digital platforms regularly triggers a fresh wave of debate along the age-old centralist/decentralist axis. Shared Services Canada was created in 2011 to upgrade information technology infrastructure and keep ahead of the rising threats of cybersecurity breaches. It was overtly centralist in intention.

At the time it was resisted, openly or passive-aggressively, by some managers in the largest organizations. They argued that they needed to retain control of their IT to be able to innovate. Frankly, I was never persuaded how hundreds of organizations could manage the transition to digital separately – including cloud computing, cyberhacking by foreign actors and the shift to hybrid work during the pandemic. How would it ever work in practice? This is one area where a centralist approach makes sense.

Indeed, I have argued elsewhere that the failure to be as rigorous on information management behind the digital agenda is starting to show up elsewhere. The TBS should pay more attention to the disparate state of information and records management across the public service.

The landmark Federal Accountability Act of 2006 subtly strengthened the decentralist camp. By clarifying the “buck stops here” accountability of deputy heads, it bolstered the hand of those who would argue some version of “if I am accountable, I have to have full decision making authority over…”

Another line of argument used by the decentralist camp was the need for flexibility and customization, or the need to innovate. They argued that decentralizing was more conducive to innovation. The centralist camp, of which I was usually a member, argued that the friction costs were adding to costs, slowing down government, impeding internal mobility, leaving smaller organizations behind while the big departments looked out for themselves. In my view, decentralization often served the interests of vendors and consultants, not public servants.

Treasury Board has reached different landing spots between the two camps over the years, as have individual departments and organizations. Over the past decade there have been the creation of common service hubs and the standardization of basic work processes for human resources, financial and accounting practices and linking management information. Standardizing and centralizing pension services to public servants has gone well, but pay services? Not so much.

There are still battles being fought in many departments about who regional staff should report to and how much autonomy their leaders should have. And the tides go in and out.

More battles are to come. One is about how much autonomy departments and agencies should have over buildings and real estate. Another is about how much autonomy and decentralization there should be in the areas of contracting and procurement. Yet another is about how much autonomy line managers should have over recruitment and hiring processes. “Let the managers manage” is an old slogan that sounds good but in practice the outcome of highly decentralized staffing has been far from optimal. Middle managers and HR shops continue to take infuriatingly long to perform basic staffing transactions.

Interestingly, major spending reviews can work both ways. The centralist camp uses them to argue for rationalization and efficiency by bringing things together while the decentralist camp uses them to argue for getting rid of administrative burden and oversight. There is a very rough analogy here to the private sector and its ever-shifting fashions about unlocking value by breaking things up versus creating value by bringing things together.

Anyone serving on a hypothetical Royal Commission would bring conscious or unconscious bias and preferences to this debate about centralization vs decentralization. They would have to declare on the future of staffing, procurement, real estate and information management. In the real world of practitioners, the public service is pulled back and forth between impulses to standardize and centralize versus arguments for autonomy by departments, agencies and for line and regional managers within larger organizations. Each camp argues its case fiercely convinced of the rightness of their views, fuelled by the ever-shifting fashions in management literature and private sector practice.

Source: The pull and push of the centre that haunts the public service

Angus-Reid: Canadians strongly support COVID-19 test requirement for travellers from China, but also question its efficacy

Of note. 13 percent call the policy racist, perhaps an indicator of the more activist and woke portion of the population (my understanding of the testing requirement is that it is partly due to the unavailability of credible Chinese government data):

China abandoning its COVID zero strategy has caused a ripple of concern around the globe as the world’s second-most populous country faces an unprecedented wave of infections affecting as many as four-in-five people.

In response to rising cases in China, Canada, alongside other countries, set a new requirement this month that travellers form China must produce a negative COVID-19 test prior to takeoff.

Data from the non-profit Angus Reid Institute finds a majority of Canadians supportive of this policy, but unsure if it will be effective at reducing the spread of COVID-19 in their country. Indeed, Canadians who support the policy (77%) outnumber those who are opposed (16%) by nearly five-to-one.

However, those who believe the policy will be effective at reducing COVID-19 infections in Canada (34%) are in the minority. More Canadians believe it will be ineffective (38%) or are unsure (28%). And even among Canadians who support the policy, fewer than half (44%) say they believe it will be effective at preventing the spread of COVID-19.

There are other concerns with this policy. Some, including the Chinese government, have called it “discriminatory”. Others have gone further and called it “racist”. The pandemic has produced plenty of negative side effects, including discrimination and racism experienced by Canadians of Chinese descent. Some worry this new policy of testing travellers from China will rekindle those ugly sentiments. 

One-in-eight (13%) Canadians call the policy racist. However, more (73%) believe it’s not. Canadians who identify as visible minorities are twice as likely to label the policy racist (23%) than those who don’t identify as such (10%). Still, majorities of those who identify as visible minority (62%) and those who don’t (76%) say the policy is not racist.

More Key Findings:

  • Nearly all (94%) of those who oppose the COVID-19 testing policy for travellers from China believe it won’t be effective at reducing the spread of the virus in Canada.
  • One-in-five (19%) Canadians say they are not travelling at all because they are worried about COVID-19. A further 33 per cent say they have approached their recent travel with caution. Two-in-five (41%) are less worried about the risk of COVID-19 when it comes to travel.
  • Two-in-five (37%) of those who have not travelled at all outside of their province since March 2022 say they aren’t travelling because they worry about catching COVID-19.

Source: Canadians strongly support COVID-19 test requirement for travellers from China, but also question its efficacy

Yakabuski: The Trudeau government seems awfully cozy with McKinsey – and that demands scrutiny

More questioning of the role that McKinsey has played and continues to play in Canada.

Had some experience while at Service Canada working with high level consultants (not McKinsey) and, while they were instrumental in helping develop frameworks and strategies, it was a challenge to ensue they and us as public servants remained focussed on where their contribution was most needed.

And overall, government needs to focus on strengthening its policy and program capacity rather than over relying on outside expertise whose private sector expertise, while useful, is sometimes an unrealistic fit for the government context.

The money quote “Wedge yourself in and spread like an amoeba” applies more broadly than McKinsey:

Business schools across the country would do well to undertake a case study on McKinsey & Co.’s remarkable success in winning contracts from the federal government since Justin Trudeau’s Liberals took power. There, they’ll find insights into how Ottawa really works.

McKinsey, the pedigreed consulting firm that has been plagued by a series of conflict-of-interest scandals spanning several countries, has been practically wedded at the hip to Mr. Trudeau’s government since the firm’s then-global managing partner, Dominic Barton, was picked to head up Ottawa’s advisory council on economic growth in 2016.

Out of the supposed generosity of its heart, McKinsey provided pro bono research support to the council. We are told that this had absolutely no influence on the Trudeau government’s subsequent awarding of a string of multimillion-dollar contracts to the firm, including, as The Globe and Mail reported last year, a $24.8-million deal to advise the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) on “transformation strategies,” whatever that means.

This week, Radio-Canada arrived at its own tally of federal contracts awarded to McKinsey since Mr. Trudeau’s government was first elected in 2015: While the firm earned a mere $2.2-million in federal government work when Stephen Harper’s Conservatives were in power between 2006 and 2015, it has pocketed more than $66-million in less than seven years under the Liberals.

And even that sum, Radio-Canada conceded, does not provide a complete picture, since it leaves out contracts awarded by Crown corporations such as the Business Development Bank of Canada and Export Development Canada. The government’s response to an order paper question submitted by Conservative MP Tako Van Popta included $84-million in federal payments to McKinsey in the 18 months up to November on various contracts. That total includes payments to BDC and EDC.

Bloc Québécois MP Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe asked Immigration Minister Sean Fraser to provide the details of McKinsey’s IRCC contracts at a meeting of the House of Commons immigration committee in November. Mr. Fraser referred the question to his deputy minister, Christiane Fox, who in turn asked assistant deputy minister Hughes St-Pierre to answer, though not before adding: “I’d like to point out that one of the contracts that McKinsey was awarded in the past was to deliver a training program for our Black employees wanting to move into a leadership position within the department.” As if diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives justify everything.

Mr. St-Pierre was equally unhelpful. “It was to advise us on how to transform the department,” was all he said of the largest and most recent contract the department handed to McKinsey.

The advisory council Mr. Barton headed called for a 50-per-cent increasein the number of permanent residents Canada accepts annually, from 300,000 in 2016 to 450,000 in 2021, to boost economic growth and reduce the old-age dependency ratio. The Trudeau government has gone even further than the council recommended, announcing plans in November to boost immigration numbers to 500,000 newcomers by 2025.

How Canada’s chronically backlogged immigration system can handle this surge is anyone’s guess. Whether McKinsey’s advice is worth the taxpayer money paid to the firm is equally impossible to discern. Ottawa refuses to provide a full accounting of the work McKinsey performed, or to make public any report the firm produced.

The chronology of McKinsey’s ever deepening business relationship with the federal government will not surprise anyone who has studied the strategies the firm has employed in any of the 65 countries in which it operates.

“Wedge yourself in and spread like an amoeba,” a senior McKinsey partner once said in explaining to young recruits how to win business from potential clients. “Once in, you should spread yourself in the organization and do everything.” The quote is included in When McKinsey Comes to Town, a recent book about McKinsey’s global activities by Walt Bogdanich and Michael Forsythe that examines the firm’s underbelly.

Can you draw a straight line between Mr. Barton’s cozy relationship with the Liberal government – Mr. Trudeau named him as Canada’s ambassador to China shortly after he stepped down from the top job at McKinsey – and the firm’s ability to win contracts in Ottawa? Is it just a coincidence that McKinsey landed a juicy deal to provide advice on how to transform the immigration department just after the advisory council Mr. Barton headed recommended transforming Canada’s immigration system?

These are not banal questions. Similar ones are swirling around French President Emmanuel Macron, whose government has also awarded countless contracts to McKinsey in recent years. French authorities have opened an investigation into the potential illegal financing of Mr. Macron’s 2017 and 2022 election campaigns. Among other things, the authorities are probing whether McKinsey associates worked on Mr. Macron’s campaigns for free as a networking opportunity that subsequently yielded lucrative paid contracts.

Wedge yourself in and spread like an amoeba, indeed.

Source: The Trudeau government seems awfully cozy with McKinsey – and that demands scrutiny

Dodek: It’s time for the Supreme Court, and the federal government, to stand up for the Charter

Valid critique:

The Liberals used to be the party of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Now, under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, they risk being the party that leads to the Charter’s decline.

Over the past five years, the political taboo over the use of the notwithstanding clause, which allows governments to override some Charter rights, has been shattered across Canada. This occurred not under former prime minister Stephen Harper, a Conservative who was the favourite lightning rod of Liberal Charter enthusiasts, but under the current Liberal stewardship of Mr. Trudeau.

When Ontario Premier Doug Ford threatened to use the notwithstanding clause in the fall of 2018, as part of a plan to shrink the size of the Toronto City Council in the midst of the provincial election, the Prime Minister did nothing. (Ultimately, Mr. Ford did not use the clause in that instance.)

The next year, Quebec Premier François Legault went ahead with using the notwithstanding clause to insulate Bill 21, which bans certain provincial government employees from wearing religious symbols at work. In 2021, Mr. Ford also used the clause for a law limiting third-party election spending. In both cases, Mr. Trudeau again did nothing.

Earlier this year, the Quebec government used the notwithstanding clause once more, this time to push through Bill 96, its new language law. Yet again, the Prime Minister took no action, though he has said that the federal government would intervene in a legal challenge to Bill 21 at the Supreme Court of Canada.

“This is a matter that matters to all Canadians, regardless of which part of the country they live in,” Mr. Trudeau said in May, when asked if Ottawa would involve itself in the Bill 21 challenge. “This government will continue to be here to defend people’s fundamental rights and freedoms.”

I doubt those whose rights have been threatened or stripped away by legislation in Quebec and Ontario find much comfort in the Prime Minister’s vague and banal words. They won’t help the Muslim women in Quebec who have lost their jobs because they wear a hijabas a declaration of their faith. They won’t help non-native French speakers who are barred from speaking another language at work.

While the Ontario government pledged to repeal its most recent use of the clause (as part of Bill 28, which made it illegal for unionized education workers to go on strike), Canadians should still be concerned about the increased use of this clause by provincial governments.

Mr. Trudeau could act right now if he wanted to. If he has the political courage to do so, the Prime Minister could initiate a reference to the Supreme Court challenging the pre-emptive use of the notwithstanding clause in Quebec and Ontario. He could send some of the best legal talent in the country from the Department of Justice down the street to the high court to stand up for the minority rights of Canadians.

Crucially, Ottawa could argue that the Supreme Court should revisit its 1988 Ford v. Quebec (Attorney-General) decision, which gave governments the carte-blanche ability to use the notwithstanding clause.

Supreme Court decisions are not cast in stone. Much has changed in the three decades since it first ruled on the use of the notwithstanding clause, which authorized its use both in reaction to court decisions striking down laws as violations of the Charter, as well as its pre-emptive use in advance of any such legal challenges.

The rights and provisions set out in the Charter do not define themselves. It is the task of the courts, especially the Supreme Court, to interpret its contents. The political leaders who debated and enacted the Charter knew full well that they would be giving this awesome responsibility to the courts.

Between 1980 and 1981, a special joint committee of the Senate and the House of Commons spent more than 150 hours hearing from Canadians about the draft Charter. The legislators on this committee were warned that the enactment of a constitutionally-entrenched bill of rights such as the Charter would make the courts responsible for its interpretation.

The 1988 Ford decision dates to the early years of Charter interpretation. It is part of the first generation of Charter cases. The high court’s interpretation of Charter rights ebbs and flows over time.

A favourite metaphor among Canadian constitutional lawyers and academics is the idea that our Constitution is a “living tree” – one that is capable of growth and expansion within its natural limits. Sometimes, the Constitution needs to be pruned back. In other cases, the courts or governments go too far – in recent years, both have done so on sanctioning and using the notwithstanding clause.

The time is ripe for Canada’s highest court to revisit its 34-year-old decision. It is also long overdue for some strong federal leadership to defend the Charter rights of Canadians.

Adam Dodek is a law professor at the University of Ottawa and author of the book, The Canadian Constitution.

Source: It’s time for the Supreme Court, and the federal government, to stand up for the Charter

Sears: Government secrecy hides corruption and covers for the incompetent. Why do we still allow it?

Good question. Imagine one of the reasons is the fear that media and others may focus more on the “gotcha” quote rather than a deeper read to understand more comprehensively the issues and interests at stake. That being said, I agree that the default should be openness, not the current opacity and delay.

Wonder if that was his position more than 30 years ago when working as Chief of Staff to then Ontario Premier Bob Rae:

Imagine living in a democracy where open access to everything politicians and governments say and do is automatically made public. Where everyone in public service knows that documents are public, unless you can make a persuasive case that a specific file impacts national security or personal privacy, among a short list of exemptions.

A fairy tale? No, Sweden. They’ve governed this way for well over 200 years, ever since King Gustav III staged a coup d’etat and instituted open government in the 18th century, as a means of revealing corruption in Parliament and the judiciary. Today, all Nordic countries have similar commitments to the importance of accessing information.

But this is Canada, where it seems every week we have another minister or official caught in a coverup. Recently, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly and Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc were almost insolent in their testimony before a parliamentary committee examining why the government had not investigated reports of political bribery by China. As Global News reports, LeBlanc “could not disclose whether he has been informed of ‘specific cases,’” while Joly “reiterated that both she and (Prime Minister Justin) Trudeau were not provided specific information.”

This leaves Canadians with a very unpleasant binary choice: either they are not telling truth, or they are. The latter option begs the more worrying question: why were they not briefed?

Our performance on access to information would be laughable, if it were not so dangerous. One witness, a frustrated information seeker, claimed he had been told the delay in meeting his request would take up to 80 years. Needless to say, when decision-making is done in secret, we do not get better government.

The “Freedom Convoy” inquiry has already revealed the cost of government secrecy. That shambolic, finger-pointing circus showed Canadians in painful detail the efforts by many officials to hide information and pass the buck.

Then the inquiry into the failure of Ottawa’s LRT reported that former mayor Jim Watson and senior staff had been economical with the truth, hiding dozens of serious warning signals about the project. Another failure in secret.

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith attempted to legislate a defenestration of Parliament and to govern by decree whenever she chose — an astonishing proposition also brewed in secret. The firestorm caused her to relent within days.

Source: Government secrecy hides corruption and covers for the incompetent. Why do we still allow it?

Encore loin de la représentativité dans la fonction publique québécoise

Of note. But as in the case of the federal government, progress:

Le gouvernement du Québec tarde à atteindre ses objectifs d’accès à l’emploi pour les fonctionnaires des minorités visibles et ethniques. La fonction publique doit ajouter au strict minimum deux milliers d’employés issus de la diversité d’ici l’an prochain, mais le compte à rebours est bien amorcé.

Pour que « l’ensemble de la population du Québec puisse se reconnaître dans la fonction publique », Québec s’était fixé l’objectif que 18 % des employés de l’État fassent partie d’une minorité visible ou ethnique (MVE) en mars 2023. Or, selon des statistiques tout juste rendues publiques, le gouvernement est encore loin du compte.

Le 31 mars 2022, le taux de présence des personnes racisées parmi les quelque 60 000 employés de l’État s’élevait à 15,4 %, révèlent les données du Secrétariat du Conseil du trésor. C’est 1,4 point de pourcentage de plus que l’année précédente (14 %), mais encore loin de la cible réitérée l’an dernier par le Groupe d’action contre le racisme (GACR).

Mis sur pied lors du dernier mandat caquiste, ce comité interministériel n’a pas pu faire le bilan de ses actions en 2022 à temps pour les Fêtes. Celui-ci paraîtra « cet hiver, [donc] en 2023 », a indiqué au Devoir le cabinet du ministre responsable de la Lutte contre le racisme,Christopher Skeete. En décembre 2021, cependant, le ministre responsable de l’époque, Benoit Charette, avait convenu que la fonction publique en faisait « trop peu » en matière d’embauche de personnes racisées.

En quatre ans, la représentativité des personnes issues des MVE au gouvernement a grimpé de 4,1 points de pourcentage.

Des meilleurs aux pires

Le ministère de l’Immigration, de la Francisation et de l’Intégration remporte, et de loin, la palme de la représentativité. En mars, près de la moitié (46,1 %) de ses employés provenait de la diversité, et l’ensemble de ses objectifs régionaux avaient été atteints. Au second rang : le ministère de la Famille, à 28,4 %, puis l’Économie, à 21,1 %.

Parmi les cancres, le ministère de la Forêt, de la Faune et des Parcs — depuis scindé —, qui comptait dans ses rangs 3,4 % de personnes racisées en mars 2022. Non loin de là, le ministère de l’Énergie et des Ressources naturelles — lui aussi remanié cet automne — (8,9 %), ainsi que celui de la Culture et des Communications (10,9 %).Interrogé par Le Devoir à ce sujet, le ministère de la Forêt, de la Faune et des Parcs n’a pas répondu dans les temps impartis. Son rapport annuel de gestion 2021-2022 indique cependant que sur 1112 nouvelles embauches, 63 personnes étaient issues des MVE.

Le ministère du Conseil exécutif, qui est piloté par l’équipe du premier ministre, atterrit aussi parmi les moins représentatifs. Au total, 8,3 % de ses employés sont des personnes racisées.

Dans son plan d’action déposé en décembre 2020, le GACR avait formulé cinq recommandations quant à l’emploi des minorités visibles et ethniques. « Pour faire de la fonction publique […] un employeur exemplaire », Québec s’engageait notamment à « négocier et à conclure, d’ici cinq ans, des ententes internationales en matière de reconnaissance des qualifications professionnelles » et à « garantir la présence d’au moins un membre provenant d’une minorité visible au sein de la majorité des conseils d’administration des sociétés d’État ».Le Secrétariat du Conseil du trésor, qui gère l’embauche des fonctionnaires, assure « met[tre] en place des actions pour soutenir les [ministères et organismes] dans l’atteinte des cibles ». « Au printemps et à l’automne 2021, le secrétaire du Conseil du trésor a transmis deux communications aux sous-ministres et aux dirigeants d’organismes afin de dresser le portrait de la situation et les inciter à mettre les efforts nécessaires en vue d’atteindre la cible de 18 % en 2023 », a écrit l’équipe des communications au Devoir vendredi.

Source: Encore loin de la représentativité dans la fonction publique québécoise

Wernick’s Letter from Ottawa: an exhausting year shows the limits of foresight and the comfort of hindsight

Valid points on foresight, imperfect, and hindsight, which is always 20/20, as well as the environment under which decisions are taken. I always try to ask myself when being critical of the government’s action or inaction about whether I would have done better than the officials involved. Not necessarily.

But, as we have seen over the past few years, government does appear to have a systemic issue with foresight and, when there is foresight, it is often not taken seriously or acted upon (insert your favourite example!).

My favourite example is the decision by PHAC to cut the pandemic warning system shortly before COVID, one of the more irresponsible decisions based on very small savings, particularly compared to the costs of COVID:

The end of the calendar year typically brings with it occasions to take stock and look back. Across Canada, this is the season for holiday receptions and gatherings. It is also a season for year-end shows that recap the major events and for pundits to issue report cards on who among the politicians has had a good or bad year. Some will indulge in speculation about the year ahead.

What is striking about 2022 is how many of its highlights would have been missed in any crystal ball gazing last December. Many of the strategic plans and forecasts generated within governments and private sector firms would now be shredded or filed away. It was a bad year for the foresight community.

I will set aside the year of three prime ministers in the UK. 

The start of year saw Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and, for Canadians, the ‘trucker convoy’ protests. Over the year inflation surged from the 3-4% range in 2021 to between 6-8% and the notable changes to the price of food, gasoline and home mortgages have made inflation the hot economic and political concern it hasn’t been since the 1980s. Our national politics have slumped into a somewhat dreary stalemate between an incumbent government starting to show signs of burnout at the seven year mark, and a new opposition leader betting on populism to create a mood for change in 2025. A central part of his strategy is to promote at every opportunity a sense that “everything seems broken”.

‘The extensive formal infrastructure of hindsight’

This effort to catastrophise has been given some inadvertent lift by the extensive formal infrastructure of hindsight that is a vital supply chain for media opinion writers and opposition politicians. There is no small irony in this because an array of institutions have been created with an overall purpose to increase confidence and trust in government – both the institutions of the state and the system of democratic decision-making – by correcting its behaviour and showing that it is accountable and responsive.

Here in Canada, the last month has brought a bountiful harvest of after action reviews. As provided for in the legislation, an enquiry is underway to review the federal government’s decision back in February to invoke the Emergencies Act to bring an end to the disruption caused by the escalating trucker convoy protests. The preeminent federal feedback institution – the auditor general – has just released two reports on the government’s efforts back in 2021 to cope with the pandemic. In Ontario, the provincial auditor has annoyed the premier with an aggressive investigation into money laundering through casinos. And in my home city of Ottawa, a commission has just reported on a particularly messy light rail infrastructure project.

To be clear, people who care about better government support having strong feedback loops that strengthen accountability. They inoculate against complacency and inertia. At their best they contribute to ‘learning software’ by which the public sector detects errors and problems and governments are forced to pay attention and strive to do better in the future. In my experience, it is far easier to mobilise the will to change laws and programmes or secure investments in the noisy aftermath of negative feedback than it is to secure support for preventive measures when things are quiet. Mechanisms like ombudspersons and review panels and tribunals are valuable outlets that often shed light on more systemic problems.

The uncomfortable truth is that all of the feedback loops have their problems – they are like a distorted mirror. The core software in a Westminster system is answerability of the executive to parliament but parliamentary committees never fail to disappoint. In Canada they often lapse into clumsy attempts to score partisan points or create clips to be shared on social media. Formal enquiries have a more rigorous methodology, and are seen to be impartial, but they are often driven by judges and lawyers, their idiosyncrasies and adversarial approach. Some have been truly impactful (the Krever Royal Commission into the tainted blood scandal) and some have proven to be useless (the Gomery commission into the use of a programme to raise awareness of the Government of Canada’s contributions to industries in Quebec). Arguably the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for those directly or indirectly affected by the legacy of the Indian Residential Schools system, which reported in 2015, has been the most important exercise of its kind in modern times.

The key feature of these reviews, and of the dozen or so institutions that make up the infrastructure of accountability, is hindsight, and the risk of hindsight bias. They cannot ever really capture the original context in which advice was given and decisions were made. They strain out all of the myriad other events and issues that were going on at the time, when the reality of governing is multitasking with limited time and imperfect information. They all use a version of what auditors call residual risk assessment that strains out the baseline to focus on the anomaly. Then the journalists and opposition only pay attention to the juiciest products among the many that are generated each year. The things that work aren’t newsworthy.

Reviews cannot capture the crisis

This hindsight effect is particularly true of efforts to look back at the response to the pandemic. I have yet to read any acknowledgement that the people involved, whether politicians or public servants, were themselves coping with the risk of falling ill, had children or elderly parents to worry about, and were adjusting to lockdown measures and disruption of workplaces. Whatever general appreciation there was in 2020 or 2021 of public sector workers has rapidly dissipated in 2022.

The fundamental limitation of ‘after action’ reviews is they cannot capture the alternative scenarios or timelines that would have unfolded if different decisions had been made. This is particularly true of the current enquiry into the Emergencies Act. As useful as it may prove to be in establishing the timeline right up to the point of the decision to invoke the act, we cannot ever know what would have happened in the days that followed had the government not acted. And yet that assessment of the trendline and the future scenarios would have been the core of the discussion at the time.

These reviews never quite recreate a typical problem set in public administration – the age old adage that one can prioritise speed, costs, or rigour but not all three at the same time. That isn’t quite true as many initiatives do find a way to achieve an acceptable outcome in all three – the stimulus package of 2008-09 comes to mind. But in a way, when you choose the priority you choose to be criticised later on something else. Choose rigour and the reviews will focus on slow delivery. Choose speed and the reviews will focus on execution. Order too much vaccine and be criticised for wastage – order too little and be criticised for not protecting the vulnerable.

That comes with the territory and isn’t about to change. But I have a growing unease that the very mechanisms created to bolster confidence and trust in democratic governance may be inadvertently contributing to a climate of demoralisation and defeatism that sows the seeds of future trouble.

As this turbulent year draws to a close it is easy to see the limitations of foresight, but feedback and hindsight are a necessary part of achieving better government. Flying blind is not a better way, and each time review should be an opportunity to focus on lessons learned and summon the will to make necessary changes and investments.

But we also should pay attention to the limitations and uses of hindsight, and rise above a short term partisan blame game and making risk averse politicians and public servants even more risk averse. In the 2020s the key quality the public sector will need is not clairvoyance, but resilience and the capacity to learn and adapt.

Source: Letter from Ottawa: an exhausting year shows the limits of foresight and the comfort of hindsight

Improving record keeping crucial to open government, says former head of federal public service

Interesting comments by Wernick. Has been a long-time problem and I remember a number of initiatives and programs to address these problems during my time in government with limited success. Not an easy problem to solve given the vast amount of government information holdings:

The former head of the federal public service says neglect and underinvestment in recordkeeping is undermining the government’s “lofty language” about its commitment to open government, and making it harder to locate documents people ask for under access-to-information law.

Michael Wernick says the government’s archives resemble a scene out of an Indiana Jones movie, with boxes and boxes of records waiting to be scanned, sorted and organized.

In an interview with The Globe and Mail, he said “the language of open government” … is built on “a very shaky foundation” because of a lack of investment in organizing records so they can be easily located.

He said there was a disconnect “between rhetoric and delivery” when it came to Ottawa’s stated commitment to open government.

“As with many things with this government … there is a gap between the lofty language and the execution or delivery,” he said. “What you will find is it is very spotty.”

Ottawa’s National Action Plan on Open Government commits it to being more transparent and accountable.

The Access to Information Act also places a legal requirement on the government to keep organized records and to publish guides each year to help people find them.

The act requires it to publish a detailed description of the types of records held by government departments.

“Open Government is about making government more accessible to everyone. This means giving greater access to government data and information to the Canadian public and the businesses community,” the government’s website on open government says.

Mr. Wernick, who was the federal government’s top bureaucrat – the Clerk of the Privy Council – from 2016 to 2019, said there was overall a lack of dedication to recordkeeping in Ottawa and a great “mess of things.”

Records were scattered around different government departments on floppy discs, diskettes, paper record files and in boxes, as well as on servers and in the Cloud.

He told The Globe that some federal departments and institutions organized their records well and had put tools in place to make them easy to find, but others were chaotic.

“Like many things, you’ll find pockets of excellence and some really cool things that are happening, and then there are other areas which are … rusted and shambolic. There’s a lack of consistency of effort around,” he said.

He said the amount of information being generated by the government – including e-mails – was more than its “absorption capacity” to get it digitized and scanned.

The government’s archive, he said, has “an enormous warehouse, like something out of Indiana Jones movies” full of boxes of records waiting to be organized, but there are neither the people nor the money to do it.

He said there should be more investment in developing search tools so that government records can be easily located, including if someone requests them under freedom-of-information laws. Organizing records would also help the federal policy of proactive disclosure, he said.

“What is really important is the navigation and recordkeeping. It’s just so uneven,” he said.

Mr. Wernick said with some records dating back centuries, as well as stacks of paper and a plethora of e-mails, deciding what to keep for posterity was a skill.

Retrieval and information management should be an integral part of an open-government agenda, including how to tag, classify and sort records, he said, but it was far down the government’s priority list.

He said “investing in basic conservation” and protecting records from flood and fire was also crucial, to stop them from being degraded.

Mr. Wernick told a Commons committee last month that the offices of the prime minister and federal ministers should no longer be exempt from access-to-information law, and there should be a greater onus in Ottawa on pro-actively disclosing as much information to the public as possible.

Monica Granados, press secretary to Treasury Board president Mona Fortier, said the government has “enshrined pro-active publication in law, strengthening openness and transparency across government.”

“The open-government portal now holds 34,000 data/information records, 2 million pro-active disclosures from more than 160 institutions, as well as summaries of completed access-to-information requests,” she said.

Source: Improving record keeping crucial to open government, says former head of federal public service

Delay, delay, delay: MPs seek fix to Canada’s broken Access-to-Information system

I have largely given up on filing ATIP given my experience with delays:

When the government of Pierre Trudeau passed Canada’s Access to Information Act in 1983, it did so with the express purpose of creating what it thought would be an important new tool for governing democratically.

Indeed, the Act’s objective is set out in the first few paragraphs of the legislation: “to enhance the accountability and transparency of federal institutions in order to promote an open and democratic society and to enable public debate on the conduct of those institutions.”

But forty years later and despite promises made by Pierre’s son, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, to make this crucial tool work even better, the federal access-to-information system is in its worse shape ever according to a host of witnesses, including Canada’s Information Commissioner Caroline Maynard, that have spoken before a House of Commons committee studying the issue.

The biggest problem, according to those witnesses: Delays. Under the law, government departments are to provide requested records within 30 days of the request. They can take extra time when certain conditions exist.

According to Maynard, the government failed to meet its legislated timelines on more than 30 per cent of the 400,000 or so access-to-information (ATI) requests made in the last year. One Ottawa-based researcher, Michael Dagg, was told he would have to wait 80 years for records he asked for from Library and Archives Canada about some RCMP operations. That particular delay may be extreme, but delays stretching from months into years for relatively routine records requested are now increasingly common.

“Access delayed is access denied,” said Matthew Green, the NDP MP on the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy, and Ethics, which is in the midst of a study intended to recommend some fixes to the system. “In order to have parliamentary oversight, in order to have public trust, there needs to be quick and efficient access to information.”

Under the current iteration of the ATI Act, departments that fail to respond within legislated timelines do not face sanction. There are no fines and no penalties. Requesters cannot sue the government. The information commissioner has no power to force departments to respond. Each delayed request simply ends up as a data point in year-end reports on departmental performance. And, as Maynard told the House ethics committee, complaints to her office are already up 70 per cent this year.

“It comes down to a culture of secrecy,” said Michael Barrett, a Conservative MP who is also on the Ethics committee.  “We’ve heard from witnesses, some of them with access-to-information requests spanning between five and nine years and some departments being worse than others. And then when they receive the access requests, they come back in some redacted form — blacked out with a lot of useful information missing. So it really creates a problem where people aren’t able to get the information they need in a timely way.”

One series of access-to-information requests filed by Global News illustrates the uneven and poor performance of government departments in responding to requests in a timely fashion.

On March 16, 2020, with the COVID-19 pandemic in full force, the federal government shuttered most of its offices and told most of its hundreds of thousands employees to work from home. And while it designated some employees as ‘essential’ it did not designate those working in access-to-information offices as ‘essential.’ As a result, the work in each department’s ATI shop began to grind to a halt as they could not access the secure computer networks in their offices needed to retrieve and process requested records. But as Information Commissioner Maynard would inform all departments during that COVID spring, even a pandemic cannot be used as legal justification for delaying the production of requested records.

And yet, on government websites and in correspondence from ATI analysts, the pandemic was cited time and time again as the reason records could not be produced under legislated timelines.

So, in June 2020, Global News filed identical access-to-information requests to more than a dozen large government departments. The requests were simple: Produce any memos or instructions circulated to department staff telling them how they were to do what Maynard had instructed them to do, which was meet their access-to-information obligations in the legislated 30-day timeline.

Only one department — the Department of Finance — responded to that Global News request in the 30-day window. Health Canada missed by a bit, responding in 43 days.

But the Department of National Defence provided the records in 105 days. Industry Canada took 221 days to respond. Global Affairs Canada took 295 days. The RCMP took 753 days.

And, last week, the Privy Council Office — the department that supports the work of the prime minister — finally provided the request records, 907 days after Global News asked for them. The records provided consisted of two e-mail messages and a PowerPoint presentation deck. Eleven pages in total. Not a word was blacked out, but it still took 907 days to process the relatively simple request.

Three departments — the Canada Border Services Agency, the Canada Revenue Agency, and Environment Canada — have yet to to respond to that June 2020 Global News ATI request.

“We’ve got a problem when we have journalists looking to report in real time on matters that are current in Canada. And it takes years or more to get information,” said Barrett. “It turns them into — as one witness said — into historians instead of journalists.”

Access-to-information requests from journalists make up a small minority of any year’s requests. More than 65 per cent of requests for information are made by  everyday Canadians. Many more come from academics, business owners and not-for-profit organizations.

Maynard has provided the government and the ethics committee with a list of 18 recommendations to fix the access-to-information. She believes the system needs more resources and staff to process ATI requests as well as some rule changes. But, as she told the ethics committee when she testified before it in October, the access-to-information system will only improve when there is political will to improve it. In other words, the prime minister and his cabinet must make improvements a priority.

“Actions speak louder than words,” Maynard said. “Leaders must ensure that their institutions live up to their legislative obligations.”

Source: Delay, delay, delay: MPs seek fix to Canada’s broken Access-to-Information system