Ibbitson: Ottawa needs to catch up to the private sector in digitalizing its operations

Good column. A real challenge that he identifies, an institutional and cultural one, is changing the culture from one focussed on policy and program development to one focused on citizen-centred service.

The original concept for Service Canada to do just that was smothered by senior leadership in the public service, dominated by the policy folks, who had understandable worries regarding the risks involved in such reversal of hierarchies.

But still a goal worth pursuing:

“Taking out the trash” refers to governments burying awkward news by announcing it late on a Friday afternoon, when journalists and opposition politicians have finished their regular duties and are preparing for the weekend. The Liberals have taken this dishonourable practice to a whole new level.

On Saturday morning, the federal government announced a new task force of cabinet ministers to address backlogs at government offices.

“The delays in immigration application and passport processing are unacceptable and the Government of Canada is urgently working to resolve them as soon as possible,” the release stated.

To deliver such news, not on a Friday afternoon, but on a Saturday morning, and on the St. Jean Baptiste Day holiday weekend, right after the House of Commons has risen for the summer (which means no Question Period for months), and while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is overseas – that’s some trash that needed taking out.

There are both temporary and deep-seated reasons for these backlogs and for interminable lineups at airports.

The waning of the pandemic has resulted in distortions, from sudden surges in travel to rising inflation. All governments are struggling to adjust.

But there are deeper issues. As the baby boomers retire, labour shortages are appearing in all sectors.

In the competition for workers, the federal public service is able to offer job security and handsome benefits. But bureaucrats are bureaucracies, and many workers prefer the more dynamic environment of the private sector. At the federal level, the bilingualism requirement for many positions can also be a liability.

It’s more than that, though. The federal public service is Sears and the world is Amazon.

To respond to the surge in passport applications, Families Minister Karina Gould told the CBC’s Rosemary Barton, “we’ve hired 600 new people to work in the passport section since January. We’re hiring an additional 600.”

To any problem, this government’s solution is: hire more people. Between 2010 and 2015, while the Conservatives were in office, the federal public service shrank from 283,000 workers to 257,000. On Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s watch, it has grown to 320,000, as of 2021. That’s a huge increase.

Meanwhile, the backlog of potential immigrants waiting to hear if their application has been accepted has ballooned to 2.4 million people. Airports are jammed with travellers waiting to board a flight. And people have been lining up at passport offices for days.

And while those backlogs will go away, the red tape that everyone has been complaining about for years won’t. Increasing the size of the public service has not increased its efficiency. Quite the opposite.

Corporations must adjust to changing circumstances or risk going out of business. Sears could not adapt to the digital efficiency of Amazon. But the federal public service is a monopoly, and resists innovation.

When dealing with the federal government, why is so much paper involved? Why do you often have to visit an office? Why are things sent through the mail? Why are wait times so long even in normal conditions? Ottawa is a generation behind the private sector in digitalizing its operations.

The relentless push to concentrate power in the centre also hampers service delivery. Front-line workers need the authority to make decisions, even if mistakes sometimes embarrass the government. Instead, authority is concentrated in the Privy Council and Prime Minister’s offices, creating further delay.

There’s another issue, one specific to this Liberal government. It considers announcing services more important than delivering them. Every budget contains a new child-care program or a new business development bank. It doesn’t contain mechanisms for delivering new and existing services more efficiently.

The federal government doesn’t need more people, it needs fewer people and more software.

Public service reform must start with a relentless focus on serving the customer, also known as the citizen. Reform means measuring the performance of the public service primarily through the lens of customer satisfaction.

Someday, the federal government will have to tackle this problem root and branch. Because the labour shortages are only going to worsen. The backlogs are only going to grow. People are going to get angrier. And no ad hoc task force will accomplish anything, Including this one.

Source: Ottawa needs to catch up to the private sector in digitalizing its operations

Savoie: Prime ministers, unwittingly or not, have unleashed powerful forces when they told government managers to embrace private-sector management practices while leaving their accountability requirements intact

More reiteration of Savoie’s ongoing concerns but nevertheless worth reading on easy slogans clash with the messiness of politics, the challenges of providing service and the institutional realities:

Presidents and prime ministers, in four countries with different political institutions, came to power with easy slogans: doing more with less; deliverology; joined-up government; empowering managers; drain the swamp; fix bureaucracy; and the list goes on. But once in office, their focus quickly shifted to more pressing issues and intense demands on their agenda.

Presidents and prime ministers, unwittingly or not, unleashed powerful forces when they told government managers to embrace private sector management practices while leaving accountability requirements intact. Their management reform efforts were little more than shots in the dark, generating unintended consequences, undermining what they sought to accomplish, and giving birth to new problems. The reforms failed to recognize that government operations and government bureaucracies remain fundamentally political because politics is always a key part of the equation. The question is not whether politics and administration should be separated. The point is that they cannot be separated, beyond the superficial, so long as public servants and their work answer to politicians. We still need to remind political leaders that the public and private sectors are different in both important and unimportant ways.

Presidents and prime ministers have misdiagnosed the patient in several ways: failing to see that the problem is not in government bureaucracy, but in political institutions; failing to understand what government bureaucracy is good at; failing to appreciate that management in the private sector cannot be imported to government bureaucracy; and unwilling to understand that government policy-making and decision-making are intrinsically political. The wrong diagnosis gave rise to the wrong medicine that made the patient’s condition worse.

There are reasons why government bureaucracy is hierarchically organized and governed by formal rules and procedures. The model has met the test of time and it took root in the four countries surveyed in the book. It served England well as it extended its empire all over the globe. Government bureaucracy served France as a beacon of stability through several periods of political chaos, the United States as it introduced federalism to the world and made representative democracy work, and Canada as it brought together two nations and several regions with distinct economies over a vast thinly populated territory.

Presidents and prime ministers have debased all institutions, except their own offices. Parliament, Congress, and the National Assembly in France have lost standing. In Britain, the cabinet, Parliament, political parties, and the public service now count for much less than they did. They have all lost standing inside and outside government. A Downing Street adviser said that “Basically in No. 10 Downing St., there is a complete contempt for Parliament and that attitude permeates the entire government.” The same can be said about Canada.

The public service, operating under traditional public administrative principles and values, can perform at a high level. But there are conditions to be met. The conditions require for the political class to establish clear goals—pursuing the war effort during the Second World War comes to mind. When the political class comes up with unclear or conflicting goals, the public service will internalize these conflicts and put things on hold. The civil service can never play the role that politicians are asked to play. The public service can provide the fuel but it can never provide the direction.

The machinery of government in all four countries has learned to kick issues upstairs for resolution. When they get there, they invariably run up against an overloaded agenda. This explains why so many issues are placed on hold and why the status quo dominates in government operations. It is also where many issues, ideas and new approaches to management and budgeting go to die. This problem belongs to politicians, not public servants. However, “bureaucrats” are often blamed for it.

In brief, presidents and prime ministers have misdiagnosed the problem confronting government, thinking that the problem of government bureaucracy was behavioural rather than institutional. By diagnosing the patient as a behavioural problem, they made it a behavioural problem. They have turned senior public servants into courtiers. New management measures have motivated them to look up to promote the interest of their political masters rather than look down to support frontline managers and workers in delivering public services.

Career officials have been able to carve out a role to assist their political masters not by recommending what they ought to do but rather recommending what they can do. They have become adroit at diffusing a political crisis and at falling on hand grenades to protect presidents and prime ministers. This does not, however, square easily with a traditional value of public administration—serving with integrity, impartiality and offering advice to presidents and prime ministers without fear or favour. Because they made it to the top by understanding how best to manage the blame game and to make things happen for their political masters, they have a limited understanding of how best to help frontline managers deliver programs and public services. If senior career officials do not want to play the part of courtiers, they know that the politicians in power will turn elsewhere to get things done and there are now many places outside of the public service for politicians to turn for advice and deliver what they desire.

On management, politicians decided—wittingly or not—to play fast and loose with institutional norms long associated with public administration. They wanted to install a bias for action inside government operations without dealing with accountability requirements. They, in effect, created a halfway house which has not been able to deliver on their expectations of being able to do more with less and at the same time improve service delivery.

Presidents and prime ministers did not make government less of a political institution by centralizing more and more political power into their own hands and offices. Rather, they have made government operations even more political and, at the same time, eroded further the efficacy of government.

The political and publicness characteristic of government operations shape the behaviour of civil servants, not the other way around. Presidents and prime ministers looked away from issues that cried out for attention—the structure of government based on ministries and departments, re-assigning responsibility and accountability requirements, and the apparent inability or unwillingness of politicians and their institutions to provide clear goals. Rather than fundamental change, they continue to opt for fantasies or for the latest fashions and fads only to be abandoned when they turned out not to constitute the solution. Career public servants are left saying: “O Lord lead us not into new approaches.”

Donald J. Savoie is the author of Government: Have Presidents and Prime Ministers Misdiagnosed the Patient? This is an excerpt from this book, published by McGill-Queen’s/Brian Mulroney Institute of Government Studies in Leadership, Public Policy, and Governance, in May 2022. 

Source: Prime ministers, unwittingly or not, have unleashed powerful forces when they told government managers to embrace private-sector management practices while leaving their accountability requirements intact

Rubin: While the Charter lets us dream, the Access to Information Act is a nightmare

Tend to agree, given my much more limited experience from outside government. Of course while in government, I dreaded the extensive vetting I had to do for some files:

Two pieces of once-promising Canadian legislation have turned out very differently 40 years on. One is Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, enacted on April 17, 1982, and the other is Canada’s Access to Information Act, given royal assent on July 7, 1982.

Both claimed to advance and protect individuals from the state’s excesses; one by placing Canadians’ rights in a Supreme Court-guided constitutional framework, and the other a government-controlled law claiming to give Canadians new access to government records –while in reality gatekeeping what Canadians are allowed to know.

Both acts were born under Pierre Trudeau’s Liberal government, one through his leadership and legal beliefs (the Charter); the other (the Access Act) was delegated to his finance minister Mitchell Sharp, secretary of state Francis Fox, and their senior mandarins. These public officials disliked access-to-information legislation (ignoring the public’s demand for it) but needed a legal secrecy code to protect against the growing government leaks.

As part of the access-to-information lobby group, ACCESS, I remember that debate well.

The senior mandarins were the real winners and birth fathers of restrictive public access to government records. An earlier attempt at an Access Act by the Joe Clark government bore their imprint.

The Access to Information Act allowed bureaucrats to run the show. Public officials and corporations gained special privileges and consultation rights, allowing little leeway for the public to gain a glimpse into Ottawa’s information holdings.

Corporations successfully lobbied for special rights to object and to prevent the release of commercial data held by government.

The provinces also had a hand in drafting the secrecy provision in intergovernmental relations affecting them, making those records mandatorily exempt. They agreed with federal authorities that the vast number of federal-provincial agreements and meeting records were outside coverage of any access acts. In 40 years, it has never been suggested that all jurisdictions should agree to regularly work together to adopt more progressive disclosure terms.

Other special interest groups also gained rights. Lawyers were increasingly granted special secrecy for a range of solicitor-client privileges. Crown corporations, both federally and provincially, negotiated more favourable and broader exemption terms. Law enforcement and security agencies, especially after Sept. 11, 2001, successfully pushed for more secrecy.

And at every turn, bureaucrats broadened their policy advice protection terms. They successfully lobbied for excluding immediate release of draft or final unpublished internal government audit reports, thus diminishing the role of their internal watchdogs.

This in contrast to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, where law enforcement agencies were not given freer rein, bureaucrat and PMO plans received no free passes, lawyers had to make public cases of their arguments, and Crown corporations–even Parliament—could not expect special privileges without a challenge.

Judges blossom under Charter, rubber-stamp under Access Act

The Charter let the courts blossom with progressive purpose interpretations and few disappointments. But on the Access Act side, the courts have mainly sided with the secrecy claims of governments and corporations to the public’s disadvantage.

Just look at the Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court which recently ruled the province’s information commissioner has no business in reviewing solicitor-client numerous cases of secrecy (the Newfoundland commissioner is appealing the ruling). Or look at how the Supreme Court of Canada (John Doe v Ontario (Finance), 2014) approved Ontario and other jurisdictions’ application of broader policy advice exceptions. This ruling emboldened provinces like Quebec and British Columbia to amend their Freedom of Information Acts and bring in wider policy advice exemption terms.

Further, in access cases, the courts are unable to review cabinet records or in-camera hearing secret evidence. Even in matters like ministerial mandate letters which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has released for his cabinet, but Ontario Premier Doug Ford wants his kept secret, the courts’ hands are tied. While the Supreme Court recently gave challengers leave to appeal, it is unlikely it will go against the lower courts and buck cabinet confidentiality to order the release of Ford’s mandate letters.

Judges may be seen as too powerful under the Charter, though they mainly take their decisions from precedents, society and from the hope and purpose that the Charter offers. Judges in Access cases have bleak precedents, little leeway and may not even get to see the most key records hived off as cabinet or security-enabled secrets.

What’s also possible in Canadian Access acts aided by the provincial legislatures is the ability of a growing number of laws passed that override access laws. One such act concerns the Canada Infrastructure Bank, whose operations are largely secret.

Passed in 2019, Bill C-58, an Act to amend the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act, neatly hived off whole realms of public information, like records in the PMO, from ever publicly surfacing.

In the early days, the media greeted access legislation as a wonderful tool, giving Canadians legal access to public records. It did not take long, especially once more journalists began using access legislation, to realize that these access laws really did not stand for public disclosures. People like me tried to warn the media that access laws were primarily secrecy laws. Back in September 1975, before joining ACCESS, I presented a brief to the Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations on the federal government’s excessive secrecy. Even then, I realized that legalizing public access to government records would mean officials creating laws very similar to Canada’s vaguely-worded Official Secrets Act.

Over 500 ways to say ‘no’

The dark aspects of the Charter’s notwithstanding clause have rarely come to the forefront, whereas the over 500 ways of saying “no” under access legislation are a daily occurrence. The tools of review under access legislation are kept weak. Access users are considered wards of the state rarely given access to government records. Whereas a litigant under the Charter can use it to challenge prevailing laws and gain greater rights.

The Charter provides a place for sorting out issues that top-down government officials alone cannot handle. Access laws are the exact opposite—they’re an exercise in executive-style government predominating, with only some rights to independent review of record denials.

While the Charter has not brought about, for instance, all Indigenous rights and recognition changes needed, it tries. Canada’s access laws hardly try to allow the public, including Indigenous people, real legislated access or rights. Bureaucrats are in control and do not want access laws being extensively used, even if it is for access to historic data on land claims.

Access laws stifle Canadians’ right to information. Bureaucrats’ daily subversion of public access largely goes on without being penalized and no one effectively challenges their failure to record much government activities.

The Charter is more welcoming and well-regarded. It lets you dream, fight and win better rights that can effect everyday living. In contrast, Access laws only speak of reasonable secrecy and limited service to assist, knowing full well that the public becomes the loser, the state the clear winner.

Rarely have I, in court actions, referred to the Charter. In one case, though, I cited the Charter’s Sec. 15 equality provision in an unsuccessful challenge for gaining equal costs as a lay litigant (Rubin v. Canada (Attorney General), 1990). In another case, in Ontario, I was successful in citing the Charter’s Sec. 2 (b) guarantee of freedom of expression provision in an action that sought to have my filing FOI requests declared as libellous and subject to damages because the commercial party did not like my seeking under municipal FOI his government contracts (Sept. 20, 2019, Ontario Superior Court court ruling, CV-18-595693)).

The Charter protects my right of access to the courts. Most access laws now allow exclusion of users whom they and the information commissioner consider as abusive, frivolous, too-frequent users or as putting in requests in bad faith.

The Charter, in the courts, has been used to challenge governments’ day-to-day controls and has in judgments developed a living doctrine approach to grow and protect individual rights. In contrast, it is government information management directives that limit access, giving marching orders to government agencies to delay, delete and uphold secrecy.

The Treasury Board’s federal directives, for instance, offer dry defensive language designed to say “no” and prevent public employees from serving the public, properly documenting their actions. Daily, I have to contend with getting small morsels of information about the behind-the-scene efforts of hundreds of agencies, third parties and governments.

I would like to see access laws given a constitutional underpinning, an enshrined purpose which would help put Canada on the path to much greater disclosures. Access to information would become a full-fledged public right and a common tool of free expression and inquiry.

While the Access to Information Act and Charter of Rights and Freedoms were born from the same parent a few months apart, they have not acted together as one co-operative friendly force. Forty years have passed and even greater gulfs growing between the two acts.

The Canadian Charter garners international respect as a model to adopt; the Access to Information Act ranks dismally low as a model to avoid.

It’s time to put the two acts on the same page so that Canadians’ rights to know can no longer be ignored, trampled on or based on the state controlling what Canadians get or not get disclosed.

Ken Rubin has followed both the Access to Information Act’s rough 40 years and the Charter’s 40-year evolution. He can be reached at kenrubin.ca

Source: Rubin: While the Charter lets us dream, the Access to Information Act is a nightmare

All-powerful PMO, mistrust “destroying” the public service: Paul Tellier

Of note.

Would be of interest for other former and more recent clerks (e.g., Michael Wernick, Wayne Wouters, Mel Cappe etc) would also be surveyed on their perceptions on trust/mistrust between the public sector and PMO. Certainly existed under the Harper government although diminished over time for most:

A lack of trust between politicians and senior levels of the public service, and a Prime Minister’s Office that calls all the shots, is “destroying” Canada’s public service, warns Paul Tellier, Canada’s former top bureaucrat and former head of both Canadian National Railway and Bombardier Inc.

“The current government, with centralization of everything in the PMO, is in the process of destroying the public service … and the word ‘destroying’ is not too strong,” the former clerk of the Privy Council in the Brian Mulroney era said in an interview.

Tellier made his comments after the release of a new report, Top of Mind, by two think tanks – the Ottawa-based Institute on Governance, and the Brian Mulroney Institute of Government at St. Francis Xavier University – which threw the spotlight on the increasingly troubled relationship after probing public service executives at all levels of government about their biggest challenges.

The report found that today’s executives worry about falling public trust in government; the decline in senior bureaucrats giving “fearless advice” to ministers; a hollowing-out of policy capacity; a post-pandemic economic reckoning; conflicts among levels of government; and the need for public service reform.

The relationship is a longstanding problem, one that Tellier argues was aggravated by the Stephen Harper rules-bound Federal Accountability Act. But he thinks the problems have worsened under the current Justin Trudeau government.

Tellier questions how the public service can recruit and keep top talent, as well as drive change if deputy ministers and ministers feel compelled to check everything they do with PMO.

“There is no way that if I was a cabinet minister, I would allow a bunch of people in PMO to tell me how to do my work. And it’s at every level, it’s not only for junior ministers, the most senior ministers… It’s for deputy ministers and departments.”

“So why, if you trust the minister and if you trust the advisors to the minister in his office and in the department, do you want six people in PMO to review a draft press release, or a tweet?”

Tellier has never been far from Canada’s public service over the past five decades. He joined as a young lawyer in the 1970s, went on to lead the public service and advise ministers and prime ministers. He has watched various public service renewal efforts come and go – including Public Service 2000 (PS 2000), which he led under Mulroney.

Mulroney came to power after the Liberals had ruled for all but a few months from 1963-84. At first, the new prime minister distrusted the public service and promised to issue them “pink slips and running shoes.” But Mulroney said in a recent interview he grew to trust and rely on public servants who gave him the “straight goods,” even poaching senior bureaucrats like Derek Burney and Mark Entwistle to join his PMO.

Mulroney also told the Institute on Governance that without the work of public servants, “we wouldn’t have got our major agenda through.”

Today, many experts say much about the public service needs fixing, but Tellier believes the first step is to restore trust between politicians and bureaucrats – a key relationship in Canada’s Westminster-style democracy.

“There’s no trust,” said Tellier. “And it starts at the top.”

“I don’t know what happened (to trust). I like to say, if you write a good policy paper or a good briefing note, it is going to be read. But if it’s not going to be read, why bother?

The relationship has been strained for years, but respect for the public service nosedived during the Harper era as its role was diminished, its advice devalued and its neutrality undermined.

The Federal Accountability Act, with its focus on rules, oversight and compliance, changed the role of the deputy ministers, which left them inward-looking and isolated from Canadians.

Tellier pulls no punches about the accountability act, introduced by the Harper government in response to the sponsorship scandal. He called it a “mistake” that must be reviewed.

He said the act deepened a culture of risk-aversion, putting a stop to public servants meeting with business leaders, which was essential to understanding the various forces at play when developing policy.

“The accountability act was a mistake – not every single clause – but I think that it went way too far. As a result, it has deprived future governments of very useful input from the public service and the business sector and visa-versa.”

The public service’s job is to offer policy advice, then deliver programs and services to Canadians. Of late, the focus on reforming the public service is aimed at fixing problems that get in the way of implementing programs and service – an archaic human resources regime, a gridlock of rules and outdated technology.

But Tellier argues such reforms miss a key problem – fixing the relationship between ministers and deputy ministers.

“I think that Tellier is right about that,” said Lori Turnbull, director of the school of public administration at Dalhousie University.

“There’s only so much the public service can do by way of self-improvement that will really change anything if the political classes aren’t interested in what they say or what ideas they have.”

Take innovation. If politicians aren’t interested in public servants’ advice or innovations – unless it’s risk-free – then there is no impetus for innovation, Turnbull said.

A big problem is politics. Parties get elected on campaign platforms they consider a “contract with the voter” that they must deliver. As a result, they come to power knowing what they want and don’t believe they need any advice from public servants.

This leaves little “time and space” for public servants, who end up “playing at the margins,” taking care of implementing promises, but not coming up with the big ideas, Turnbull said.

Also, ministers want advice and answers fast. They complain that public servants take too long to gather evidence and assess options. That urgency has ramped up over the years because of technological change, the 24-hour news cycle and the rise of social media.

“There’s always been a kind of time difference between how fast the political side wants things, and how quickly the public service can move while still doing its job responsibly,” said Turnbull. “That time crunch seems to be getting worse. At one point, it was a healthy tension and now it’s becoming unhealthy, where the political side stops waiting and just does it. “

But Turnbull worries what could happen to the already fractured relationship with the shift to a public service with more flexible working arrangements in the wake of COVID-19.

She said executives and politicians are more likely to return to the office “in real time” while the rest of the public service could work remotely from anywhere across the country. That could further distance senior bureaucrats and politicians from the rest of the public service, which delivers services and does the legwork for evidence-based policy advice.

Stephen Van Dine, senior vice-president of public governance at the Institute on Governance, said those “opportunities to have a quiet word” with the minister that are critical to building trust are less likely in a public service where some are working remotely.

“The hustle and bustle of briefing a minister, whether in the car to-and-from the Hill, over a sandwich, in a hallway where you can grab one-on-one encounters where the minister and deputy can have a quiet word,” Van Dine said. “If these opportunities become fewer and fewer, that is like the compounding impact of (playing) broken telephone.”

Canada is not alone in facing this issue. The tensions between ministers and senior bureaucrats have been studied to death over for years. A major U.K. study on the relationship called it the “fulcrum” of a Westminster system. When it’s not working, policy and service delivery are compromised.

But past efforts at fixing it in Canada have focused on making the public service more accountable – such as the accountability act – and responsive to what politicians want. There’s been little discussion of what ministers could do to repair the relationship.

Tellier said there must be a “healthy tension” between public servants and politicians, but that balance is out of whack with politicians increasingly dominating.

Without trust, frank discussions between politicians and public servants — which Tellier called “the tennis match” — don’t happen, putting policy and delivery at risk.

He said a fix begins with the prime minister, who must make it clear that ministers should consult their deputies. And if they don’t trust them, the prime minister should replace them with deputies they do trust.

Source: All-powerful PMO, mistrust “destroying” the public service: Paul Tellier

The U.S. Failed Miserably on COVID-19. Canada Shows It Didn’t Have to Be That Way

Not to be smug, as USA provides too easy a benchmark. Better comparison is with Europe, where we are slightly better in terms of infection and death rates. Hard to see how even an enquiry will address the deeply divided public opinion and Republican denialism of science, evidence and susceptibility to mis- and disinformation:

646,970 lives.

This is the number of Americans who would be alive today if the United States had the same per capita death rate from COVID-19 as our northern neighbor, Canada.

Reflect for a moment on the sheer magnitude of the lives lost. 646,970 is more than the entire population of Detroit. And it is more than the total number of American lives lost in World War I, World War II, and Vietnam combined.

No country is more similar to the U.S. than Canada, whose economy and culture are closely intertwined with our own. Yet faced with a life-threatening pandemic of historic proportions, Canada showed far greater success in protecting the lives of its people than the U.S. How are we to understand Canada’s superior performance and the disastrous performance of our own country, which has the highest per capita death rate (3023 per one million, compared to Canada’s 1071) of any wealthy democratic country?
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In comparing the two countries, the starting point must be the different response at the highest levels of government. In Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated in March 2020, “I’m going to make sure that we continue to follow all the recommendations of public health officers particularly around stay-at-home whenever possible and self-isolation and social distancing”. This message was reinforced by Dr. Teresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, who in March delivered a message urging solidarity, declaring “We need to act now, and act together.”

In the U.S., President Trump in striking contrast declared that he would not be wearing a mask, saying “I don’t think I will be doing it…I just don’t see it”. And instead of reinforcing the messages of Dr. Anthony Fauci and other leading public health officials, Trump actively undermined them, declaring in reference to stay-at-home orders in some states, “I think elements of what they’ve done are just too tough.” Not content with undercutting his top public health advisers, President Trump further undermined public confidence in science by suggesting “cures” for COVID-19, including at one point ingesting bleach and taking hydroxychloroquine, a drug that research confirmed had no efficacy as a COVD-19 treatment.

These divergent responses at the national level were to shape responses at the state and provincial level of the U.S. and Canada, respectively, as well as the response of the public. By the beginning of July 2020, the impact of these divergent responses was already visible, with Canada’s death rate just 60 percent of the American rate. As Canada’s more stringent public health measures—which included larger and stricter stay-at-home orders, closure of restaurants, gyms, and other businesses, curfews, and limits on public gatherings—took effect, the gap between the two countries widened even more. By October 2020, the per capita death rate in Canada had dropped to just 40 percent of the rate in the U.S.

It is tempting to blame America’s disastrous response to COVID-19 on Trump, and there is no question that he bungled the situation. But the pandemic revealed deep fault lines in America’s institutions and culture that would have made effective responses difficult no matter who was in the White House. Had Barack Obama, for example, been in office when COVID-19 arrived, he, too, would have faced the country without a national health care system, one with deep distrust of government, exceptionally high levels of poverty and inequality, sharp racial divisions, a polarized polity, and a culture with a powerful strand of libertarianism at odds with the individual sacrifices necessary for the collective good.

The differences between the U.S. and Canada became even more starkly visible on the issue of vaccines. The U.S., which had purchased a massive supply of vaccines in advance, was initially far ahead, with 21 percent of Americans and only 2 percent of Canadians vaccinated by April 1, 2021. The U.S. was still ahead in July, but by October 1, 74 percent of Canadians were fully vaccinated, compared to just 58 percent of Americans. Part of the difference no doubt resides in the superior access provided by Canada’s system of universal, publicly funded healthcare. But equally, if not more important, is the far greater trust Canadians have in their national government: 73 percent versus 50 percent in the U.S. Coupled with greater vaccine resistance in the U.S., the net result is a vast gap in the proportion of the population that is not fully vaccinated: 32 percent in the U.S., but 13 percent in Canada.

Also implicated in the far higher COVID-19 death rate in the U.S. is the simple fact that Americans are less healthy than Canadians. Lacking a system of universal healthcare and plagued by unusually high levels of class and racial inequality, Americans are more likely to have pre-existing medical conditions associated with death from COVID. Americans have an obesity rate of 42 percent versus 27 percent for Canadians and a diabetes rate of 9.4 percent versus 7.3 percent for Canadians. Overall, the health of Canadians is superior and they live longer lives, with an average life expectancy of 82.2 years compared to 78.3 years in the U.S.

Exacerbating these differences in health are the deep cultural differences between the two countries. More than three decades ago, the sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset noted in Continental Divide that the ideologies of anti-statism and individualism were far more resonant in the U.S. than in Canada. For the many Americans influenced by the powerful libertarian strand in American culture and by its elaborate right-wing media apparatus, masks were a violation of freedom and vaccines a form of tyranny. Canada, which produced a trucker convoy that shut down the nation’s capital, is not immune to such sentiments. But they were far more pervasive in the U.S. and led to a degree of non-compliance with the government and public health officials that had no parallel in Canada; to take but one example, the percent of Canadians wearing masks in January 2022 when the Omicron variant was at its height was 80 percent compared to just 50 percent in the U.S.

Following a national disaster of this magnitude, there must be a serious inquiry into what happened and how it might be prevented or mitigated in the future. This is what the nation did after the attack on September 11, forming a Commission that issued a major report within two years of its formation. Surely a pandemic that has taken the lives of more than one million Americans warrants a report of at least equal seriousness. But in the current atmosphere of intense political partisanship, it might be better if such an investigation were conducted by a nongovernmental entity composed of distinguished citizens and experts, or by a non-political body such as the National Academy of Sciences. But whatever form such a commission might take, it must address a pressing question: why so many countries, including Canada, proved so much more effective in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. We could—and should—learn from their experiences, so that the U.S. does better when the next pandemic arrives.

Source: The U.S. Failed Miserably on COVID-19. Canada Shows It Didn’t Have to Be That Way

[Canadian] Military failing to remove barriers to diversifying ranks: ombudsman

Long-standing challenge:

Canada’s military ombudsman is joining the chorus of those accusing the Canadian Armed Forces and Defence Department of failing to address long-standing barriers to recruit and retain more women, visible minorities and Indigenous people.

Gregory Lick says in a new report that the military and department have adopted numerous initiatives over the last 20 years to increase the share of Armed Forces members who come from those underrepresented groups.

The moves followed several human-rights decisions and the passage of employment equity laws, amid a growing disconnect between the makeup of the military, predominantly composed of white males, and the rest of the country’s population.

Yet the ombudsman found those initiatives resulted in little progress on increasing representation from underrepresented groups, with the military consistently falling far short of its own targets.

“I am adamant that in order to not repeat the same mistakes, the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces need to do things differently,” Lick said in a statement Monday.

“Fresh and creative thinking is required. Rehashing former initiatives simply will not cut it. Period. We will continue to monitor developments within the defence community in order to inform our own next steps on this matter.”

The ombudsman’s report comes weeks after a panel of retired Armed Forces members released the results of its own review, which took the military to task for not acting on dozens of previous studies and reviews of racism in the organization.

The scathing anti-racism report, which followed a yearlong review ordered by then-defence minister Harjit Sajjan, also accused the military of not doing enough to detect and prevent white supremacists and other extremists from infiltrating its ranks.

Lick’s review, also requested by Sajjan, looked at efforts to increase the share of women, visible minorities and Indigenous people in the Defence Department and military since becoming subject to employment equity laws in 1997 and 2002, respectively.

It specifically noted the military’s failure to make any real progress toward its various targets, which include having 25.1 per cent of all Armed Forces members be women, 11.8 per cent be visible minorities and 3.5 per cent Indigenous people.

“Despite the CAF’s efforts over the past 19 years, the percentage of women members stagnated until 2019, when a one-per-cent increase brought that representation level to 16 per cent of all CAF members,” the report reads.

“The limited increase in Aboriginal peoples (2.8 per cent) and visible minority members (9.6 per cent) has not been sufficient to keep up with Canadian demographics,” it adds.

The report goes on to note that not only has the Armed Forces failed to achieve its targets, but that those targets have been repeatedly criticized by the Canadian Human Rights Commission and others as far too low given the country’s changing composition.

The Defence Department reported more success in terms of diversifying its civilian workforce, but nonetheless faced many of the same challenges.

The ombudsman reported that his office had received 931 complaints relating to recruitment and 879 complaints involving promotions or career advancement since 2010. Another 189 workplace discrimination complaints were received.

“While designated employment equity groups did not submit all these complaints and not all would have been deemed to be unfair, these numbers show that the DND and CAF face challenges to the provision of fair and equitable employment,” he wrote.

The ombudsman noted numerous barriers to the recruitment of Armed Forces members from the designated groups had been reported over the years, including language requirements, security-clearance delays and a lack of representation among recruiters.

The review also noted that because military personnel have to start at the bottom and work their way up, fixing the recruitment process is a critical first step. Concerns were nonetheless also identified around retention and promotions.

Lick emphasized the importance of addressing the problem given what he described as a growing need for a diverse force that reflects Canadian society and is able to operate in new and innovative ways.

“With the CAF currently operating at a deficit of approximately 10,000 to 12,000 regular and reserve force members and thousands of positions unfilled in the civilian ranks, a crisis is slowly emerging,” he said.

“Critical to the ongoing success of the DND and the CAF is ensuring that people of diverse backgrounds consider a career in these organizations and see themselves reflected in their mandates.”

While past reports and reviews have proposed a number of measures to address the problems, Lick echoed the anti-racism panel’s findings about a lack of action, saying: “It is unclear whether the CAF has implemented all these initiatives.”

Although Defence Minister Anita Anand was given four weeks to respond to the ombudsman’s report before its public release, Lick said he had yet to receive a response. The Defence Department did not immediately comment Monday.

Source: Military failing to remove barriers to diversifying ranks: ombudsman

May: Speaking truth to power discouraged in public service

Good summary of the report. Reminds me of the issues I faced at the DG level during the previous Conservative government (Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism).

The corrosive nature of much of social media makes today’s environment more difficult than even 10 years ago.

But one also has to recognize public servants have their own biases, that are harder to recognize when they align with those of the government, biases that can influence “fearless advice” and which temper how that advice is communicated:

Canada’s public service leaders have a problem telling the truth to their political bosses.

A new report, Top of Mind, says they feel ill-equipped to gather evidence for policy advice, especially in a world where facts are distorted and drowned out by disinformation, polarization and hyperpartisan politics.

To make matters worse, they appear afraid to tell their political masters the hard truths when they do find them.

Getting back to the basics in policy-making and execution are among the top worries that senior bureaucrats raised in the new study into the state of the public service In Canada. It was conducted by two think tanks, the Ottawa-based Institute on Governance (IOG), and the Brian Mulroney Institute of Government at St. Francis Xavier University.

The study, launched in the middle of the pandemic, was aimed at understanding the challenges these executives face when doing their jobs, which is to provide reliable, well-run services for Canadians as well as policy advice to ministers. It was based on interviews with 42 senior leaders from all levels of government and a survey of 2,355 public servants in the same departments and agencies.

The big worries – which many felt were accelerated by the pandemic – included falling trust in government; the decline in sharing “fearless advice”; a hollowing out of policy capacity; a post-pandemic economic reckoning; conflicts between different levels of government; and the need for public service reform.

The report didn’t dig into the root causes, but the responses raise enough red flags to justify a debate and development of a roadmap for reform, said Stephen Van Dine, IOG’s senior vice-president, public governance.

“We have enough from this report to say we better be looking into this,” he said.

An impartial public service is a cornerstone of Canada’s democracy. Bureaucrats are supposed to speak truth to power. The ethos of “fearless advice and loyal implementation” is its motto, and public servants take an oath to uphold it when hired.

“The participants felt rational thought and evidence-based decision-making are being circumvented by politicization, polarization and disinformation,” said Van Dine.

“Do public servants have access to enough truth to give fearless advice? If all their information is coming from above rather than from networks in and outside government, how much truth is there really? What happened to the role of public education in the policy development process?”

The responses paint a picture of a bureaucracy that’s too isolated from Canadians and not independent enough from politics, said Van Dine.

Over the years, rules restricting travel and hospitality expenses put a damper on public servants’ ability to meet with provincial counterparts, industry representatives and civil society. They aren’t networking, developing contacts outside of government, or educating Canadians about the factors at play in policy-making.

“This has isolated the public service from the outside world and given the outside world the only door into government, which is through the Prime Minister’s Office or a minister’s office,” said Van Dine.

But public servants need new skills and modern technology. They need people who think digital, understand systems, analytics, data and can manage projects. That means attracting people to government and hiring them more quickly than the eight months it takes now.

All of this is having an impact on a long-strained relationship between public servants and ministers. Two-thirds of respondents said that relationship was “an important challenge that requires more effective management.”

Many respondents said the relationship is being eaten away by the “over-politicization of policy-making and choices, and the lack of opportunity to constructively challenge political direction.”

The report concluded that “speaking truth to power…seems less achievable to many participants.” Bureaucrats don’t have “safe spaces” among themselves to have all-out debates about analysis or options that “are unpopular“ or “not in tune with their government’s political position.”

Instead, they are expected to toe the party line and give politicians the advice they want to hear.

It’s unclear why. Is it because the deputy ministers aren’t encouraging dissent? Are bureaucrats holding back for fear of falling out of favour with their bosses or being seen as disrespectful?

“The strong undercurrent is that the public service has lost an element of independence and is now expected to deliver on platform commitments rather than offer objective policy advice on the feasibility of the commitment or alternative ways to achieve the objective of the platform commitment,” said the report.

This is an old problem.

Experts sounded the alarm more than 25 years ago about public servants’ hesitancy to speak to truth to power. It led to the 1996 Tait report, the foundation of the public service’s values and ethics code.

Donald Savoie, a leading public administration expert, has repeatedly warned that the concentration of power in the Prime Minister’s Office is politicizing the public service. He likened it to “court government” where senior officials act like courtiers trying to ingratiate themselves, rather than delivering hard truths.

The Gomery inquiry concluded that a grey zone between bureaucrats and politicians was at the heart of the sponsorship scandal and recommended ways to reset it.

The late auditor general Michael Ferguson famously linked the Phoenix pay system disaster to a risk-averse and “obedient public service.” He concluded that the “ability to convey hard truths has eroded, as has the willingness of senior levels—including ministers—to hear hard truths.”

Despite these warnings, little has been done to fix the problem. The Harper government introduced the Federal Accountability Actin response to the sponsorship scandal, but many experts argue its focus on rules, oversight and compliance made matters worse.

Today’s deputy ministers climbed the ranks over the 20 years since the sponsorship scandal and the Federal Accountability Act is the world they know. Many argue they got to the top because of their skills in dodging risks, following the rules and keeping government out of trouble.

In the new Top of Mind report, it is unclear how a lack of fearless advice is “cascading” down the ranks. Van Dine worries that assistant deputy ministers aren’t speaking up as they should now that Public Service Commission has turned over “talent management” to the deputy ministers who appoint them.

“Now the deputy minister is holding all the cards about promotion and appointment… To what extent are they becoming more deputy servants than public servants?” he asks.

The Harper era is also when public servants found themselves drawn into partisan communications with directives, events, activities and website designs to promote the Conservative Party brand.

Today, some respondents worry that a focus on communications is supplanting policy. The current focus is on how a policy will play out or how its “messaging” will be received by Canadians, rather than getting to the nub of the issues the government wants to address.

“Make stuff less about the announcements and actually make it about the issue,” said one leader, quoted in the report. “Communicate with Canadians on that front—what is the problem you are trying to fix here?… People have the basics wrong, and it leads to bad discord.”

The Top of Mind report makes a series of recommendations that could lead to a top-to-bottom overhaul of the federal public service.

At the top of the list is a proposal for a joint Senate-Commons committee to review the Accountability Act, zeroing in on whether its onerous compliance and reporting requirements stifle innovation and create an obedience culture.

The paper also recommended modernizing the ground rules for relationships between bureaucrats and politicians and examining what’s needed for public servants to create “safe spaces for fearless advice,” so they can provide facts, analysis and policy options that don’t toe the government’s party line.

Source: Speaking truth to power discouraged in public service

Sarantakis: Taking data seriously: A call to public administrators

Important flagging of the importance of data for governments and how governments increasingly lag the private sector in their collection, analysis and use of data and AI to understand citizen needs.

However striking that a senior official would make the case without acknowledging the challenge in doing do for the public sector given that each time the government does so, significant criticism occurs, whether it be for IRCC’s use of the Chinook system, Statistics Canada use of anonymized credit card information to understand consumer spending, or PHAC’s collection of anonymized COVID phone data.

Perhaps a second piece on this harder issue?

It is said that the first step in overcoming a problem is first admitting its existence. So, here goes: Contemporary public administration is data-challenged.

This would have been an implausible statement to utter, historically. After all, public administrators as individuals know how important data is to public policy formulation and program delivery. Public administration has proved its worth over time with the value of record-keeping, and creating and using data — recording, ordering, sorting and tabulating counts of people, forests, geography, geology, tanks, guns and things like the production of butter.

Indeed, the two great and insatiable needs of the early state, formulated by Yale scholar James C. Scott, were taxation and conscription. Without revenues and the capacity to pay to defend sovereignty, states are not durable. In turn, without public administrators recording, ordering, sorting and tabulating data, the state does not endure.

Historically, public administration has been on the cutting edge of data. Entities often went to various state organs and state registries for data. The public service apparatus of the state knew, even in the state formed explicitly to curb government involvement in the daily affairs of its citizens.

But something dramatic has happened. The administrative state – that part of government that continues regardless of whether elections yield majorities or minorities that are red, blue, orange, green, or purple – is no longer on the cutting edge of data. Yes, the state still knows, but often it only now knows after, while private sector entities know now. Even more powerfully, with predictive analytics, sophisticated private entities increasingly know before.

How can we understand this switch? How can we understand public administration losing its historical position of relative data supremacy? To do that, we need to detour from public administration for a moment and veer into the private-sector economy. What we find gives us important clues to our mystery vis-à-vis data and public administration.

The factors of production 

Since Adam Smith, we have understood three core factors of production: land, labour and capital. There are others that have competed to be added to this list. Channeling Peter Drucker, some have argued for “management” – those who directresources. Others have argued for “entrepreneurs” – those who combine resources in new and innovative ways. But Smith’s formulation has proven remarkably durable for more than two centuries.

If Smith were to return and look at some of the most valuable and dynamic corporations of our era – the digital giants Google, Meta (formerly Facebook), Amazon, Apple, Spotify and others – he would likely be mystified. Yes, he would see some land. Yes, he would see some labour. But nowhere near enough to justify the heady heights – and incredible influence and power – of the digital giants. Finally, he would also see some capital. But remarkably, that capital would largely be a by-product of “production,” and not a driver of production.

Seeing the most valuable and powerful entities on earth during his era, Smith would have seen people – lots and lots of labour. He would have seen land. He would have seen capital in the form of constructed ships, and tools, and extracted then refined natural resources. He would have seen stuff – tangible things that he could touch.

But the contemporary Adam Smith would see negligible amounts of people and land in today’s largest companies. Certainly nothing approaching their value, status or their power. These companies, perhaps most surprisingly of all, “consume” relatively little capital.

So if you are generating enormous profits but not drawing heavily on the “factors of production” …. something makes no sense. What is going on?

Brains? Computers? Digital? Algorithms? Cloud computing?

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, and lots more.

But fundamentally, what is going on now is the fourth factor of production.

Data.

Data as differentiator 

Data has now become the most valuable commodity on earth. Data stocks are more valuable than natural resources. Data is more valuable than manufacturing facilities; more valuable than land; more valuable than labour. Data – the new oil? Oil should be so lucky.

Why?

Data is now the differentiator. Data is now the value-add. As computers, software, micro-processing power, storage, cloud computing and algorithms all become (or all trend toward) commodity status, it is the quantity and quality of data that will transform the mediocre into the successful.

A commodity is an interchangeable and undistinguished part. Where I buy a barrel of oil or a bar of gold or a truck load of gravel or road salt is overwhelmingly just price-contingent. The lowest price wins. To avoid becoming a commodity in data – valued only for how cheaply you can deliver something – you need more and better data than the competition. Increasingly, if you are data-deficient, you will not be competitive or sustainable as an entity.

Put another way, Company A and Company B already compete based on the quantity and the quality of their data. This will also increasingly be true in the coming years for Country A and Country B. Countries have competed forever for oil and gas and timber and nickel. Now they are also adding “quantity and quality of data” to that list of competitions.

Spotify is a data company that deals in music. Netflix is a data company that deals in entertainment. Tesla is a data company on wheels. Google is a data company that deals in information. Amazon is a data company that provides many things – same with Instagram, same with Facebook.

Computing, computation, communication, software, digital distribution – all are, or are rapidly becoming – commodities. Algorithms still have differentiating value, but as advances in artificial intelligence continue, these as well will also invariably trend to commodity status. What really adds value in production increasingly is the quality and quantity of data.

Data and public administration

What does all this have to do with public administration? At first glance, perhaps nothing. But on closer examination, a great deal.

The digital giants became digital giants because they understood – before others – the enormous value of enormous quantities of data. They understood – like the early state understood the power of knowing the quantity and location of trees and people and minerals – that data is power.

As Shoshana Zuboff expertly describes in The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, data becomes the nexus of power. But the power of data in the contemporary age isn’t about counting trees and people, it is rather about the “instrumentalization of behavior for the purposes of modification, prediction, monetization, and control.”

Contemporary public administration, which traces its very heritage back to data, is far less sophisticated in data today than the digital giants. Data is not utilized for public good applications anywhere near the degree to which data is utilized for commercial gain.

Over time, that will harm us all because the public-good realm will have less access to rich data than the private profit realm. Over time, that will make public administration a dinosaur. We need to better understand the power and application of data.

Public administration and real-time actionable data

States often revert to using blunt policy instruments because public administrations do not have the granularity of data – in real time – that is available to the digital giants. When you don’t have real-time actionable data, you estimate. You ask people to apply. You create programs with criteria instead of directly apply funding to public policy objectives.

That worked for a world when real-time actionable data either did not exist or was enormously expensive to actualize. But that is not today’s world. The percentage of the economy migrating online is growing every day, and the online economy has grown much faster than the analog economy in recent years. But something else is happening, too. With the internet of things(IoT), our toasters and our refrigerators and our lightbulbs and our ventilation systems and our water treatment plants and our garage doors and our pacemakers are all migrating online. The enormous oceans of data we have today will, in a few very short years, look like little trickles of water when the IoT begins to take hold in full flight.

Public administration is already behind. Imagine what happens when the volume of data being generated every moment of every day by billions of connected things across the globe increases at an even faster rate.

Does public administration understand the power of data? Do we understand how to use it to serve public policy goals? Do we understand how to regulate it for the public good? Do we have the systems in place to capture data? Do we have the systems in place to safeguard data? Do we have the systems in place to safeguard its use by non-state actors?

These are the many questions facing public administration today. The faster we get the answers, the better public administrators will be able to serve their political decision-makers and their state populations.

Time is not our friend on these questions.

Source: Taking data seriously: A call to public administrators

Sears: Canada faces great challenges. We needs more independent, creative policy thinkers to address them

Not quite as bleak as presented but does flag some real weaknesses including policy diversity:

Canada faces policy challenges today that are broader and more complex than perhaps ever in our history. Several are well-known: climate, health care and the next contagion, sliding productivity and widening inequality. Each will be expensive to tackle, and all will require great creativity to address.

In the U.S., the U.K. and Europe much of that thinking is done by an array of policy think tanks. We have a few, and some of those we have are far too predictable. One need not do more than read the headline on a C.D. Howe Institute economic report to know what the next 5,000 words of analysis and recommendations will be. The Fraser Institute’s views on private health care, climate change and lower taxes have been repeated hundreds of times with changes only to the names and dates.

Two of Canada’s political parties have policy think tanks that are aligned philosophically, but independent in their prescriptions. The Manning Centre (now the Canada Strong and Free Network) was an important ginger group of new conservative thinking in the Harper years, though it appears to have lost a great deal of energy since the departure of its founder Preston Manning.

Canadian conservatives desperately need a bold centre for testing policy if they are to return to being a party of government. It has long failed to elaborate a credible conservative agenda for action on any of the tough issues. Ken Boessenkool’s Conservatives for Clean Growth may be a valuable new player on climate, perhaps one that will inspire new groups on other priorities.

Curiously, the Liberal party has several times failed in its efforts to create a similar centre to feed its need for creative new centrist thinking. The gap is evident in areas such as security policy, wealth inequality and growth through innovation. The obstacle maybe the number of Liberal thinkers who are parked in the academy or in non-partisan centres such as the Institute for Research on Public Policy, who don’t fancy a new competitor.

The least likely of the three national parties, in terms of resources, has three policy centres. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives was created by New Democrats and labour more than 40 years ago, and regularly serves up new progressive policy proposals. The Douglas Coldwell Layton Foundation, recently revived under former Jack Layton staffers Karl Belanger and Josh Bizjak, is plunging into new policy research. But it is the youngest of the three that shows the greatest strength and communications skill.

The Broadbent Institute is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year. It staged its Progress Summit this week, returning to its regular cycle of policy conferences, training sessions and research. Alone among any of the big institutes, it also runs its own media business, Press Progress. Key to its success has been finding the right balance between being a forum for new and often dissenting progressive voices, and for party loyalty. New executive director Jen Hassum brings a formidable reputation as an organizer and communications strategist.

All governments need external nudges (and occasionally shoves) to keep them out of policy ruts, or from repeating the same mistakes. Our governments today need broader and richer sources of policy innovation than ever before. The academy is curiously weak in experts who bring creative thinking combined with an understanding of tough political realities. Too many of the civil society organizations who do sponsor research promote only their own agenda. Many of the health charities are especially guilty of this.

Source: Canada faces great challenges. We needs more independent, creative policy thinkers to address them

Immigration Canada acts to end racism, cultural bias among employees

Of note:

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is conducting a study to explore potential cultural bias shown by its employees when it comes to processing visa applications at the country’s points of entry, according to a department spokesperson.

The study comes in response to a survey examining workplace racism at IRCC released last year that revealed multiple reports of racist “microagressions” by employees and supervisors.

Participants interviewed said that some of the overt and subtle racism they have witnessed by both employees and decision makers at IRCC “can and probably must impact case processing.”

The department has also made it mandatory for employees and executives to take unconscious bias training, and instituted a requirement for senior staff to take a specific course on inclusive hiring practices as a prerequisite for obtaining their delegated authority to sign financial and staffing decisions.

In addition, said spokesperson Jeffrey MacDonald, IRCC is appointing anti-racism representatives in each sector of the department to support the work of a newly-established Anti-Racism Task Force and has created a Black Employee Network to ensure Black voices are heard in driving change.

“We must actively fight racism and continue to work tirelessly to foster a culture of inclusion, diversity, and respect…but actions speak louder than words,” MacDonald told New Canadian Media through email.

MacDonald said IRCC will be hiring an independent firm to do an Employment System Review (ESR). The ESR will identify new solutions in core areas such as people management practices and accountability.

IRCC also plans to release its Anti-Racism Strategy and action plan later this year.

Source: Immigration Canada acts to end racism, cultural bias among employees