Promotion to top ranks ‘not an entitlement,’ public-service group APEX warns

More on public service changes at senior levels:

Michael Wernick, clerk of the Privy Council and head of the public service, has been busy managing changes to the senior ranks of the public service as government executives retire at a faster rate. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made more than 20 changes to the top levels of the bureaucracy since coming to power. The Prime Minister announced more changes to the senior bureaucracy this month, including the retirements of Margaret Biggs, Anita Biguzs and Ward Elcock.

“The dominant challenge of the next two years is moving, as smoothly and as orderly as we can, the baby boomers like me, off the stage, and recruiting and developing the next generation of public service leadership,” Mr. Wernick said in a speech at an APEX event in Ottawa on June 1.

The clerk said he wants to capture “the creativity, the innovation, and the energy” of new leadership and talent. “So that is the takeaway. Baby boomers, it’s time to go…myself included,” he said.

Mr. Wernick said he will be reintroducing some training and leadership programs after their cancellation in recent years. One new program will place public service executives into academic institutions for about a year, he said.

Mr. Vermette said he welcomes more training, leadership programs and exchanges for senior officials. “We don’t fear that [outside] competition, but we should also be given the opportunity to develop our own experience,” Mr. Vermette said.

A senior public servant, Mr. Vermette is working as head of APEX on an executive exchange program, having last worked as deputy commissioner of the Canadian Coast Guard.

Machinery-of-government experts Peter Larson and David Zussman conducted interviews with executive recruits in the public service in 2006. Their resulting report, which highlighted the difficulties of success for senior recruits in Ottawa, noted a culture of careerism and competition for advancement among senior officials, mixed with a “climate of fear” and “self-censorship.”

One former senior public servant, speaking on a background basis, said outside recruitment is a good idea, but there can be issues with private sector executives moving into the public service. Corporate executives are accustomed to making final decisions, the person said, whereas the role of senior officials is to advise the government for decisions by the PM and cabinet.

The former government executive suggested outside candidates may be better off starting at the assistant deputy or associate deputy level, and would be better off having some government or public sector experience, such as in a hospital, provincial government or university.

PCO spokesman Raymond Rivet said by e-mail that the majority of deputy ministers are appointed from the federal rank of assistant deputy minister. There are about 70 senior officials at the deputy minister and associate deputy level.

Source: Promotion to top ranks ‘not an entitlement,’ public-service group warns – The Globe and Mail

With civil service shakeup, Trudeau brings youth, diversity to top jobs

Election 2015 and Beyond- Implementation Diversity and Inclusion.001Simon Doyle on changes to Deputy ranks but more anecdotal than evidence-based.

My count of the 19 Deputy appointments to date by PM Trudeau: 10 men, 9 women, 1 visible minority, no Indigenous people. Gender parity but weak visible minority and Indigenous peoples representation, reflecting in part weaknesses in ADM diversity as shown in the above chart:

Retirements of Ottawa’s highest-ranked bureaucrats have accelerated under the Justin Trudeau government as the Liberals shuffle the leadership of the public service after years of management under Stephen Harper.

The government has made a series of moves with its highest-ranked bureaucrats since coming into office last fall, most recently promoting senior officials who had worked on the Environment and Foreign Affairs portfolios.

…..David Zussman, a former senior government official and a professor of public-sector management at the University of Ottawa, said the number of appointments are high, with more than 20 changes in the senior ranks of the public service since late December, including retirements.

“I’m sure word would have gone out that: ‘We’re in a process of renewal, and any of you guys thinking of leaving, do me a favour and tell me now,’ ” Dr. Zussman said.

“A lot of them are really long-standing public servants who I think hung around for the election to help out [former clerk] Janice Charette, and now, six months into it, they decided to trigger their retirements. They’ve all got their 35 years,” he said, indicating they can collect pensions.

…“Some ministers may want a new deputy, and it’s their prerogative to say they would like someone new. The clerk may decide that he feels someone should move, or sometimes deputies will go and say they would like to move,” said C. Scott Clark, former deputy minister of finance and a senior adviser to the prime minister under the Jean Chrétien government.

“It takes time for a minister and a deputy to form what I would call a good relationship, a professional, working relationship. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t,” Mr. Clark said.

…The new deputies also reflect efforts by Mr. Trudeau and the clerk to renew the public service and, as with the makeup of the Prime Minister’s cabinet, introduce some youth and diversity into the government’s leadership.

“He’s been very clear about the importance he attaches to having a professional, non-partisan, responsive, agile, creative public service,” Mr. Wernick told The Globe and Mail in an interview earlier this year. “It’s the only way he’s going to accomplish the goals he put in front of Canadians.”

One senior government official said Mr. Trudeau, in late January, made a rare appearance at the Deputy Ministers’ Breakfast, a gathering of all the public service’s most senior mandarins who meet in Langevin Block. Prime ministers typically address the breakfast once or twice per year.

While it’s unclear what was said, the PM has been emphasizing with senior officials a program for getting results and revitalizing the public service. Mr. Trudeau attended the meeting shortly after he appointed Mr. Wernick as Clerk.

….Mr. Scott expects more changes in the fall after the government takes the summer to regroup. “I would expect there will probably be more moves coming,” he said. As Mr. Wernick said in a recent letter to the PM: “It is clear to me that we are entering a period of dramatic generational change in the Public Service.”

Source: With civil service shakeup, Trudeau brings youth, diversity to top jobs – The Globe and Mail

Perception of politicization of the public service is a problem for Liberals | Ottawa Citizen

Not unexpected to hear this kind of criticism from the opposition, as well as the more-balance assessments from others:

The appointment of Matthew Mendelsohn, who helped write the Liberal election platform, as a senior-ranking bureaucrat is a “clear, unprecedented and blunt” politicization of Canada’s non-partisan public service, says former Conservative cabinet minister Jason Kenney.

Kenney said the previous Conservative government — which had a rocky and sometimes hostile relationship with the bureaucracy — would have been vilified if it “plunked” such a key election player into the top ranks of the Privy Council Office (PCO).

“The real shocker here is his appointment to a No. 2 position in the PCO, the summit of the entire public service,” said Kenney in an interview. “A fellow who worked as a partisan political Liberal on the election campaign … I don’t think there is any precedent for this.”

That perception has dogged the Liberals since Mendelsohn was appointed in December as a deputy secretary in the PCO to head a new “results and delivery” secretariat to ensure election promises are tracked and met.

Results and delivery are big priorities for the Liberals and the public service has a lousy track record at both. By all accounts, Mendelsohn is working hard to get buy-in from ministers, deputy ministers and departments on creating a “delivery culture” in government.

And there seems little debate Mendelsohn is qualified. He is an academic, founding director of the Mowat Centre, an Ontario think-tank, a former deputy minister of several provincial portfolios; an associate cabinet secretary in Ontario and a one-time public servant.

But his bona fides include a leave from the Mowat Centre to work on the Liberal platform and help pen Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s mandate letters for ministers.

He is also part of the Dalton McGuinty-Kathleen Wynne brain trust that has joined the Trudeau government.

He worked with Queen’s Park veterans Katie Telford, now Trudeau’s chief of staff, and Gerald Butts, his principal secretary. (Mendelsohn’s wife, Kirsten Mercer, was Wynne’s justice policy adviser who moved to Ottawa to become chief of staff for Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould but has since been replaced.)

“The closer you fly to the action the bigger the risk of being branded,” said David Zussman, who holds the Jarislowsky Chair in Public Sector Management at the University of Ottawa. He was recruited into PCO to help lead the Jean Chrétien government’s massive program review.

Zussman also cautions the government has to be careful about the perception that it is too Ontario-centric when staffing ministers’ offices.

“They need a national perspective in ministers’ offices and they have to be careful about that. They could all be meritorious appointments but if they all come from the same place they are not as valuable to ministers as people who come from across the country,” he said.

Ralph Heintzman, a research professor at University of Ottawa, was a harsh critic of the Tory government for politicizing the public service particularly for using government communications to promote party interests.

Heintzman, a key player in writing the public service’s ethics code, feels Mendelsohn’s appointment is within bounds. He was tapped as a policy expert for the platform but wasn’t a candidate or campaign worker.

But perception is reality in politics and Heintzman said Mendelsohn had “sufficient involvement” with the Liberals that the government will now have to be sensitive to all future appointments.

“The very fact the appointment created a perception, fair or not, creates a new situation for the Liberals in the future because it will have to be very sensitive about any future appointments from outside the public service to make sure those impressions aren’t reinforced,” said Heintzman.

That could pose a problem for a government that is anxious to renew the public service and bring in new talent and skills to fill many policy and operational gaps.

The public service has long been criticized for monastic and a “closed shop.” In fact, former PCO Clerk Janice Charette made recruitment, including bringing in mid-career and senior executives, one of her top three priorities.

Source: Perception of politicization of the public service is a problem for Liberals | Ottawa Citizen

From a different angle, Geoff Norquay, a former staffer to former PM Mulroney, argues for greater movement between the two spheres:

We learned this week that a significant number of public servants have been joining ministerial offices in the new Liberal government.

The knee-jerk reactions of some Conservative commentators were predictable enough: “It absolutely feeds into the perception that the civil service favours the Liberals, and that the public service is becoming more political,” said Michele Austin, a former chief of staff to two Harper government ministers.

I believe these reactions are wrong, for several reasons.

Canada has a non-partisan public service, but people have been crossing back and forth between the public service and political offices for many years. It used to be a normal process and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Actually, it’s a good thing.

Until the Harper era, these movements were openly acknowledged and positively sanctioned, because people from ministers’ offices wishing to cross over to the public service were given a priority for hiring in the bureaucracy.

As part of his effort to close “revolving doors,” Stephen Harper put a stop to the priority system. That was a mistake. Once it has worked through its top priorities, I hope the new government considers bringing the priority system back.

Ministers’ offices are the nexus where the public service and politics meet. They are the place where political judgments are applied to bureaucratic recommendations, where political desires meet practical realities, and where executive decision-making confronts the art of practical execution.

Far too often, these two sides operate as non-communicating solitudes. When relationships between ministers’ offices and the public service become strained, it’s usually because they don’t understand each other’s motivations, priorities, imperatives and constraints.

Many of these tensions and frustrations can be made more manageable if public service recommendations to ministers are more politically sensitive, and if requests and instructions from the political level are tempered by respect for bureaucratic considerations.

open quote 761b1bCreativity comes from your ability to see the different and conflicting sides of complex issues, and apply what you’ve learned from one field to the challenges of another.

The odds of this happening are much better if at least some people making these calls, and negotiating the interface, have experience on both sides. That’s certainly been my experience through more than forty years of working in and around provincial and federal governments.

Trudeau’s blurring the line between ministries and the public service. Good for him.

Union wants top bureaucrat to help restore public service ‘neutrality’ | Ottawa Citizen

Various commentary on the decision by unions to play a partisan role in the election. I agree with the overall message that this harms the overall public service-political relationship:

This wasn’t the first election in which unions opposed the government of the day but many say it was the most aggressive.

“The decision of unions to campaign against Harper … was unfortunate and harmful because it legitimizes the Conservative view that the public service is a partisan institution. I don’t think it is, but the actions of unions certainly makes it appear to be,” said Ralph Heintzman, a University of Ottawa professor who has proposed various reforms to restore public service neutrality.

He said a Liberal or NDP government would have to wonder about whether the public service could turn on them.

“No party can rejoice in public servants becoming actively involved in electoral politics against the government,” said Heintzman. “Mulcair and Trudeau … can’t be thrilled with unions campaigning against the Conservative government because it suggests that if unions don’t like what you do, they will become partisan again.”

That trust was further called into question when a secret policy briefing, prepared by the Department of Foreign Affairs for deputy ministers on Canada’s shrinking international clout, was leaked during the election campaign. Charette called in the RCMP to find the leak. In a separate incident, the deputy minister at Citizenship and Immigration called the Mounties to track down who leaked that the Prime Minister’s Office had directed bureaucrats to stop processing Syrian refugees pending an audit.

Donald Savoie, a Canada Research Chair in Public Administration and Governance at Université de Moncton, said leaking information to embarrass the government in an election is such a breach of the public service’s ethos that the clerk had to play hardball and call the Mounties.

“They hurt the institution they service. What is the opposition supposed to think if they do this to the government of the day; what will stop them from leaking when we’re the government?” said Savoie.

But Daviau is convinced the public service will have the trust and respect of the Liberals or NDP because both parties were “forthright” in their promises and consulted with unions on their proposed reforms months before the election.

“I feel confident that with the declarations of the other parties to revert back to the traditional way of doing business, that the genie can be put back in the bottle, but now comes the work to get us back to where we were,” said Daviau.

But Heintzman said the eroding neutrality of the public service goes much further than unions’ electoral activism and the system needs a structural overhaul.

He said the Conservative government “exploited all the ambiguities of the parliamentary system for its own partisan advantage,” pushing public servants over the line that used to be drawn between politics and public service.

A big problem, he said, is that deputy ministers didn’t challenge this politicization of the public service, particularly “turning the PCO into a partisan communications machine.” The most talked-about example was a video Employment Minister Pierre Poilievre had public servants produce with department funds to promote the Conservatives’ universal child-care benefit.

“The clerk is part of the problem. (Her) role corrupts the public service by creating a hierarchy of power that no deputy minister will challenge. The deputy minister is appointed by the clerk, looks to the clerk as boss and won’t challenge directions from PCO,” said Heintzman.

David Zussman, the Jarislowsky Chair on Management in the Public Sector at the University of Ottawa, has written a book on transitions from one government to another called Off and Running. He said questions about neutrality will have to be dealt with but they won’t be on the priority list of a new government.

But the public service is the key player in managing a transition, giving it a “chance to shine” – which can go a long way to rebuilding trust, Zussman said.

Source: Union wants top bureaucrat to help restore public service ‘neutrality’ | Ottawa Citizen

Ideology, minority rule, distrust shaped Harper government’s relationship with public service |

Good piece by Mark Burgess in the Hill Times that echoes some of the themes in Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism, but at a more senior level:

David Zussman, the author of Off and Running: The Prospects and Pitfalls of Government Transitions in Canada who led former prime minister Jean Chrétien’s transition to power in 1993, said the Conservatives came to power in 2006 with a clear agenda and an inexperienced Cabinet, two factors that defined its approach to the public service.

“The more a government is ideological, the more it knows exactly what it wants to do, typically it’s less willing to hear contrary points of view,” Mr. Zussman, the Jarislowsky Chair on Management in the Public Sector at the University of Ottawa, said in an interview.

“This is partly what I think happened in 2006 with the incoming Harper government, is that they had an agenda and they didn’t think it was necessary that they get counter points of view from the public service.”

Elizabeth Roscoe, a member of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s 2006 transition team, said the minority mandate was their biggest concern.

“You don’t know how long you’re planning for, and you don’t know what the opposition trigger points might be, and you don’t know the appetite of the electorate, so all of those things have to factor in,” she said in an interview with The Hill Times.

Minority mandates always make governments “twitchy” as they worry about losing power at any time, Mr. Zussman said, which further complicates the relationship with bureaucrats.

The most experienced voices in the new Cabinet at the time—Jim Flaherty, Tony Clement and John Baird—were ministers from Mike Harris’ Ontario government, which had a very rocky relationship with the public service.

“If you feel that the public service is not going to provide you with analysis that is consistent with your overall policy agenda, then you’re probably not going to pay a lot of attention to it,” Mr. Zussman said.

“There was a lot of resistance to overcome in 2006 and I think it’s been a work in progress,” he said.

In the book, the leader of Mr. Harper’s transition team, Derek Burney, said the government’s tightly-controlled approach would loosen after winning a majority government in 2011 and include the public service more in policy making.

“I don’t want to hear any more crap about minority government and politics every day,” Mr. Burney said in the book.

He called on bureaucrats to stand up and express ideas “because this is a government that is going to be a little more receptive to good policy ideas than it was when it was looking over its shoulder” in the minority days.

Mr. Burney, a senior strategic adviser at the law firm Norton Rose Fulbright, said the minority mindset wouldn’t change overnight but that it was up to senior bureaucrats to get over the Conservatives’ focus on politics and make the relationship work.

Mr. Zussman said he also would have predicted the Conservatives would open up to the public service and adjust to majority rule after 2011 but that the shift never occurred.

“I think what’s happened, frankly, is after five years, the government has a particular way of operating and they’re just continuing to operate the same way,” he said. “They would argue that it’s working well for them, I suppose.”

Mr. Burney couldn’t be reached for this article. Ms. Roscoe said it took public servants some time to understand the Conservatives’ philosophy and approach.

“Once they did, then they understood better how to align priorities, how to align the agenda, and how to help both bring forward ideas and to implement them,” she said.

Ideology, minority rule, distrust shaped Harper government’s relationship with public service | (pay wall)