The public service’s biggest disruption in decades : hybrid work

Happy I’m retired. That being said, I tried to work from home one day every week or two weeks to prepare presentations or thought pieces, away from the transactional files (but of course remaining available as need be).

In some cases, such as coordination with regions, being virtual placed NHQ on the same footing and improved engagement compared to the tedious phone conference calls, according to some colleagues and friends who worked during the pandemic.

But understand employee preference as well as political and management concerns regarding appearances, after all, those who can work from home are privileged compared to those in front-line service, whether public or private sector:

The return-to-work pushback of Canada’s public servants could lay the groundwork for the most radical change in the federal government’s relationship with its employees in a century.

The resistance reveals a grassroots shift taking place in the public service that’s all about power and control.

The public service is one of the most hierarchical employers in the country. It has operated the same way for decades. Management decides everything about staffing; how and where people work. Employees have little choice but to toe the line.

The pandemic that sent public servants home to work challenged that hierarchy by giving federal employees a taste of controlling their time and job location – factors that had been largely out of their hands.

After more than two years of working remotely, public servants like it and resent the idea of giving up the newfound control of time. They feel more productive, enjoy better work-life balance, have more child-care options. It’s also cheaper: no commuting, no parking, no restaurant or takeout lunches.

And for the first time, they had control of their space. No more cubicles. Hundreds took jobs without having to move to Ottawa and many others picked up and moved around the country.

But that flexibility has come with a price, and no city has felt the pinch like Ottawa, the nation’s capital and home to most departmental headquarters. The Ottawa Board of Trade estimates one-quarter of the city’s workforce worked downtown pre-pandemic and 55 per cent of those downtown workers were public servants sent home, leaving ghost offices behind. (A CBC radio broadcast on Aug. 25 talked about the topic.)

It also forced the biggest rethink of the future of work and the government’s relationship with employees as it officially shifted to a hybrid workforce this fall.

It will not be an easy ride.

Lori Turnbull, director of the school of public administration at Dalhousie University, called the shift to a hybrid workforce the most disruptive change in decades.

The public service has had its share of disruptions over the years – unionization and collective bargaining in the 1960s, massive downsizings and restructuring in the 1990s, the Y2K bug, 9/11, even the disastrous Phoenix pay system. This, however, could be as seismic a shift for the employer-employee relationship as when patronage was abolished a century ago and replaced with the merit system for the hiring and promotions of public servants.

“As far as disruptions go, this is the biggest one in decades, if not ever, because it’s a completely different ballgame when it comes to relationships, and how people manage their lives,” Turnbull said.

Turnbull said remote work gave workers flexibility and the value of that newfound freedom flowed more to their personal lives than their work lives. The government can’t expect to “put that genie back in the bottle,” without a fight, she said.

“Now, people, even the lowest rungs of the organization and seen as the least powerful, were given the sense of autonomy about their time and space and that is having fundamental repercussions on how the organization and management works,” said Turnbull.

The big question is whether the return-to-office will end this flexibility or will it spark worker rebellion? Before the pandemic, the thought of working only two days at the office was beyond the wildest of dreams. Today, it’s not flexible enough.

Public servants are openly voicing their displeasure about returning to the office. A growing number are mobilizing internally, speaking out on social media, signing petitions and writing letters to MPs. Some are resorting to access to information requests to get to the bottom of the decision to send them back.

Employees who want to work remotely feel the return-to-work guidelines are arbitrary and imposed top-down from management with no rationale. They feel unheard and that there is no evidence supporting why employees have to spend specified days in the office unless to satisfy political pressures, said one union official who is not authorized to speak publicly.

“If there’s a need to have public servants in the office, what is it?” the official said. “What we’re seeing right now is people being called back for the sake of being called back for political reasons.”

It will be a top issue at the bargaining table. Unions are hoping to enshrine remote work provisions into the collective agreement to give employees more say in determining where they work. Just as important is inflation, and unions, which are emboldened by a global talent shortage, are asking for big raises.

The unions’ long game is that employees will permanently have the option to work remotely. That’s a big and controversial change, however, which would mean rewriting rules, policies and collective agreements. Not to mention that Treasury Board President Mona Fortier has already said working at home is a privilege, not a right. She insists Treasury Board won’t give up its power to organize the workplace, including where employees work.

Unions hope to find some negotiating room around where public servants work. They also want less arbitrary decisions about who can work from home and what they can do remotely. That could mean explanations in writing beyond the blanket “operational requirements” that workers are hearing.

Turnbull warns a workforce feeling management exercises too much control over their time can breed mistrust and resentment that undermines productivity.

But flexibility is unknown territory for the government. More than any other employer, it has little experience with flexible work models. A study by Jeffrey Roy showed that the senior echelons are most comfortable with the traditional in-person office model – from ministers’ offices to deputy ministers and central agencies.

Flexibility on where people work opens a pandora’s box of issues. What happens to the value of work? How does it affect the 7.5-hour work day, overtime and pay? How are employees accountable when they no longer report to the office? How to track productivity, performance or deal with discipline when working from home.

Meredith Thatcher, cofounder and workplace strategist at Agile Work Evolutions, said the unfolding workplace evolution will depend on the “maturity and skills of the individual managers and whether they have the trust of their employees.”

“It is a societal earthquake that has happened, and the fallout will be years to come,” she said. “Assuming everyone will just fall in line and return to the office either full-time or mandated time is naive. The world of the office has shifted on its axis and many executives have not figured that out yet.”

But Donald Savoie, a leading public administration expert at University of Moncton, argues there is a lot more at stake than flexibility. Back in 2003, Savoie wrote Breaking the Bargain, about the unravelling of the traditional bargain underpinning the relationship between politicians and public servants.

He says public servants also have a bargain undergirding their relationship with Canadians. The public is losing confidence in the public service and its ability to deliver services – crystalized by a summer of chaotic delays at airports and passport offices.

He said Canadians are discontent with government, and populist leaders like Pierre Poilievre and anti-institution protest groups are tapping into that mistrust. He said a public service griping about going back to the office is ripe for attack.

Many see public servants asking for the freedom of an independent contractor or entrepreneur to work when and where they want while keeping the job security, pay and benefits few other Canadians enjoy.

“My advice to federal public servants: think about the institution. Think of the public service, not just your self-interest. There’s something bigger at play here. It’s called protecting the institution that you’re being asked to serve. I think too many federal public servants have lost sight of that.”

And Turnbull said Privy Council Clerk Janice Charette, a head of the public service, bears a big responsibility for the institution. She’s out in front urging departments to get employees back to the office.

“The clerk has to worry about the reputation of the public service and the sense that they have been given too much flexibility and now we see services crumbling. Even if there’s no truth to that the perception, it’s something she has to worry about,” said Turnbull.

Source: The public service’s biggest disruption in decades : hybrid work

My latest: Disconnect between political priorities and service delivery [focus on passports and immigration]

Article below as behind a paywall:

The disconnect between government commitments and its ability to deliver on targets and service levels has never been clearer as the immigration and passport backlogs attest.

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser indicated that the 2023-25 plan will likely include a target of 500,000 new permanent residents by the end of the plan. The number of temporary foreign workers will also increase significantly following relaxation of eligibility requirements (length of permits; increase in the cap allowed from 10 to 30 per cent; no longer refusing applications in low-wage occupations in regions with unemployment higher than six per cent), and the large number of Ukrainians arriving in Canada due to the war.

These current and planned increases are happening against the backdrop of large backlogs in permanent and temporary resident, citizenship and passport applications.

The resulting public and political outrage has prompted a mix of short-term measures, both symbolic such as the formation of a task force to improve government services as well as substantive, to alleviate applicant frustration (e.g., triage of passport applications, more online application tracking tools for immigration-related programs).

Why the disconnect?

Public service expert Ralph Heintzman focuses on the comparative neglect of service in relation to policy and program development (“poor cousin”) and how Service Canada never lived up to its promise to overturn that hierarchy in favour of citizen-centred service. As someone who has worked at Service Canada to implement that vision during the early days, we developed tools like score cards to maintain focus on service. Heintzman notes that departments do not focus on citizen and applicant satisfaction as current service failures illustrate.

Donald Savoie, a Canadian public administration expert, looks at the more fundamental issue of the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, and the need for the latter to have clear goals in order to implement effectively. The political level generally has conflicting goals, reflecting different stakeholder interests, and has a bias for the shiny and new, rather than program management, as any party platform will illustrate. Senior public servants are more akin to “courtiers,” rising through policy rather than service-delivery ranks, and have a “limited understanding of how best to help frontline managers deliver programs and public services.”

While his argument that government cannot be managed by using private-sector practices is valid at the policy level, I would argue that private-sector measurement and service practices are needed for the reasons outlined by Heintzman.

When service delivery is essential, as in the case of pandemic-related financial supports, the political and bureaucratic levels focus accordingly, and address the trade-off between speed of delivery and program integrity.

It is unclear the extent to which the public service advised the government that its focus on meeting its political objective of increased immigration would mean a surge in backlogs across programs, given reduced capacity during the pandemic.

The need for digitalization, modernization, and renewal of IT infrastructure was driven home during the pandemic. In the short-term, the IRCC has delivered online applications and updates for some programs. For the longer term, the challenges are greater, given the complexities of programs and government structures, the time involved and the need for effective management, as the Phoenix pay system debacle illustrates.

While the government is ultimately accountable, stakeholders, with some rare exceptions, bear some of the responsibility. Businesses complain about backlogs, but press for higher levels that exacerbate pressures, as do other levels of government, immigration lawyers, and consultants, settlement agencies, academics, and activists. While the general support for immigration across all these groups is laudable and exceptional compared to other countries, it also reveals an unhealthy group think that is unwilling to consider seriously trade-offs between addressing backlogs and increased levels.

Air Canada’s announcement that it is trimming capacity in order to ensure meeting their on-time performance service standards contrasts with the inability of the government to manage immigration and passport demand and related expectations. While I disagree with the government’s overall approach to increased immigration, a more responsible government would engage with stakeholders to explain the constraints and institute a partial and temporary reduction in immigration levels to reduce the backlog.

Politically, it is harder for governments to be open about service delivery issues than the private sector. However, being up front avoids the inevitable drip-drip of revelations of problems that result in greater public and media attention and prolonged controversies.

The challenge for the public service is to “provide stronger advice to the political level on the constraints and trade-offs inherent in public administration” on service delivery issues, always tricky to carry out in practice.

Canadians may not appreciate the abstraction of large numbers, but they do understand the many personal stories of those who are waiting for decisions, whether in passport lineups or applications in the system. As Heintzman, Savoie, and others have noted, government failure to deliver on services or communicate in advance of service delivery issues undermines overall trust in government.

Source: Disconnect between political priorities and service delivery

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

Public service full to bursting with deputy ministers

Alan Freeman on the growth in the number of deputies, picking up on some themes of Donald Savoie:

Here’s a quiz. How many deputy ministers are there in the federal government’s Treasury Board Secretariat?

If you answer “one,” you’ll get a point for logic. After all, as you learned in your first-year university Canadian politics course, a deputy minister is the top public servant in a government department — the boss — whether it’s Transport or Global Affairs or Treasury Board.

But this being Ottawa in 2019, “one” is the wrong answer. How about six? That’s right. The Treasury Board actually has six top officials in the deputy minister (DM) category. Five are full deputies and a sixth is an associate deputy. They’re all appointed by the prime minister to their jobs, and get better salaries and more generous pension benefits than other executives, all for being part of the (once) exclusive club of Ottawa mandarins.

Treasury Board is just one example. Deputies are popping up throughout the federal government like potholes in March. Global Affairs has four, at last count, National Defence three. But it’s Innovation, Science and Economic Development (the old Industry department) that wins the Oscar for best performance in deputy overkill. It’s got four deputies, plus five other DMs, if you include the heads of the five regional development agencies the department supervises. That’s a total of nine.

Of course, the same department has four ministers, including full ministers for science, tourism and small business. A mini-government of its own.

It’s an extraordinary phenomenon that’s the result of political expediency and bureaucratic empire-building. As of today, there are 83 deputies in the federal government: 38 deputy ministers and 45 associate deputy ministers, an increase of 11 positions in the past decade. Since the Trudeau government was elected, nine have been added.

The number of executives in the government has been growing like topsy for years, at twice the growth rate of the public service as a whole. The deputy explosion is just another symptom of a system that’s out of control.

This growth has not just added people, it’s added new layers to the top bureaucracy. Where once there were a group of assistant deputy ministers with specific responsibilities reporting to a deputy at the top of the departmental bureaucratic hierarchy, there are now senior assistant deputy ministers, associate deputy ministers, and even senior associate deputy ministers, all adding to the general confusion.

“It’s huge. It’s cumbersome. They’ve created a whale that can’t swim,” says Donald Savoie, the New Brunswick academic who has studied the federal bureaucracy for decades.

“All of these people have to be relevant, so they create work for themselves. They slow everything down.”

How did we get here? As Savoie notes, the position of associate DM developed a few decades ago. Part of it was classification creep. Then was the desire to reward public servants who may have been very competent, but didn’t have the “gravitas” to make it to the deputy level.

Another reason, according to Savoie, was that promotion to associate DM was seen as a way of getting around wage freezes imposed on senior bureaucrats. If you can’t give a trusted official an annual increase, promote him to a higher-paying job. First it was only the big departments that got an associate DM. Then they spread everywhere. Even a small department like Veterans Affairs now has an associate deputy minister, both appointed by the PM, both with DM salaries.

Politics have also intervened, particularly since the Liberals returned to power. Remember that first Trudeau cabinet, the gender-equal one with 15 men and 15 women? When people found out that five of the women were actually “junior” ministers of state, all hell broke loose and Trudeau was forced to make them all full ministers, with higher salaries. But that also meant they needed a deputy or an associate to help them out with their “portfolio.”

So we have a weird kind of deputy minister, who reports to a minister but doesn’t really have a conventional department to take care of. There’s Guylaine Roy, who became a deputy last summer when Mélanie Joly was demoted from Canadian Heritage and was given the smorgasbord job of Tourism, Official Languages and La Francophonie. The actual public servants (it must be a tiny number) seem to have stayed in their home departments, so it’s hard to know what exactly a deputy is in charge of in those circumstances.

Likewise, a new deputy was appointed for Status of Women when that became a full cabinet position and department again.

And there’s now a deputy minister for public-service accessibility, who was appointed in July when Public Services Minister Carla Qualtrough was given the additional responsibility of improving access for people with disabilities in the federal sector. At the same time, the chief information officer, Alex Benay, was promoted to a DM-level job. Both are part of the Treasury Board gang of six.

Improving accessibility may be a laudable goal, but why is there a need for a full deputy minister? Using the same logic, you could argue that there should be a deputy minister to encourage women in the public sector, or visible minorities or Indigenous people. There’d be no end to it.

And of course, there’s now an associate deputy minister at Public Services and Procurement whose sole responsibility is the Phoenix pay system. That seems a guarantee that the job will be around long after the system is fixed or replaced.

Is there any end in sight? Not really. This week, there was another cabinet shuffle and another newly minted minister, this time for Rural Development. Bernadette Jordan got the job, largely because Trudeau needed an MP from Nova Scotia in the cabinet and there seemed no other place to put her.

By Friday, a new breeze of austerity had clearly blown in from the Privy Council Office, which now says Jordan will be supported by the existing deputy minister at Infrastructure for some of her files, and by the Innovation deputy for the rest. A bit of a respite from the DM tsunami, but you can be sure it won’t be long until another new deputy minister is created.

Source: Public service full to bursting with deputy ministers

What government is good at, and how it can improve: Donald Savoie

Great summary of his book by the author.

While I found his provocative diagnostique largely convincing in laying out some inconvenient truths, his policy recommendations are relatively undeveloped, reinforcing ironically one of his main insights/critiques of the upstairs/downstairs nature of those who manage policy (or analyze it) and those who serve Canadians directly:

Being good at managing the blame game matters a great deal in the Ottawa bubble and in the national media, but less so elsewhere. Adding oversight bodies and rules and regulations has made the federal public service not only thicker but also more Ottawa-centric. Other than opposition politicians calling for still more oversight, no one is happy with the incessant calls for more rules and regulations. Morale in the federal public service has plummeted and surveys reveal that citizens are unhappy with the quality of public service.

One can only applaud the Clerk of the Privy Council’s recent call for public service to be better at taking risks, delivering front-line services, and producing change and making it stick. To give life to this call, the government will have to revisit the many layers of oversight bodies and accountability requirements put in place over the past 15 years. Unless this is done, management reform efforts in the federal government will continue to give the appearance of change, while actually standing still.

Was pleased to see my book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism, cited for its examples of the political level asserting its control over policy.

Source: What government is good at, and how it can improve – The Globe and Mail

Canadian Heritage shows how public service seeks to foster innovation

Good initiative and equally good debate about its utility (I had tried equally to institute the Google 20 percent time set-aside – without much success):

As part of a push in the bureaucracy to find new ways to work, Canadian Heritage is one of a dozen departments taking a page from Google and letting employees spend up to 20 per cent of their time working on temporary projects outside their usual job descriptions and the usual procedures.

Deputy minister Graham Flack said the initiative – called “micro-missions” – was developed to bring some flexibility to the rigid organization of departments.

“The theory behind micro-missions is, in government, it’s actually very difficult with our traditional HR systems to move people around,” Mr. Flack said.

Mr. Flack also chairs a committee of top bureaucrats who work on new ideas, and the group invites junior employees to join their discussions to get fresh ideas and a better view on the ground.

“We operate in a very hierarchical organization, and sometimes [we have] to give them a reality check,” said Francis Nolan-Poupart, a 27-year-old policy analyst at Employment and Social Development Canada, who sits on the committee.

But just because an idea worked for Google does not mean it will work for the government – or even for other tech companies. Konval Matin, the director of culture at Shopify in Ottawa, and Anna Lambert, the director of talent acquisition, said their company – a rising star in Canada’s tech world – tried giving employees time every week for special projects, but it just did not work.

“We realized you would get so enthralled in your day-to-day that you wouldn’t actually set aside the 20-per-cent time,” Ms. Matin said.

Marianne Hladun, an executive who leads the Public Service Alliance of Canada’s young-worker file, said the union has some concerns that projects might just add work for already stressed employees.

“In a lot of cases, people are just trying to keep their heads above water,” Ms. Hladun said. “In some departments, which I believe Canadian Heritage falls into, … people are doing special assignments but they’re not being compensated at appropriate levels. That’s a bit of a concern to us.”

Leaders at both the political and bureaucratic level have warned that many areas of the federal public service are suffering from poor workplace environments that are hampering service delivery and the mental health of the work force. In her final annual report last year as the top bureaucrat in Ottawa, Janice Charette said there was an urgent need to create a “healthy, respectful and supportive work environment.”

Donald Savoie, a professor at the Université de Moncton and a leading expert on public administration, said he thinks some of the innovative projects are just “band aids” that do not fix deeper problems affecting morale in the public service. “For a government to say, we’re going to have hackathons, or collaborative events, or spaces, that, my friend, is the easy part. The much more difficult part is redefining the role of the public service so that it would resonate.”

Shopify holds townhalls on Fridays where employees are encouraged to share what they are working on, and talk about what is going well and what is more challenging than expected – just as Canadian Heritage tried to do with its pizza lunch.

Ms. Matin of Shopify said even the executive team takes part occasionally – and the exercises have been good not just for morale, but also for productivity as workers from different teams pick up tips from each other.

“The stuff that’s really easier said than done is the trust and the autonomy,” Ms. Matin said. “Not being afraid of letting people experiment and try new things and potentially fail. But the cool thing is, let them fail, let them talk about it.”

Traditionally, the public service is not known for taking risks. Mr. Brison acknowledges the potential for failure as more public institutions and individuals are empowered to try new things and make more decisions on their own. As a political leader, he could be held responsible if something goes wrong. But he says that is part of pushing the public service to do better.

“The only way to avoid ever making any mistakes is to do nothing,” he said.

Source: Canadian Heritage shows how public service seeks to foster innovation – The Globe and Mail

Tories call for probe of public servants who aided report on tax agency

Valid concerns regarding the breach of the impartiality of the public service, not just leaking of documents (which also is problematic):

The Conservatives are calling for an investigation into claims that Canada Revenue Agency employees teamed up with an advocacy group for a report that alleges mismanagement and political interference in tax investigations that cost billions in uncollected revenue.

Conservative MP Ziad Aboultaif, the party’s national revenue critic, said the involvement of public servants in such a report during an election is “disturbing” and shouldn’t be ignored just because a new government was elected.

“I would hope that the Minister of National Revenue realizes the seriousness of this and is investigating the supposed wrongdoing, not ignoring it because the incident took place under the previous government,” said Aboultaif.

“There is a principle involved here; it is not about party politics. Canadians expect their public service to be both professional and neutral.”

The report, by Canadians for Tax Fairness, was based on 28 interviews with former and current auditors and other tax specialists. They alleged the agency is mismanaged, undermined by major budget cuts, and that it targets ordinary taxpayers over the “big-time tax cheats” hiding money offshore.

Public servants are supposed to be non-partisan and loyal to the elected government. They face even stricter limits on their behaviour during an election.

Aboultaif argued neutrality is part of the job and that public servants give up the right to criticize government policies when they join the public service.

“Public servants take an oath of office and agree to abide by a code of ethics while employed in the civil service,” he said.

….So far, the Canada Revenue Agency has rejected the report’s allegations as unfounded. It said it was unable to determine if the ethics code was breached because it didn’t know who the employees were.

Donald Savoie, Canada Research Chair in public administration and governance at the University of Moncton, has written books on how the traditional “bargain” or relationship between public servants and politicians is broken. He says this case is one of the most blatant violations yet.

“If public servants become political actors, which is what is happening here, that is just not how the Westminster system was conceived. We are reshaping fundamental tenets of the system on the fly without any reflection or debate.”

Savoie argued this is an issue that warrants the attention of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to clarify what is expected of public servants today.

“This is a government issue, not a CRA issue. It should be raising alarm bells in the Privy Council Office and Treasury Board because it goes to the heart of the fundamental role of the public service.

“I think the prime minister, cabinet and head of the public service should be responding.”

Source: Tories call for probe of public servants who aided report on tax agency | Ottawa Citizen

The earlier article ICYMI:

Source: Public Servants ‘blow the whistle’ on tax system shortfalls | Ottawa Citizen

A change in government alone won’t fix the malaise: Savoie

Always interesting to read Savoie’s observations.

A good list of fundamental questions facing the public service:

A change in government in itself will not address the malaise confronting the public service. It can, however, open a window to answering fundamental questions about organizing government.

If nothing belongs to a single department any more, should we still rely on traditional line departments to come up with policy proposals and deliver public services? Should government have self-governing delivery arms tied to policy centres led by ministers? If government departments and agencies cannot retain revenues or their budget, how can we expect them to remain frugal? How can we streamline accountability requirements? How can we isolate, at least some government operations, so that missteps become lessons learned for managers rather than “gotcha” fodder for the blame game? How can we improve relations between ministers and the public service, government and Parliament?

Dealing with fundamental questions will force senior government officials to go beyond giving the appearance of change while standing still. The question needs the attention of at least some senior ministers and some senior public servants operating away from the demands of the day. Past reform attempts have sadly ignored Parliament, which may offer some explanations for their failure.

Why not structure a House of Commons committee and ask that it pursue these questions?

Public servants should be encouraging this debate. They should, however, shy away from partisanship, even the appearance of partisanship. The one thing that gives the public service strength, credibility and standing with Canadians and, yes, with politicians, is its non-partisan status and the ability to serve all politicians without fear or favour.

I would add to the list greater awareness and mindfulness of public servant biases and values, rather than just focusing on more avert partisanship, to improve the impartiality and neutrality of advice.

Source: A change in government alone won’t fix the malaise – The Globe and Mail

Highest ever number of Muslim Canadian MPs elected in new House |

Good range of interviews on the large number of Muslim Canadian MPs elected:

In interviews last week, MPs, political insiders, and academics said the newly-elected legislators from diverse cultural and religious backgrounds will bring unique perspectives, community feedback and different life experiences to the table which will prove to be valuable in the overall legislation and policy-making process at the highest level of government. They also pointed out that these MPs are not just token representatives of their respective communities but people who have solid credentials in a variety of professions including law, medicine, and business.

“Every Member of Parliament will bring their values to the debates and values are shaped by religion, by experience, by the community that they come from. So, it will shape their values and values will shape what they have to say and their positions, no question,” said Prof. Donald Savoie, the Canada Research Chair in public administration and governance at the Université de Moncton and one of Canada’s leading experts on public administration, in an interview with The Hill Times.

He said Muslim MPs and MPs from other religious backgrounds will have important input in Parliamentary debates in the new Parliament.

“They will have very important points of view that need to be heard,” said Prof. Savoie, adding that Muslim MPs should also not be stereotyped.

“Let them come and debate the issue and let’s hear what they have to say. What they will have to say is as important, as relevant, and ought to be listened to, as much as a white MP from Newfoundland, or from British Columbia.”

Meanwhile, pollster Greg Lyle of Innovative Research said that MPs from different cultural and religious backgrounds will offer valuable input in legislative debates on social and economic issues that affect all Canadians.

“When you are in the room, you don’t have to wait for someone to think about you. You’re right there to bring your concerns front and centre,” Mr. Lyle said.

He said that newly elected MPs from a variety of demographic groups won their ridings because they were the best candidates. Using the example of Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould (Vancouver Granville, B.C.), Mr. Lyle said she is an indigenous woman who ran in a riding that has almost negligible presence of aboriginal people, but won by a margin of about 9,000 votes.

 “In a lot of cases, people are just nominating the best person for this job and they happen to come from different backgrounds,” Mr. Lyle said.

“When you look at their resumés, they’re not getting appointed as tokens. These are people who have really impressive stories to tell,” Mr. Lyle said.

Muslim MPs interviewed for this article said that the previous government’s Anti-Terrorism Bill C-51, the so-called Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act Bill C-24, the niqab debate, and the barbaric cultural practices snitch line affected the Muslim community directly and motivated it to get engaged a lot more actively than in past elections.

“The community is reaching a new level of maturity, overall. The Muslim community in Canada tends to be a newer community. It’s going through various levels of growth and sophistication, maturity as a newer Canadian community,” said Mr. Alghabra who represented the riding of Mississauga-Erindale, Ont., from 2006 to 2008, lost the two subsequent elections and was elected again on Oct. 19.

“This was a new milestone in that growth process. There’s a greater level of sophistication, greater level of awareness about the importance of getting involved. It was demonstrated through various groups and organizations and individuals,” said Mr. Alghabra.

Ms. Ratansi, who represented the riding of Don Valley East from 2004 to 2011, lost the 2011 election but was re-elected last month, also reiterated that the divisive issues that the Conservatives pushed in the campaign made the Muslim community get involved more actively.

“People got a little concerned about the negativity against Islam. A lot of intelligent people who are lawyers, [legal scholars] who teach law in universities, who are accountants, businesspeople like me, got a little fed up with this constant badgering of Muslims as if we were a homogenous group and we all work the same way. We don’t,” said Ms. Ratansi, adding that unlike the impression portrayed by some in the last government and some news organizations, the Muslim community, overall, is a peaceful hardworking community trying to make the world a better place.

Carleton University Prof. Howard Duncan, who has conducted extensive research on immigration integration theory, multiculturalism theory, globalization, and migration, in an interview, predicted that the election of MPs from different religious and cultural backgrounds will encourage those who did not participate in this election to get engaged in the political process.

“What you’re going to find as time goes by is that immigrants from other countries and other religious and ethnic backgrounds are also going to participate more in politics,” said Prof. Duncan.

Andrew Cardozo, president of Pearson Centre for Progressive Policy, told The Hill Timesthat in the current international political scenario, a number of political conflicts are religion based. He said he hoped that the newly-elected MPs from different religions will prove they can all work together.

“If you think of it in global terms, the biggest division that’s taking place amongst people in the world is around religion. It’s good when you have a country that’s religiously diverse. It’s good to have so many religions represented. With many of them in the same caucus, there should be room for discussion and accommodation when there are differences,” said Mr. Cardozo.

Source: Highest ever number of Muslim Canadian MPs elected in new House |

Justin Trudeau joyfully mobbed by federal civil servants

PM Trudeau at the rebranded Global Affairs department. Unprofessional but understandable:

Suddenly there was a buzz and the crowd moved forward.

Trudeau appeared and began to make his way out of the building. He was swarmed. Many took photos and even selfies along the way.

Liberal Cabinet 20151106

Trudeau was mobbed as he tried to leave the Lester B. Pearson building Friday. He told the crowd his government would need the civil service’s absolute best. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The prime minister was hugged. Cheers erupted. He smiled, waved and stopped by the door.

He thanked the crowd for supporting the members of his cabinet, who had just left.

Then he continued: “We’re going to need every single one of you to give us, as you always do, your absolute best.”

They applauded and cheered some more. Some yelled back: “You’ve got it.”

One longtime staffer nearby said he’d never seen anything like it. Not in all of his years.

And it might not be the only instance of a crowd forming to welcome a minister Friday.

On Facebook, a photo circulated of civil servants at another location waiting to greet Sajjan.

Source: Justin Trudeau joyfully mobbed by federal civil servants – Politics – CBC News

And Donald Savoie puts it into context:

Donald Savoie, a public administration expert at the University of Moncton, said public servants are gripped by “the euphoria” of working for a government that promises renewed respect.

He said many hope they are returning to their “days in the sun” when public servants worked on policy and were listened to. He likened it to when Pope John XXIII opened the Vatican and liberalized the Catholic Church.

As a result, bureaucrats’ heckling and cheering, and unions revelling in their political campaigns, may not be appropriate but isn’t unexpected.

“Don’t try to make sense of this. School’s out and people are beside themselves with joy,” Savoie said. “Stay tuned, it’s too fresh. Wait until things calm down in a few months.

“I wouldn’t get too worked up because what happened today doesn’t define the public service and its non-partisanship.”

Public servants shed cloak of impartiality – at least for the day