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

Public servants brace for war against Conservatives | Ottawa Citizen

More on the Tony Turner fall-out and the public service unions campaigning against the Conservatives:

It’s unclear when Environment Canada — Turner’s employer — will make a decision on whether the singer breached the ethics act with his song. This will turn on whether he can still be perceived as objective and impartial at his job, which is tracking migratory bird patterns.

But [Donald] Savoie and [Ian] Lee agree on one thing: the partisan Harperman performance could undermine any party’s trust in the neutrality of public servants and could particularly reinforce the Tories’ long-held view that bureaucrats are mostly a bunch of Liberals.

“The public service should be concerned about this,” said Savoie. “If the Conservatives are re-elected … they can question if they can really get policy advice that supports their agenda without fear or favour,” he said.

“If Harper sees this video he might say, ‘We can’t trust public servants’ advice …. so let’s go somewhere else.’ This doesn’t help a relationship that has been strained for years.”

Agree with Savoie as both the Turner song and the union campaign will only further Conservative distrust of the public service, not without reason.

Source: Public servants brace for war against Conservatives | Ottawa Citizen

Donald Savoie: How government went off the rails

Donald Savoie confirms the policy/service delivery hierarchy.

My experience when Service Canada was established, and then watching how the both the Government and the public service whittled away at the vision of making service as important as policy, is a case in point.

Another example was Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s inability in 2010-12 to implement a series of inter-related changes – new citizenship test, language assessment process, anti-fraud efforts and program review cuts to the regions – which resulted in a dramatic fall in the number of new citizens:

Below the fault line is where government is coming up short, often because the ones operating above it have no appreciation of how the machinery operates. It is also where the great majority of Canadians deal with their government. The view among politicians and the courts is that government is about 90 per cent ideas and 10 per cent implementation. Making a policy or program announcement, defining the right media line and keeping an eye on the blame game as it is played out in Parliament and the media are what truly matters. They expect that program managers below the fault line should simply run on their tracks and avoid providing fodder for the blame game. The view among the majority of Canadians and front-line government workers, however, is that government should be 90 per cent delivering services efficiently and 10 per cent ideas. Canadians are too often left waiting, for an hour or so, to talk to someone after calling a 1-800 number, days to get a phone call returned or weeks to get an answer to what they regard as a straightforward question.

Not only have we overloaded the machinery, we have also misdiagnosed the patient. The thinking that we could somehow make the public sector as efficient as the private sector was misguided, costly and counterproductive. The thinking conveniently overlooks the fact that the public and private sectors are different in both important and unimportant ways. Consider the following: 76 per cent of public-sector employees belong to a union versus 16 per cent for the private sector. The blame game plays very differently in both sectors and the private sector has an unrelenting bottom line, while the public sector has none, or rather has a top line called the prime minister, Parliament and the media. In the private sector, good managers learn to delegate down. In the public sector, good managers learn to delegate up.

In the search for a bottom line, governments have created an abundance of oversight bodies, management constraint measures and vapid performance and evaluation reports. It has only made the machinery of government thicker, more risk-averse and created a veritable army of public servants kept busy turning a crank not attached to anything. It has also given rise to a serious morale problem in the public service.

This is not an indictment on what government tried to do or on the role of government in modern society but rather how the government tried to do it. Thinking that you can simply pile on responsibilities to the existing machinery and somehow emulate private-sector management practices while retaining the command and control approach to operation is where things went off the rails.

  Donald Savoie: How government went off the rails  

Canada’s democratic institutions are on trial: Savoie

Donald Savoie on the broader implications of centralization and the ever-growing role of PMO as highlighted in the release of PMO emails during the Duffy trial:

Governing from the centre first took shape under Pierre Trudeau. It has only grown in scope and intensity since. We have reached the point where our national political and bureaucratic institutions have lost their way. We see evidence of this everywhere – voter participation has been drifting down for the past 40 years or so and our national public service suffers from a worrisome morale problem. Why bother voting if what matters is decided by economic and political elites talking to one another or through lobbyists, and why bother generating well-thought and evidence-based policy advice, knowing that there is no political market for it? Why bother trying to manage operations as competently as your private sector counterparts when you are told to avoid all risks in the interest of managing the blame game?

Canadians are paying a high price for this state of affairs. Governing from the centre tosses aside not only Parliament but the voice of the regions as well. Governing Canada as it were a unitary state in a country as geographically and economically diverse as Canada is fraught with danger. Not only are regional ministers now a relic of Canadian political history, provincial premiers are left on the sideline, talking to one another with little influence on national policy.

The state of Canadian democracy and the health of our political institutions require the attention of Canadians and our political leaders. They cannot be relegated to a segment of the leaders debate. Sound public policies and the ability of Canada’s regions to work toward a common purpose are tied to our political institutions.

What the 450+ pages of e-mails reveal is the sorry state of our institutions. An upstairs-downstairs to governing and treating our political institutions as an appendage of the PMO is fraught with danger for democracy, for national unity and sound public policy and for the pursuit of the public interest.

Canada’s democratic institutions are on trial – The Globe and Mail.

New PCO Clerk Charette takes on ‘battered’ PS, reform issues in federal election year | hilltimes.com

Lots of positive comment on new PCO Clerk Charette and observations on some of the challenges she faces from previous Clerks, Donald Savoie and others:

“There’s no question the federal public service is crying out for some sense of direction,” Mr. Savoie said. “I think it’s been battered about, not just the past 10 years, but it’s been battered about for the last 20-30 years. In some ways it’s lost its moorings. It’s not anchored like it used to be, in terms of knowing it was there to provide evidence-based policy advice, it was there to deliver programs in a professional manner.”

Part of the problem has been the trend across English-speaking democracies to view “the latest management fad coming out of the private sector as a panacea to dress the public sector to look like the private sector,” Mr. Savoie said, which has undermined the public service’s values.

In his final report as chair of the Prime Minister’s Advisory Committee on the Public Service, former Conservative and Liberal Cabinet minister David Emerson warned that public servants had to work to remain relevant amid the digital revolution and global economy.

The report recommended pushing authority down in the organization and empowering people to make changes; streamlining business processes; investing in learning and leadership development, especially in middle management; and focusing on longer-term thinking.

Former clerk Mel Cappe, who served under prime minister Jean Chrétien, said keeping the bureaucracy relevant and attracting bright young people will be Ms. Charette’s biggest challenge.

“I think the challenge is going to be adapting to the Twitterverse and modern communications and the transformation that’s taking place in the political world, and keeping the public service relevant to be the privileged adviser to government,” he said in an interview.

New PCO Clerk Charette takes on ‘battered’ PS, reform issues in federal election year | hilltimes.com. (pay wall)

The perils of the career politician – Donald Savoie

Donald Savoie on the implications of having more career politicians with minimal outside experience:

Career politicians also bring a narrow skill set to their governance. They excel at partisan politics and at surviving the gruelling 24-hour news cycle. But they lack the ability to test policy prescriptions against experiences gained outside politics. If commitments aren’t met, career politicians can always blame others the bureaucracy is an easy target, often bypassing their parliaments or legislative assemblies in the process, since traditional and social media have become the stage where the blame game is played out. This explains why career politicians have redefined the doctrine of ministerial responsibility, always so fundamental to our system of government. Supposedly responsible politicians now routinely blame others when things go wrong.

The proliferation of career politicians goes a long way toward explaining the public’s increasing cynicism about our political and administrative institutions. It also explains why those who have achieved distinction in other sectors tend to shun politics, leaving governance to a much narrowed political class. This, at a time when many Canadians are crying out for less partisan posturing, or are giving up on voting.

What is the solution? We could start by returning parties to the rank and file, by making it easier for non-career politicians to enter the political arena, by decentralizing power so that one does not have to sit in the prime minister’s or premier’s chair to make a substantial contribution. We also need to retool our public services by peeling away constraints to good management, and by rediscovering the importance of evidence-based policy advice.

I would say it depends partially on the individual. Some career politicians, like Minister Kenney, do have a breadth of perspective, others, the Polievres of the world do not.

The perils of the career politician – The Globe and Mail.

Culture shift: New report touts public service makeover

Destination 2020 priorities:

Innovative practices and networking: Along with an “innovation hub” and “change labs,” public servants will use social media and “Dragon’s Den”-style pitches to shape and promote new ideas.

Process and empowerment: A red-tape “tiger team” will be created to examine the snare of rules and processes that slow down operations, approvals and decision-making. Deputy ministers and their employees will connect better, for example using job-shadowing programs, reverse mentoring and Tweet Jams, moderated Twitter discussions.

Technology: An improved directory of federal public servants will include employee profiles and search functions.

People management: Job descriptions will be simplified, and new “learning tools” will help public servants keep their second-language skills up.

Fundamentals  of public service: This emphasizes the role of the public service as laid out in the code of values and ethics. New employees will get orientation training in these values.

Culture shift: New report touts public service makeover.

And some of the initial commentary:

Donald Savoie, who holds a Canada Research Chair in Public Administration and Governance at the University of Moncton, has sounded the alarm to reform the public service for a decade, particularly its fundamental role as policy adviser to government and clarifying its muddy relationship with ministers and Parliament.

“Until you deal with the role of ministers, the role of Parliament and their relationship with public servants … the vision will be only sentences in a report,” he said.

“Forgive me if I am being skeptical but I have been down this reform road too many times before and so have public servants … The report won’t go there. It would be groundbreaking if it does but I would be terribly surprised. And it’s not the clerk’s prerogative to do this, it’s the prime minister’s, and no prime minister has been prepared to do that. This is unchartered territory.”


“The clerk is trying to ensure the relevance of the public service at a time when many are questioning it,” said David Mitchell, president of the Public Policy Forum. ”He wants to strategically re-position it as the vital part of governance it traditionally played while recognizing social media, generational change and technology created a huge shift in the skills and competencies needed.”

Mitchell also believes the role of the public service has to be “refreshed” but to reflect the values of today rather than “turning back the clock to idealized version of the public service’s golden age.”

I tend to be somewhat cynical about these efforts, given the mixed results of previous efforts (and to my knowledge, no systematic evaluation has been done of the outcomes and results of previous initiatives, which in itself says a lot). And what will be the performance management framework and outcomes, and how will they be measured this time?

New plan for the PS of the future


Donald Savoie: Why Canada’s public service is declining and why it matters

Good short interview with Donald Savoie:

Show me a weak country and I will show you a country with a weak public service. Every country needs a referee and the referee has to be the public service. No country can operate without a referee. You take the public service out of Canadian society and you will have chaos. We all need to recognize the public service is going through an extremely difficult period. There are three fundamental phases to the public service. The first one was when they put the infrastructure in place in the early days, canals, roads, railways. The second was post-world-war Keynesian economics – the government decided it could do everything in every sector. It grew by leaps and bounds, young university graduates flocked to it. It was the happy phase. We are now into the third phase, saying ‘oh, we overshot.’ We got government into things that government ought not to have been into. So how do we fix things?

Donald Savoie: Why Canada’s public service is declining and why it matters – The Globe and Mail.

Kevin Page dismisses Privy Council’s Blueprint 2020 as ‘empty vessel’, other commentary

Hard to disagree with these comments by Kevin Page, former Parliamentary Budget Officer and currently attached to University of Ottawa, and Donald Savoie of Université de Moncton:

“I don’t see a vision and I have been very critical of the Blueprint 2020, but there is a context for change,” said Page.

“Where is the state of policy and financial analysis in government and its capacity to deliver services? We should be true to our values and no one can say we have been true to accountability and transparency in the past five years, moving on big initiatives with no supporting analysis.

“The public service is accountable to the executive but it is also accountable to Parliament and they have dropped the ball on that, and that comes with the price of lost public trust.”

Donald Savoie, the Canada Research chair in administration and governance at the Universite de Moncton, is also pushing for reform but argues the problem lies with the public service’s relationship with ministers, cabinet and Parliament….

He said all the chatter and discussions generated by Blueprint 2020 may be invigorating, especially for young public servants eager to harness technology and open up government, but it won’t work unless that relationship with politicians changes.

“I can’t figure out Blueprint 2020. It’s like grabbing smoke. I don’t understand where it is going. Maybe something fundamental or important is taking shape in the system and if that’s the case, good luck, but for someone from the outside looking in, there’s nothing there. It seems vapid … and until you deal with the role of ministers, Parliament and their relationship with public servants … the vision is only sentences in a report and will not have any legs.”

Kevin Page dismisses Privy Council’s Blueprint 2020 as ‘empty vessel’.

And the official government and bureaucratic view, predictably more rose-coloured:

Public servants waiting to see which vision for the bureaucracy will prevail in 2014

Lawrence Martin in the Globe takes a similarly hard-hitting approach, highlighting the relationship issue between the government and the public service. He goes too far in asserting the independence of the public service, given its role to serve the government of the day. Codifying a “moral contract” as suggested by Ralph Heintzman beyond the general understanding of “fearless advice and loyal implementation” is unlikely to happen, and would likely be too rigid. As always, finding the right balance is a challenge:

In the face of all the problems, top bureaucrat Wayne Wouters, Clerk of the Privy Council, has unveiled Blueprint 2020, a vision for a reformed world-class public service. Many such reform and modernization schemes have been tried in the past with scant results. This one, which follows a commendable consultation process within the service, is full of fine-sounding stuff like citizen engagement, smart use of new technologies and a whole-of-government approach to improve service delivery and value for money…

But not much in Mr. Wouters’s plan appears aimed at restoring the degree of independence the public service has traditionally exercised. Its politicization, a most serious example being that of the Privy Council Office, must be stopped. The public service should be accountable not only to the executive branch but also to Parliament. On the latter, says Mr. Page, it has dropped the ball, at the price of a loss in public trust.

Meaningful reform would entail something like what’s been proposed by former Treasury Board executive Ralph Heintzman. What is needed, he says, is a “moral contract,” a charter that sets well-defined boundaries between ministers, public servants and Parliament.

 Time to renew Canada’s cowed, bloated bureaucracy 

In fairness to all, the challenge in any such PS renewal initiative is high, there are no formal evaluations of previous efforts at PS renewal that I am aware (some informal reflections, however),  the fundamental limits of what can be done given bureaucratic and political heirarchies (government works top down, not bottom up), not to mention the particular context of the current government-public service relations.

New generation of DMs top-notch managers, but lack policy development expertise: Mitchell | hilltimes.com

Interesting debate between David Mitchell, President of the Public Policy Forum, and Donald Savoie, of Université de Moncton, on the policy skills of the current crop of deputies, and whether the emphasis is on policy development or management skills.

I think context matters. While deputies generally have a rounded skill and competency set, there is less appetite for longer-term policy development under the current government than previous governments, as the Conservative government has its own strong policy agenda and the public service has focused more on short-term program policy in implementing that agenda.

It is the more open-ended and longer-term policy development that has been weakened, and my understanding is that policy capacity  in a number of departments has been cut back through successive rounds of expenditure reductions. Not to say there was not capacity to be trimmed, or that this does not reflect legitimate political and bureaucratic decisions. We need to start by acknowledging the changes and likely longer-term impact of the capacity of the public service.

Savoie’s comments strike me as ignoring the current context. Just as he has argued against parliamentary officers at a time when Parliament is not performing its job of scrutinizing government spending (Do we need a PBO?), he does not acknowledge the degree to which policy advice and direction comes more from the political level. In addition, he does not acknowledge the degree to which official-level advice has been discounted or ignored, or limited to program policy and implementation issues.

Given the paywall, full text below:

The newer generation of federal deputy ministers have top-notch management skills, but lack sufficient expertise in policy development which could prove to be detrimental for the current and future governments in dealing with unforeseen crises situations such as terrorism, climate change, or military conflicts, says David Mitchell, president of the Public Policy Forum, one of the country’s leading think tanks, but other experts disagree.

“The newer deputy ministers who are emerging or senior public servants who are emerging have very, very solid managerial skills and expertise, but probably less experience in terms of policy development because there hasn’t been such a great demand for it in recent years,” said Mr. Mitchell in an interview with The Hill Times, adding that that the outgoing deputy ministers have more policy development experience than the ones replacing them.

“Most of the work of the public service has been around service delivery, management [and] accountability because that’s been the order of the day, but there’s been less of a demand on the public service for policy development and policy skills and many of the senior public servants who are moving into retirement are taking those skills with them and the newer generation of leaders likely has not had as much experience with that. That could be a challenge in the future when a government may require policy options and policy development skills, especially if they are not there in abundance in the future.”

Mr. Mitchell, a political historian who also served as MLA in the British Columbia legislature from 1991-1996, said that the process of shifting of focus away from policy development to effective management, service delivery, and accountability in the federal public service has been in progress over the last generation and now most of the policy development takes place in thinks tanks, industry associations and universities. This, he said, has made the top bureaucrats unprepared to deal with crisis situations.

“An aging population, increasing responses to natural disasters, international dimensions to public policy in terms of terrorism, climate change, or military conflicts, or unanticipated areas that we really don’t know about. If the public service isn’t actively thinking through scenarios and coming up with potential policy options for future governments, we could be in a position where we could be less prepared as a country to deal with emerging realities that the Canadian public can’t easily anticipate now. But it used to be the job of the public service to be thinking about this and to be prepared to not only advise the government of the day, but also to present policy options in order to deal with unanticipated circumstances. Today, that capacity has atrophied within government,” said Mr. Mitchell who in the past served as vice-president of Queen’s University, the University of Ottawa, and Simon Fraser University.

Mr. Mitchell said that with the departure of outgoing deputy ministers, the federal public service not only is losing individuals with significant policy development experience but also the institutional memory.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) shuffled the senior ranks of the public service in late July. In the shuffle, George Da Pont, who was then president of Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), was appointed as the deputy minister of Health; Bruce Archibald, then president of the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario was named president of the CFIA; Karen Ellis, former associate deputy minister of Natural Resources was named the president of Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario; Anita Biguzs, former associate deputy minister of Citizenship and Immigration was promoted to the position of deputy minister in the same department; Wilma Vreeswijk, former deputy secretary to the Cabinet (Business Transformation and Renewal) was named associate deputy minister of Citizenship and Immigration; Colleen Volk, former deputy secretary to the Cabinet (senior personnel), Privy Council Office, was named deputy secretary to Cabinet (senior personnel, Business Transformation and Renewal) Privy Council Office; and Helena Borges, former assistant deputy minister, programs group at Transport Canada was named associate deputy minister of Transport. At the time of the shuffle, Prime Minister Harper also announced the retirement plans of Glenda Yeates, former deputy minister of health, and Neil Yeates, former deputy minister of Citizenship and Immigration.

Meanwhile, Donald Savoie, who holds a Canada Research Chair in public administration and governance at the Universitè de Moncton, N.B., and is also a leading expert on the machinery of government, disagreed with Mr. Mitchell’s opinion that senior federal public servants have insufficient experience in policy development.

“I don’t necessarily agree with that. I think deputy ministers today have to have a number of skills. One is policy, second is political skills, not partisan, I want to make that important distinction. They have to have political antennas, not partisan antennas, a big difference. They have to have policy skills, they have to know how to work with other departments because policy now transcends departments and they do hopefully know how to manage and it’s a very difficult environment,” said Mr. Savoie, who is the author of numerous books and articles on public administration and public policy, in an interview with The Hill Times.

“There’s a series of skills that someone who makes into a deputy minister rank has had to prove in the past and policy skills happens to be one of them,” Mr. Savoie said. “The deputies who are recently appointed over the past several years, a lot of them come from central agencies: the bulk of deputies from the PCO, Finance, Treasury Board and so on. That’s not where you hone your management skills, that’s where you hone your policy and political skills.”

Mr. Savoie, who also has extensive experience in both government and academia, said that the process of policy development has changed over the years with more players offering their input but the senior civil servants are still the ones that are the decision makers in the formation of policies.

“There’s different forces that come into play, different contributions. But, ultimately, at the end of the day, people who present policy packages are those who are in government. Deputy minister is the final funnel before policies arrive on a minister’s desk, or the Prime Minister’s desk, or the Privy Council Clerk’s desk. Various forces shape it, but deputy minister is the guy or the gal who has the gate to the policy process. The policy process gate is still inside government. It hasn’t moved outside. Different people try to make it to the gate, but deputies still control that gate,” said Mr. Savoie.

Mr. Savoie said that the loss of institutional memory is not something new in the public service as it has been going on dating back to 1867. He, however, suggested that the government should come up with some arrangement by which the institutional memory could be preserved.

“You can’t [pull] the hand of a deputy minister to stay in government till the age of 75 to protect institutional memory. It is part of the process. Should there be a process to capture better institutional memory and to value it inside government, yes. There’s all kinds of things you could do: There’s a need for more case studies on policy management [and] development inside federal government. I don’t see many case studies that have been produced. They are relatively simple to produce. And exit interviews, inviting the [outgoing] deputy to a series of round tables, there’s a way to capture that institutional memory and I think government should work on it a bit more.”

Mike Joyce, former assistant secretary at the Treasury Board Secretariat who retired about five years ago, in an interview with The Hill Times, also disagreed with Mr. Mitchell that the new crop of top civil servants have insufficient policy development expertise.

“The previous criticism of deputy ministers has, of course, been the reverse that they’re good at policy and they are rotated so quickly that they are not very good at management. If you are looking at the current crop of senior appointments as being good at management, I would say that’s a good thing if that’s true, but I wouldn’t suggest that they are any weaker on policy,” said Mr. Joyce who is now an adjunct professor at Queen’s University School of Policy Studies.

New generation of DMs top-notch managers, but lack policy development expertise: Mitchell | hilltimes.com.