Input from public sector leaders needed in shaping a post COVID future

Reasonable call and consultation. However, I would hope that the focus would not just be at the deputy and ADM level, but executives and others closer to the front-line.

We have recently seen the disconnect between top levels and greater expertise in PHAC decisions and for such a survey to be more useful, it needs to draw on the deeper policy and subject expertise than in senior leaders who understandably have to focus more on policy management:

In a time of tremendous uncertainty, information overload and misinformation, Canadians are getting reams of advice and opinion on everything from how to manage the pandemic to the Supreme Court decision on climate change. The commentary comes from pundits, political actors, academics and interest groups, all important contributors to democratic debate. Some of it is informed, some of it is not.

Canadians are not hearing from those who, on a daily basis, are managing the challenges, developing the policies, implementing the programs and responding to the ever-changing political, legal and public opinion winds blowing on any given issue.

We are referring to senior, respected, professional public service executives who support elected municipal, provincial and federal representatives on complex challenges each and every day.

Who are these individuals?  Public sector executives and their organisations who are responsible for nearly 40 per cent of Canada’s GDP and an estimated 20 per cent of the country’s workforce.  They are distinguished by a ‘calling to serve’ and have a sense of duty to the community and a responsibility to help make things better.  They put collective interest over personal interest. While reasonably compensated it is often lower than the market compensation of their private sector counterparts.  And that’s okay.  These committed leaders are tireless in their pursuit of service and often burn the midnight oil through weekends and family events to help decision-makers make the best choices with the best advice.

These professional public servants wield tremendous influence on the quality of life we enjoy by advising, delivering services and providing effective stewardship of public resources to serve the priorities of democratically elected leadership.

Public sector leaders today are both driving and being driven by change. Facing paradigm shifts of seismic proportions, these experts and informed leaders are on the front line, supporting democratic institutions and governments, battling the pandemic, climate change and social polarization.  Public service executives are having to adapt, innovate and transform government organizations and services at top speed.

As we begin to consider what life will be like after the pandemic, and at a time when Canadian society is becoming increasingly polarized and diverse, and conflicts between different interest groups – including racialized tensions – are on the rise, the weight placed on the shoulders of this cadre of professional executives is unprecedented.  The pandemic and the difficult economic times are further straining public trust and governments will need to develop and enact policies and programs that address ongoing complex issues in a way that fosters better confidence in public institutions.

The chief administrative officer of a large metropolitan city or the deputy minister of a provincial or federal department has tremendous responsibility, knowledge and expertise.  They are impacted by changes to Canadian society, declining trust in government and concerned about whether or not their respective public institutions are equipped to deal with new, yet-to-be defined modern public administration practices.

Canadians need to hear from this informed cadre of dedicated experts. As vanguards of the public interest, they possess a unique knowledge, perspectives, and insights to the forces shaping society.  There is a need to give voice to, and share learnings from, the experience of public sector leaders regarding today’s issues and future challenges.

The Institute on Governance, with the support of the Mulroney Institute of Government, will be interviewing influential public sector leaders across the country and at all levels of government to collect their insights, learnings and assessments of the challenges and opportunities on the near and far horizons.  Knowing what is top of mind of this class of executives will offer an informed perspective to the important debates over Canada’s future and the role of governments in getting us there.

Toby Fyfe is the president of the Institute on Governance.  Stephen Van Dine is the senior vice president of public governance at the Institute on Governance.

Source: Input from public sector leaders needed in shaping a post COVID future

Canadians open to quotas to boost indigenous representation in government

Interesting and significant. Of note that opposition is highest in the two provinces with the largest percentage of Indigenous people, Saskatchewan and Manitoba:

The majority of Canadians are open to designating seats for the country’s indigenous people to boost their representation in Parliament and on the Supreme Court.

A recent survey by Environics Institute and the Institute on Governance found that two-thirds of Canadians are open to improving the representation of indigenous people in federal institutions.

They are divided, however, when it comes to how that representation would be achieved.

When asked about hypothetically designating a specific number of seats for indigenous representatives in the House of Commons, Senate or Supreme Court, one-third backed the idea; one-third opposed, and one-third said it “depends” on how it was done or were unsure.

Maryantonett Flumian, president of the Institute on Governance (IOG) , said the nearly 30 per cent who said they could support quotas depending on how they are handled suggests an “openness” among Canadians and a significant shift in attitude.

 “We don’t have comparative data but I … think these numbers represent an evolution in public opinion and in the minds of many Canadians. I would bet that we wouldn’t have had those responses five years ago and that attitudes have evolved that far.”

She also said Canadians seem to recognize that we can’t fix the country’s relationship with indigenous peoples “with good intentions (only) — they have to be in the positions driving it.”

Scott Serson, a former deputy minister of Indian and Northern Affairs, said the survey suggested Canadians are more open today than when a group of seven organizations conducted a major survey of non-aboriginal Canadians in 2014.

That survey was conducted by Environics as a baseline to track changing public attitudes towards reconciliation. It found Canadians increasingly recognize the historic and current challenges indigenous people face, with many indicating support for reconciliation and finding solutions.

“We have always said that First Nations must be at every table where decisions are being made that affect us, including the cabinet table, the boardroom table, the Supreme Court of Canada and beyond,” said Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde.

“I am encouraged that many Canadians have confidence in the ability of First Nations leaders, and support the need for us to be fully involved in setting the path forward as partners.”

Emmett Macfarlane, a political scientist at the University of Waterloo, called Canadians’ openness to increased indigenous representation in government a “turning point” in attitudes.

He said the intense media attention around the Truth and Reconciliation Report into the residential school system, coupled with the Idle No More movement and the inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women, have all helped increase Canadians’ knowledge and understanding.

“This is an important development that puts them at the top of mind for non-indigenous people. It’s a bit of a surprise because it’s a departure from historical norms where non-indigenous Canadians have not given a lot of thought to indigenous Canadians.

…According to the survey, 46 per cent of Canadians support more indigenous representation while 16 per cent are opposed. Nearly 30 per cent responded with “depends” how it was done and nine per cent had no opinion.

The level of support, however, divided along East-West lines.

Support to expanding representation was strongest in Eastern and Central Canada, especially in Quebec where 56 per cent said they supported the idea. Opposition was most evident Manitoba and Saskatchewan where 26 per cent were opposed.

The survey asked Canadians who opposed expanding indigenous representation to give reasons for their objections. The most common reason, given by 35 per cent of them, was that all Canadians are equal and no group should be given preferential treatment.

About 10 per cent said indigenous peoples are adequately represented; nine per cent said they were over-represented; nine per cent said they were irresponsible and might abuse the system, and that representation should be based on qualifications not background.

About 28 per cent offered no specific reasons for their objections.

Source: Canadians open to quotas to boost indigenous representation in government | Ottawa Citizen

Canadians lack faith in upper ranks of public service: survey

Interesting and worrisome for the public service:

The findings of a survey, conducted by Environics Institute and the Institute on Governance, into how Canadians view accountability and oversight in government underscore a troubling level of mistrust among Canadians in their government, both elected officials and public servants.

Canadians put more faith in front-line public servants delivering services — as long as they have the resources and authority to do the right thing — than they do for MPs and senior bureaucrats.

The majority have at least some trust in front-line workers and MPs, but views of senior public servants are almost equally divided between some trust and little or no trust.

At the same time, Canadians overall perceptions about government and its effectiveness — even among its harshest critics who believe government is broken — improved significantly since a similar survey in 2014, which some attribute to the “Trudeau Effect.”

 The two surveys into Canadians’ views into how we are governed were conducted 18 months apart.  One survey was conducted during the final stretch of the Conservatives’ near decade in power, and the second was conducted during the early months of the Liberal government of Justin Trudeau.

The latest study was conducted online in February with 2,000 Canadians over the age of 18.

In that survey, only six per cent of those surveyed expressed a lot of trust in senior public servants compared with 18 per cent who reported trusting front-line federal workers.

Maryantonett Flumian, president of the Institute on Governance, said Canadians’ growing trust appears to rest with the prime minister, not government institutions such as the public service.

That, she argued, poses a big challenge for the public service.

Expectations of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government are running high, but it’s the public service that has to deliver on their promises. She said the bureaucracy’s bungling of its new pay system and foul-ups installing a new email system raise questions about management.

“It’s Trudeau they trust, not the public service,” she said. “Now the question: Is the public service up to the challenge?

“A public service mired in trying to think through how to manage a new pay system and consolidate email systems is not a good match for the aspirations of an activist government and a Canadian populace who seem to have elected this government with a blank cheque.”

Canadians in the survey pointed to the public service and the Senate as two federal institutions that need changes. Those surveyed said the Senate needs a bigger overhaul than the public service and they ranked Senate fixes as a top priority.

About 56 per cent of those surveyed said the Senate needs major changes and 23 per cent said minor reforms. For the public service, 33 per cent said it needs major change and 47 per cent thought minor changes were needed.

In all cases, support for major changes is strongest among two groups:

  • Those who also said they feel the government is broken; or

  • Those who said they had faced bad service or an unpleasant experience dealing with government over the past year.

Source: Canadians lack faith in upper ranks of public service: survey | Ottawa Citizen

ICYMI: Mistrust between bureaucrats and politicians bad for Canada: survey

doing their best 1224-survey2-ps04-grInteresting survey. Above chart I found particularly striking and worrisome.

While it is unlikely that a new incoming government will be much more trusting and reliant on public servants for broader policy advice given some of the macro-trends at play, some of the more fundamental distrust and ideology regarding the role of government may improve the relationship:

About 66 per cent of Canadians think public servants should “actively” provide expert advice and recommend policies, compared to the 18 per cent who say their job is simply to implement the desires of politicians. This view is evident across the country but is strongest among older, more educated people and higher-income earners.

And nearly three-quarters of those asked believe the best policies would come from a “collaborative” working relationship between public servants and politicians. Only 10 per cent believe “tension” would generate better policy.

The survey provides Canadians’ perspective on an issue that has been hotly debated in Ottawa for several decades, as power shifted to the Prime Minister’s Office and public servants lost their onetime monopoly on providing advice to ministers.

The findings are also at odds with the view of the current Conservative government, which, after nearly a decade in power, doesn’t particularly trust the public service and sometimes finds its advice obstructionist.

Public servants complain their advice isn’t actively sought or is ignored if offered on big issues and direction. They say ministers come to the table with ready-made policies that public servants are told to implement. The rising stars among public servants are issue-managers and fixers, not big-idea thinkers.

This view of policy advice was recently illustrated when Finance Minister Joe Oliver gave a $550-million tax cut to the small-business lobby without his department — once the bureaucracy’s crème de la crème of policy analysts — conducting any analysis of its own.

…Maryantonett Flumian, president of the Institute on Governance, said she commissioned the survey to determine how Canadians feel their governments serve them.

She said the findings suggest Canadians still support a parliamentary democracy even though Canada has drifted towards a “Washminister” system — the name used for a hybrid of Washington’s presidential and Britain’s Westminster systems of responsible government.

“We see a mismatch in expectations and outcome from all the players: politicians, public servants, citizens, and we wanted to see how Canadians viewed this,” she said, “and they think the spirit of co-operation would have better outcomes and they understand who is accountable: the people who form the government and make the decisions,”

Although Canadians expect public servants to have a policy advisory role, they don’t necessarily think public servants of the future should have more influence on managing departments and agencies than they do now. About 28 per cent say they should have more influence; 17 per cent said less and 34 per cent were in the middle, happy with the status quo.

Mistrust between bureaucrats and politicians bad for Canada: survey | Ottawa Citizen.