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

Of note.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May: Speaking truth to power discouraged in public service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is an old problem.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Speaking truth to power discouraged in public service

Should it stay or go? Ottawa weighs the vaccine mandate for the public service

Will be interesting to see what government decides and whether it is applied consistently across departments and organizations:

The timing and pace of return-to-office plans for Canada’s public servants will hinge on what the federal government decides to do with its vaccine mandate for employees.

The federal Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer is leading a review into the six-month-old mandate, seeking input from unions and other stakeholders, but a decision will be based on the advice of public-health officials. The results of the review will be given to Treasury Board President Mona Fortier.

While the review had to start by the six-month anniversary on April 6, it is not a deadline for a decision.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said public-health officials are at a “very important juncture” in reviewing COVID-19 policies such as mandates, which are shifting from “an emphasis on requirements to recommendations.”

But Opposition MPs repeatedly pressed Tam and Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos at the Commons health committee this week on when mandates for travellers and public servants will be lifted. Tam said the situation is unstable because of surges caused by the latest Omicron variant. She said Canada is taking a phased approach with the lifting of mandates that must be closely watched.

“I think this is just waiting to see what happens with that situation, ensuring the provinces are still able to cope as they release measures. They are just doing that at the moment and (with) that observation, the federal government makes a decision,” Tam told the committee.

Dany Richard, co-chair of the National Joint Council, a joint union and management committee, said the review is a political “hot potato” for the government. The factors to consider are many, including the risk of lifting the mandate too soon or appearing to be capitulating to the pressure of the February convoy protests.

“They might play it by ear, extend for three months, but if they remove it, we’ll have people saying ‘Hey, I don’t feel comfortable returning to work’ knowing they’ll be working with someone who is not vaccinated,” said Richard.

Last October, the government introduced a vaccination policy requiring all public servants and RCMP employees to prove they’re fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or face unpaid leave. Today, more than 98 per cent of public servants are fully vaccinated. Vaccine mandates are also imposed on employees of federally regulated industries.

Benjamin Piper, an employment lawyer at Goldblatt Partners, said keeping the mandate has become more difficult as provinces drop COVID-19 restrictions with recent declines in serious illness and death.

“There’s no doubt that the law would say that at some point, if the situation has improved sufficiently, this will no longer be justifiable. The question is when you reach that point,” Piper said.

Health officials say the two-dose vaccine mandates that initially proved effective in increasing vaccine uptake and limiting spread aren’t offering much protection in reducing transmission of Omicron.

“We know is that, with the Omicron variant, having two doses – the protection against infection and further transmission goes really low,” Tam said during a recent news conference. “You really need a third dose to provide augmentation against transmission. All that should be taken into account as the federal government looks at the policies going forward.”

But Tam suggested expanding the mandates to three doses isn’t in the cards now. It would difficult because eligibility for a booster varies by age. Also, people who have Omicron infection are asked to wait up to three months before getting the third dose.

The mandate review also comes as the more contagious COVID Omicron variant called BA.2 is on the rise and expected to create another surge in cases. The BA.2 sub-variant is on its way to becoming dominant in Ontario and across Canada. Although more transmissible than the original Omicron, it does not appear to be as severe.

All these factors are converging as the government tries to ease the workforce it sent home to work during the pandemic back to the workplace after two years.

The government is moving to a hybrid workforce, a mix of working at home and remotely. Departments are returning at their own pace and the progress is slow. Many don’t expect a major return until the fall but a new variant could change all that.

Many argue scrapping the vaccine mandate could derail imminent return-to-office plans. Many public servants want to continue working from home. Employees could resist returning to the workplace without a vaccination policy or assurance the employee next them is vaccinated.

Richard said unions would press for workers to work from home if safety fears rise. They are particularly concerned about departments that issued blanket orders for all employees to return to the office two or three days a week.

It is an open question whether the government can justify imposing the mandate and proof of vaccination on remote workers who don’t come to the office. Since the pandemic started, the government has hired hundreds of remote workers who don’t have an office to go to.

Meredith Thatcher, co-founder and workplace strategist at Agile Work Evolutions, argues keeping the mandate for now, along with social distancing and other precautions will help get people back to the office sooner.

“I think having a mandate in place will make people feel more comfortable. If I am told I have to return to the office three days a week and there’s no vaccine mandate, I may say, ‘I’m sorry; I have an immunocompromised person in my house. I’m not coming.’”

Lifting the mandate could also fuel a wave of internal churn as employees pick up and move to departments that will allow them to work remotely.

“I’m telling you there’s going to be a kind of Darwinian natural selection. My members have mobility. They can go work where they want and if telework is a big deal for them, they’ll go and work somewhere else,” said Richard.

Whether the mandate stays or goes, unions argue it’s time to stop punishing the unvaccinated and let them go back to work.

Greg Phillips, president of the Canadian Association of Professional Employees (CAPE), argued the 702 unvaccinated employees should be provided with accommodations such as remote work or daily testing and personal protective equipment if they have to go to the workplace.

“We feel that those that remain unvaccinated should be allowed to start working again and start earning a living again, and that if people are going into the office, they should probably be vaccinated,” Phillips said.

Phillips said the mandate was introduced as a temporary measure and the 98-per-cent vaccination rate shows it was a success. If extended, CAPE wants a plan that explains the rationale and outlines milestones.

“We want to know the game plan for when they see an end to the policy,” said Phillips. “Every sporting event has a time limit or a score limit. You always know when the game is going to be over.”

Source: Should it stay or go? Ottawa weighs the vaccine mandate for the public service

May: Never tweet. Social media is complicating the age-old neutrality of the public service

Easier in my time when the major worry was appearing in the press regarding a leaked document. Safer to never tweet on public policy issues and debates while in government, as tweets can give the perception that the public service is not neutral and impartial by the political level.

Public service did give the impression of not being impartial at times during the Harper government:

Social media is a part of life that is increasingly treacherous for Canada’s public servants, who may need better guidance to navigate their public and private lives online.

The blurring of that line was on display during the so-called freedom convoy protest that paralyzed downtown Ottawa. Some public servants took to social media to oppose or support the protest, sometimes with funds. Other public servants criticized colleagues who backed the protest as well as government mishandling of the nearly month-long blockade.

The storm of often anonymous allegations of misbehaviour on social media underlined an absence of transparency in the government agencies responsible for the ethical behaviour of bureaucrats. Neither the Treasury Board Secretariat nor the Office of Public Sector Integrity Commission were willing or able to say if any investigation or other action has been taken against any public servant.

On Reddit, members of public servant forums questioned the loyalty of federal workers who donated money to a convoy with an underlying mission to overthrow the government. Public servants on Twitter chided anyone who may have used government email to send a donation; accused them of ethical breaches. One suggested any of them with secret security clearances or higher should face a loyalty interview from CSIS, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

Some demanded they be investigated or have security clearances revoked. Others called for dismissal. One senior bureaucrat told Policy Options public servants should be dismissed if they funded anything to do with removing the elected government to which they pledged loyalty.

Meanwhile, eyebrows were raised when Artur Wilczynski, an assistant deputy minister for diversity and inclusion at the Communications Security Establishment, tweeted a stinging criticism of Ottawa police’s handling of the protest. As a rule, senior bureaucrats, especially from such a top-secret department, keep such opinions to themselves. The CSE called Wilczynski’s criticism a personal opinion, noting it would be inappropriate for the CSE to comment on matters that don’t fall within its mandate.

It’s unclear whether any public servants are being investigated or disciplined for an ethical breach – or an illegal act.

Public servants typically have a lot of latitude to engage in political activities before risking an ethical breach. That changed when the Emergencies Act was invoked, making a peaceful protest an illegal occupation.

The Treasury Board Secretariat, the public service’s employer, knows some public servants supported the protesters, a spokesperson said. But it is unaware of whether any were warned or disciplined by their departments for any public support online or offline.

“We do not collect information about complaints or disciplinary actions against employees,” the Treasury Board said in an email.

Social media users suggested at least a dozen public servantswent to the Office of Public Sector Integrity Commission to report the possibility that a handful of bureaucrats were on a leaked list of convoy donors that was exposed when a hackers took down the crowdsourcing website GiveSendGo. The commission investigates wrongdoings that could pose serious threats to the integrity of the public service.

Commissioner Joe Friday refused to say whether he has received or is investigating any complaints. His office sees a spike in inquiries and disclosures when hot-button public issues dominate the news, he said.

Social media is here to stay. But how public servants use social media to balance their duty of loyalty to government with their right to free speech and engage in political activity seems to be an open question.

Public servants have rules for behavior at work and during off-hours, though the line between on and off the clock has increasingly blurred after two years of working at home. The rules come from the Public Service Employment Act, the Values and Ethics Code and the codes of conduct for each department.

But some argue there’s a grey zone now that partisan politics and political activities have moved online.

Jared Wesley, an associate professor of political science at the University of Alberta, said governments have not done a good job updating their ethics protocols, standards of practice and codes of conduct to manage social media. They amount to deputy ministers offering a rule-of-thumb “if your boss wouldn’t like, don’t post it,” he said.

Carleton University’s Amanda Clarke and employment lawyer Benjamin Piper examined the gap in guidance in a paper, A Legal Framework to Govern Online Political Expression by Public Servants. Clarke, a digital and public management expert and associate professor, said this uncertainty about the rules cuts two ways.

“What we can learn from this incident is that there is already a grey area and it’s dangerous for public servants who are not equipped with sufficient guidance,” said Clarke.

“There are two outcomes. One: they over-censor and unnecessarily give up their rights to political participation …. The second is they go to the other extreme and abandon their obligation to be neutral, which can put them into dangerous positions, personally and professionally and, at the larger democratic level, undermine the public service’s credibility.”

In fact, public servants believe impartiality is important, a recent survey shows, and 97 per cent steer clear of political activities beyond voting. Eighty-nine per cent believe expressing views on social media can affect their impartiality or the perception of their impartiality. But it found only about 70 per cent of managers felt capable of providing guidance to workers on engaging in such activities.

Clarke argues the modernization of public service must address how public servants reconcile their online lives with their professional duties.

“You can’t expect public servants not to have online political lives. This is where politics unfolds today. So, anybody who is trying to say that is the solution is missing the reality of how we how we engage in politics today.”

More than 40 years ago, the Supreme Court’s landmark Fraser ruling confirmed public servants’ political rights – with some restrictions. They depend on factors such as one’s rank or level of influence in the public service; the visibility of the political activity; the relationship between the subject matter and the public servant’s work and whether they can be identified as public servants.

David Zussman, who long held the Jarislowsky Chair in Public Management at the University of Ottawa, said the rules should be the same whether a public servant pens an op-ed, a letter to the editor or a tweet.

“Public servants should be able to make personal decisions about who they support, but the overriding consideration is keeping the public service neutral and apolitical.”

Shortcomings of existing rules, however, were revealed in the 2015 election, when an environment scientist, Tony Turner, was suspended for writing and performing a protest song called “Harperman” that went viral on YouTube.

His union, the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, argued he had violated no restrictions: he wasn’t an executive, his job was tracking migratory birds, he wrote the song on his own time, used no government resources and there was nothing in the video or on his website to indicate he was a public servant. He hadn’t produced the video or posted it to YouTube.

About the same time, a Justice Department memo surfaced, warning: “you are a public servant 24/7,” anything posted is public and there is no privacy on the Internet. Unions feared public servants could be prevented from using social media, a basic part of life.

Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube have complicated the rules for public servants posting an opinion, signing an online petition or making a crowdsourced donation, Clarke and Piper argue.

Social media can amplify opinions in public debate and indiscriminate liking, sharing, or re-posting can ramp up visibility more than expected.  Assessments of whether a public servant crossed the line have to consider whether they used privacy settings, pseudonyms or identified as public servants.

Clarke and Piper question whether public servants who never mention their jobs should be punished if they are outed as government employees in a data breach – like those who donated to the convoy protest. What about a friend taking a screenshot of a private email you sent criticizing government, sending it others or posting it online?

The Internet makes it easy to identify people, Piper said. Public servants who avoid disclosing their employer on their personal social media accounts can be identified using Google, LinkedIn or the government’s own employee directory.

So back to the convoy protest. Before the emergency order, would public servants have unwittingly crossed the line by supporting the protest or donating money to it?

The protest opposed vaccines and pandemic restrictions, though the blockade also became home to a mix of grievances. Many supporters signed a memorandum of understanding by one of the organizing groups calling for the Governor-General and Senate to form a new government with the protestors.

“It’s hard for me to see how a private donation by someone who has a job that has nothing to do with vaccine mandates or the trucker protest could attract discipline. That would be a really aggressive application of discipline by the government,” said Piper.

But Wesley argues that the convoy was known from the start as a seditionist organization and anyone who gave money to the original GoFundMe account should have seen the attached MOU. It was later withdrawn.

“Most public servants sign an oath to the Queen and should have recognized that signing or donating money to that movement was an abrogation of your oath,” he said. “I think a re-examination of who they are, who they work for and implications of donating to a cause that would have upended Canada’s system of constitutional monarchy is definitely worth a conversation with that individual.”

Perhaps part of the problem is the traditional bargain of loyalty and impartiality between politicians and public servants is coming unglued.

The duty of loyalty is shifting. The stability and job security that once attracted new recruits for lifelong careers in government aren’t important for many young workers, who like remote work and expect to work for many employers.

A recent study found half of the politicians surveyed don’t really want an impartial public service. Brendan Boyd, assistant professor at MacEwan University, suggests they prefer a bureaucracy that enthusiastically defends its policies rather than simply implements and explains them. However, 85 per cent of the politicians say that outside of work hours, public servants should be impartial.

“There will be further test cases, and how we define a duty of loyalty is going to either be confirmed or adapted or changed,” said Friday.

“But public servants are still allowed to communicate, hold or express views as a means of expression. And the pace at which the views, thoughts and opinions are expressed is so phenomenal that I think it fundamentally changes the playing field.”

Source: Never tweet. Social media is complicating the age-old neutrality of the public service

Ottawa and unions agree to simplify pay rules for public servants

Ottawa and unions agree to simplify pay rules for public servants

Government has far too long expected technology as a solution for the harder work of simplification and streamlining of payrolls, processes, and definitions. Harder work to do (remember the Universal Classification Standard fiasco of the 90s and how much time was spent to no avail).

And as to the union demand that the most beneficial provision be the basis, using the median would likely be more reasonable .

But needs to be done, otherwise IT solutions will never work well:

For the first time, the federal government and its 17 public service unions have agreed to discuss simplifying the thousands of pay rules and processes that derailed the troubled Phoenix pay system from the start.

This simplifying, which could take years to unfold, is a key piece of the government’s pilot project to build a new system – the Next Generation Human Resources and Pay (NextGen) – to replace Phoenix.

A joint union and management committee for NextGen has been examining issues around the new pay system for several years. The upcoming round of collective bargaining will be the first to take a stab at simplifying the rules and processes that have gummed up Phoenix since its launch in 2015.

However, there are many potential problems.

“They (the government) can’t let technology drive their business processes. They have to fix business processes before implementing new technology. In the case of Phoenix, the opposite occurred. Not having fixed those processes and collective agreements dooms NextGen,” said a source familiar with the project who is not authorized to speak publicly.

Some say this willingness to simplify a myriad of contracts could be a watershed moment in federal labour history, which has been rocky since the Lester B. Pearson Liberal government introduced collective bargaining in the 1960s. Public service reformers have pressed for decades to modernize compensation and a human resources regime built for another era.

They are also heading into these talks at a time when COVID-19 has upended work. As provinces lift pandemic restrictions, departments are gearing up for a partial return to the office with a hybrid workforce, part of which will continue to work from home. The federal government is also studying the future of work in a world where technology, automation and AI are changing jobs and the skills needed in the public service.

Despite the pressure to modernize, it remains to be seen how far the two sides are willing to go. Unions say no proposals have been put on the table.

Phoenix was built on PeopleSoft 9.1, an off-the-shelf software. IBM built the system, which was heavily customized to handle the complicated public service regime with 80,000 pay rules and 105 collective agreements for 300,000 employees.

Technology experts long argued the complexities of the pay rules were a root cause of Phoenix’s problem. They say rules and processes should have been reduced before the government started work on Phoenix, and they argue that these remain a significant challenge for any new system. On top of that, the government has a mishmash of 37 human resource systems that feed into Phoenix, each with its own processes.

Canada’s auditor general has issued the same warning over the years and said in this year’s audit of Phoenix’s continuing pay errors that it would be closely monitoring the NextGen project.

“We continue to be concerned that the new HR to pay system could repeat weaknesses we found in the HR to pay process and could pay some employees inaccurately,” said the report.

This time, however, the government wants a new combined pay and human resource system that can be configured to handle the pay regime without rewriting code to customize the software. That makes paring down the myriad of rules all the more critical.

Shared Services Canada (SSC), a federal agency responsible for technology across all federal departments, is leading the NextGen project. In an email, SSC said Toronto-based Ceridian, which bills itself as a global “human capital management” company, is configuring Dayforce, its flagship software, for a test run with the Department of Canadian Heritage to see if it can “support the government’s human resources and pay activities.”

However, concerns remain.

“What we don’t want here is for the employer to think: ‘Well, the reason why NextGen is having issues implementing is because the collective agreements are too complicated.’ Fine, let’s simplify them. We’re not against that,” said Dany Richard, president of the Association of Canadian Financial Officers, who co-chairs the joint management-union committee for NextGen.

As much as both sides are on board for the sake of getting a pay system that works, the pinch point will be cost. Unions don’t want their members to take a hit on their pay or benefits

The Public Service Alliance of Canada, the largest union, is having preliminary discussions with Treasury Board about the pay system and harmonizing the language of its contracts.

“We’re going in curious and with an open mind to see what’s being proposed, and what they want to talk about, and seeing what we can come to agreements on,” said Greg Phillips, president of the Canadian Association of Professional Employees, the third-largest public service union.

“But at the end of the day, it’s the employer’s responsibility to pay employees and they need to have the system in order to do that. And for modernizing HR, that’s their decision. It shouldn’t be done on the backs of employees.”

Unions have previously argued that if the government wants to reduce rules, the fastest way is to pick the most beneficial provision and make it the standard for everyone. Take, for example, the nearly 40 different rules for overtime. The unions want the government to pick the most generous of the overtime rules and apply it to everyone.

Unions argue that bringing employees up to the most generous provision may cost more in the short term, but it would be considerably cheaper than continuing to sink millions of dollars into fixing and maintaining Phoenix, which has already cost $1.4 billion in fixes.

“Let’s just put it to the common denominator, whatever it is, and write it off. It may sound like public servants gain and will get more benefits. But having clear collective agreements that are consistent will help simplify the pay system,” said Richard.

The government already spends about $53 billion a year on salaries and benefits for employees, which is 60 per cent of its total operating costs. After the spending spree to combat COVID-19, there is little appetite to pay public servants more.

Another complicating factor is that the unions have negotiated rules for pay and benefits over 60 years that are specific to each of more than 80 occupational groups in the public service.

On top of basic salary — and any raises or promotions — public servants are entitled to various allowances, such as for education, living in remote areas, acting in a higher job classification, bilingual bonuses and shift premiums. The pay for part-time or hourly employees is even more complex. Layered on top of that are rules within rules — with arcane language that often has conflicting interpretations.

One solution is harmonizing language so that all definitions are the same, such as for “family” which is key to various types of leave. Or acting pay, which kicks in for some employees after one day of filling in for someone in a higher job classification but which in another contract requires three days of doing that.

For vacation pay, some employees are entitled to four weeks after eight years of service and others get it after five years. With overtime, some employees get double time on Sunday whether they work Saturday or not, while others get double time on Sunday only after working Saturday at time and a half. In short, the rules are many and are all over the map.

The government has a pile of allowances, which employees receive on top of salaries that could, for example, be rolled into base salaries. They include retention allowances, extra pay for employees whose skills are in short supply, and allowances for meals, vehicles, travel, and clothing, such as uniforms, safety boots, and glasses.

SSC officials were unavailable to expand upon the project or its possible scale and scope beyond a brief message.

SSC said in an email that NexGen has now moved into the design and experimentation stage “which will continue to inform and define the way forward.”

“NextGen HR and Pay initiative will produce options and recommendations for a human resources and pay system that meets the complex needs of the (government),” it added.

Source: Ottawa and unions agree to simplify pay rules for public servants

May: Federal paymasters struggle to rise from Phoenix

Ongoing so many years lager:

Thousands of workers are still owed money when they leave or retire from Canada’s public service, and some are still waiting years to get paid. Thousands more move to jobs in other departments and wait months, if not years, for their paperwork to catch up with them.

It’s been six years – and more than $1.4 billion in fixes – since the disastrous Phoenix launch. The government wanted the pay system to be stabilized this year, meaning the backlog of erroneous pay cases would be eliminated permanently. It’s not there yet.

The spotlight on the Phoenix fiasco all but disappeared when the pandemic took the national stage and the number of pay hardship cases fell. The errors that remain aren’t as egregious as they were in the early days when people were getting underpaid or overpaid massively, or not paid at all. However, despite improvements, a backlog of trouble remains.

The Office of the Auditor General found an overall error rate of 47 per cent in the pay of employees it sampled in 2020-21. That’s slightly lower than the 51 per cent error rate the prior year. It also flagged that 41 per cent still had pay errors waiting to be fixed at the end of the year – compared to 31 per cent the year before.

With $910 million in funding in 2020, Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) put together a three-year plan to get rid of the backlog by December 2022.

The backlog-reduction strategy was built around using technology, boosting the productivity of pay advisers and reducing the volume of cases coming in. The idea is to help pay advisers plow through the flow of transactions every pay cycle and also have enough time to work on the backlog.

The size of the backlog steadily decreased for more than two years, from the peak in January 2018 of 384,000 transactions, to a low of 98,000 in April 2021. The number of people affected dropped. The pay centre also improved its wait times, meeting the service standard of dealing with most pay requests within 20 days at least 80 per cent of the time.

But then it started to backslide.

Phoenix’s processing started to hiccup and sputter for a couple of months before it inched back up throughout the summer and fall of 2021. The active backlog of transactions settled at 141,000 cases by late January 2022.

“When it comes to Phoenix, it is two steps forward, one step back. The backlog of outstanding transactions has reduced since 2016, but whenever a new collective agreement or MOU is signed, it slows down the progress,” said Dany Richard, president of the Association of Canadian Financial Officers.

PSPC officials argued the backslide was nothing more than the normal flux in the volume of work.

They said the number of transactions processed each month varies depending on the complexity of transactions, the pay centre’s capacity, any new collective agreements being implemented, and the normal seasonal spikes in demand, such as hiring summer students.

The size of the public service has also grown 24 per cent since 2015 and there’s been a considerable amount of churn – with people moving in and out of jobs, creating more transactions.

“Although we have made significant progress this past year in reducing the number of transactions in the backlog and queue from 2016-2020, we have seen an increase in new transactions received at the pay centre in 2021, which challenged our ability to reduce the backlog,” said PSPC spokesperson Michèle LaRose in an email.

Some say public servants, many safely working from home, aren’t complaining as loudly about pay errors when so many Canadians lost their jobs during the COVID-19 crisis. Some argue that unions backed off on Phoenix after winning $560 million in damages to compensate workers for pay gaffes. Others say public servants are now so used to pay errors that they have simply become inured to them.

“As the backlog of Phoenix pay issues continues to grow, it seems the government has quietly accepted that Phoenix can’t be fixed, “said Chris Aylward, president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada.”

“We’re nearing the six-year anniversary of the Phoenix fiasco, and thousands of workers are still having pay problems while waiting years for their previous issues to be resolved…Over the past few months, we’re seeing more and more members turn to us for help.”

The auditor general found that 141,100 employees had at least one outstanding “pay action request” last June, down from more than 182,000 in 2018.

The improvements made to Phoenix came partly through technology, such as automating retroactive payments like backpay for 2018 collective agreements. Processes were streamlined, programs introduced to speed up processing of routine work. This was all aimed at freeing up pay advisers to be deployed on the backlog.

The next focus was the culture change around timeliness and accuracy, which should have happened before Phoenix was launched. Managers, human resource and employees had to learn how to manage pay differently. The old pay system could handle late transactions – largely because pay advisers manually fixed things. But Phoenix runs in real time and can’t digest late or after-the-fact transactions.

That cultural shift from late to on-time transactions is slowly taking hold but problems remain around the timeliness and accuracy of requests for terminations and transfers.

At last count, 30,000 terminations were waiting to be processed, either in the queue or dumped into the backlog after the 45-day service standard is missed. Terminations are issued for anyone who leaves the public service.

About 34 per cent of the cases in backlog are less than a year old, but 12 per cent are more than four years old and the rest are between one and four years old. Employees could be owed vacation pay, overtime, allowances and/or severance pay.

About 10,000 transfers are waiting to catch up with employees in their new departments. Those who move to new jobs with raises or promotions could wait months or years for that extra money to kick in – and then discover they have other pay adjustments such as higher pension premiums.

Overpayments are another headache. Departments are racing to recover salary overpayments to employees in 2016, when Phoenix went live. By law, the government has six years to collect salary overpayments from employees – after which they become unrecoverable and are written off as debt. The government has collected about $2.3 billion so far but has another $552 million to collect.

Sources familiar with Phoenix say the problems dogging the system can be fixed with more pay advisers. PSPC has already quadrupled its pay workforce— to about 2,500 people—since Phoenix was launched.

Source: Federal paymasters struggle to rise from Phoenix

May: The pandemic upended the federal workplace. What comes next?

Good overview of the issues and challenges:

The pandemic blew up the norms and structure of work behaviour in Canada’s public service and now bureaucrats want new rules and a say in how work fits into their lives as the federal government readies for a return to the office.

Everything about working in the public service is up for grabs.

After nearly two years, the pandemic proved public servants can work in many jobs from anywhere. That’s upended the conventional approach to work, including the 37.5-hour work week, endless in-person meetings, a soulless cubicle culture and how to climb the hierarchy. It’s an opportunity for change reformers have dreamed about for 25 years.

“Look, if I could press an undo button and make sure COVID never happened, I would… but it happened, and the silver lining is we have exponentially adopted telework,” said Dany Richard, a union president and co-chair of the National Joint Council, a joint union and management committee. “That allows us now to reassess how the future of work will be.”

With a global talent shortage and an economy favouring workers, public servants couldn’t be in a better position to make demands on their employer about their future work lives.

There are high hopes for a new telework policy being hashed out behind closed doors with unions and senior management. Advocates promise a new mobile workforce that would break the Ottawa-Gatineau monopoly on headquarter jobs. It would improve workforce diversity and work-life balance and reduce real estate and operational costs along with pollution from commuting.

The pandemic also picked up the pace of digital transformation of the public service by three to five years, said Ryan Androsoff, director of digital leadership at the Institute on Governance.

In a blink, public servants went en masse to work at home. After a mad scramble for enough laptops, bandwidth and network access, public servants learned to work in real time, mastering videoconferencing, text and chat software and editing documents collaboratively.

“It would have taken multiple years before departments would have reached the point where 100 per cent of their workforce could work in a distributed and remote way,” Androsoff said.

Public servants aren’t expected to return to offices until the pandemic is declared over, but everyone is braced for a hybrid workplace, a mix of working in office and at home.

Is government ready? Not quite. The Treasury Board’s Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer is putting together a short- and long-term plan for the future of work with a “spotlight on telework” that rolls out as COVID restrictions are lifted and public servants can return to in-office work.

Richard argued working remotely during an emergency like the pandemic worked because everyone is in the same boat. The challenge now is how to “optimize” remote work and make the most of it.

“I think the employer will generally be open to telework,” said Richard, who is president of the Association for Canadian Financial Officers. “I don’t think it’ll be 100 per cent of the time. But as long as an employee commits to, I’d guess, two days a week in the office, the employer will say, ‘Okay let’s try three days at home and two days in the office.’”

Not all federal jobs can be done from home. Ship crews, prison guards, border guards and meat inspectors can’t. Call centres, science laboratories and operations like the Canada Security Establishment need people at the workplace.

Most office workers, however, don’t want to return to the old ways. Surveys found most want to work from home full-time or several days a week. As one senior bureaucrat said, the “pinch point” is whether location of work is an employee’s right or preference. Or is it an “operational requirement” that managers should define?

“We just spent a year and half working from home on a mandatory basis. We had to work from home. Employees see the benefits and want the flexibility to choose where they work,” said Stéphane Aubry, vice-president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC).

As part of that flexibility, Aubry said the union wants jobs classified as remote or telework positions and no longer attached to a city or a building. It argues the government should pick up some of the cost employees bear working at home. It also wants all tasks and activities that have to be done at the office clearly laid out.

“We want a position to be officially classified as a telework job so when there’s a job opening it is put on paper as a telework job,” said Aubry. The government can then look for employees across Canada. It would change the way they do recruitment.”

At the moment, Treasury Board has left it up to departments to decide how their employees will work. The board sets guidelines but deputy ministers are responsible for how their departments run.

Some have already indicated they want workers back in the office some of the time; others are encouraging people to work from home full-time or to decide where they want to be based. Departments like Transport and Public Services and Procurement Canada have been singled out as among the most flexible. Meanwhile, unions are irked the RCMP have ordered some civilian employees back to the office before restrictions have been lifted.

That’s why some are looking for a more consistent policy. One senior bureaucrat said the approach is too “muddied” and sets the stage for expectations and conflicts between departments and unions.

“Instead of having a common approach they’ve left it scattered, which is a problem because deputy ministers are not willing to make a decision that might be precedent-setting and everybody gets stuck,” said the bureaucrat, who we are not identifying because he is not authorized to speak on the subject.

A big challenge with hybrid work is how to treat everyone equitably. The unions are worried about two tiers of employees: those who work in-office and those who don’t. It’s expected those who work in the office, where they are known by management, will have an edge for promotions and special projects.

What if deputy ministers and other senior executives return to the office? Won’t more employees follow suit and come to the office to be seen?

It could create a gender gap for women, who are disproportionately drawn to remote work to better manage parenting or other caregiving needs they juggle.

“I would love to see a situation where if government goes to a hybrid model that they actually say everybody in the organization has to work remotely two or three days a week, so that everybody’s having that same experience,” said Androsoff.

Nearly 42 per cent of public servants work in the National Capital Region. Stories abound of public servants who moved to the countryside or to the east or west coasts to work remotely during lockdown and have no plans to come back. Managers started filling Ottawa jobs with people outside the region and not requiring them to relocate.

There are far more ministers and MPs from outside Ottawa who have long tried to decentralize federal jobs to the regions. The argument for the capital’s disproportionate share of jobs was based on the location of Parliament, ministers and senior management. If the pandemic allowed MPs and Parliament to meet virtually, why wouldn’t they press for more jobs to be done remotely?

Former privy council clerk Michael Wernick says relocating Ottawa jobs is inevitable, adding it could happen in a “very conscious way” or “by stealth.” There are plenty of examples of departments operating outside the capital – Veterans Affairs in Charlottetown, Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency in Moncton, National Energy Board in Calgary or the pay centre in Miramichi.

“The political pressure for geographic decentralization, plus work moving out to people’s homes, means a much less gravitational pull from Ottawa,” said Wernick.

“Maybe it won’t be the big departments and central agencies in the core public service, but there are 300 federal entities. And I think they may start maybe with some of those. Why does a tribunal, for example, have to hold hearings in Ottawa?”

Remote work would attract a more diverse pool of applicants who better represent Canada, including those who don’t live in urban centres, Indigenous people, visible minorities and people with disabilities.

A national recruitment strategy, however, will quickly collide with the public service’s bilingualism requirements.

“It opens doors for people from across the country to be part of the federal government in a way never possible before, but how to do that with existing bilingual policies is going to have to be explored,” said Androsoff.

A new telework policy assumes managers will shift to results-based management and hold people accountable for what they do and not just showing up for work.

But Wernick said the public service must sharpen its competitive edge to keep and attract employees in a global talent shortage. That shortage could worsen with an exodus of public servants, burned out and ready to leave after two years of going full tilt in the pandemic. Others put off retirement during lockdown and will leave rather than go back to the office.

Many argue departments will offer remote work to attract and retain people. That could also spark an internal war for talent as people flee to departments that offer the most flexibility and remote work.

The government’s technology is still years behind the private sector, but the pandemic brought all public servants to a basic level of digital literacy with new skills they want to use. Some argue home network and internet connections are now much better than what employees had at the office.

Canadians also have much bigger expectations of government. They are living more digitally now, banking and shopping online, and expect the same easy and rapid service from the government.

But Androsoff said there’s still a powerful pull from the traditionalists who would rather return to the old ways: nine to five, back to the office, in-person meetings and assigned desks.

“The federal government, by virtue of its size and history, has institutional inertia. In previous waves of reform, that inertia always pushes to go back to the way it was,” said Androsoff.

“I’m hoping for lasting change, but it remains to be seen whether this push is permanent or the pressure to go back to its institutional comfort zone wins the day.”


How COVID-19 could reshape the federal public service

Too early to tell but the opportunities are there:

The COVID-19 pandemic has handed the public service a grand-scale opportunity to experiment with new ways of operating, including rethinking the need for massive office buildings in Ottawa-Gatineau and embracing digital government more fully. What public servants learn in the next few months by working remotely and in crisis could jolt the bureaucracy into a re-ordering of practices and culture that reformers haven’t been able to do in 25 years.

Public servants rapidly mobilized over the past month to implement a massive financial aid package, abandoning play-it-safe and rules-bound processes to put the needs of Canadians first as they doled out billions in emergency funding.

“It’s not that the crisis is forcing us to reshape the public service, but the post-pandemic world could be the window of opportunity, or necessity, to accelerate the renewal and reforms in institutions,” former privy council clerk Michael Wernick said in an interview.

Alex Benay, the former chief information officer who led the government’s digital agenda until he left for the private sector, wrote the crisis unleashed a “new norm,” the “digital first” government he’s long pressed for.

“Sadly, it took COVID-19 for people to realize that the real problem was not technology, not necessarily the culture…The real ‘enemy,’ so to speak, has been the operating model of government has yet to change to adjust to the new digital realities,” Benay wrote in a recent LinkedIn post.

Crises sparks change, but not always lasting change

It’s not the first time the public service has roared into action to combat a crisis. Its rapid response was reminiscent of the moves it made during the “program review” budgetary cuts of the 1990s, after the 9/11 attacks, and during the 2008-09 financial crisis, which had lasting impacts on government.

These events didn’t, however, fundamentally change the culture of the public service and many argue it went back to its old risk-averse and hierarchical ways as the crisis receded. That culture is hard-wired into public service, built on rules developed to keep governments accountable for the decisions they make with taxpayers’ money.

The public service has been slow to embrace technology that’s changing the private sector at breakneck speed. Bureaucrats have been pushed to innovate, to use digital tools to rethink how they work and deliver services, to take risks, and even to fail as they experiment with new ways of working.

Mel Cappe, who was Canada’s top bureaucrat in the aftermath of 9/11, said today’s public servants rightly opted to get emergency aid out to those who needed it over a “bullet-proof system” that ensured no mistakes at the front-end. The thinking was that errors could be fixed later.

It allowed the public service to take just two weeks to distribute employment insurance payments to 2.4 million applicants, the number it normally handles in a year. Money “going to people undeserving is an error I would rather have than depriving people of the money they need in crisis,” Cappe said in a podcast.

“Work will change and services will change. Why does a call centre have to have a building?” he said in an email. “Our expectations of the role of government have increased dramatically. New programs, new services, new bodies. But we have no idea what or how.”

A smaller, more distributed public service?

Long before the pandemic struck, questions had been raised as to why nearly 42 percent of federal workers are clustered in office towers in the National Capital Region. In the blink of an eye, thousands of bureaucrats are working from home. Many predict it won’t be long before politicians will be asking why these home offices are in the nation’s capital. Why can’t those jobs be across the country?

The public service’s headquarters is in Ottawa-Gatineau – where it occupies about 3.5 million square metres of office space – because that’s where Parliament, ministers and deputy ministers are. The pandemic shows cabinet, Parliament and MPs can meet virtually, so it’s “inevitable there will be push to spread those jobs across the country,” said Wernick

“I think that 10 years from now the public service will be much smaller, more distributed, less concentrated in Ottawa and flatter in hierarchy. It’s been moving in that direction and this will accelerate it,” he said.

Ryan Androsoff, who teaches digital leadership at the Institute on Governance and is a co-founder of the Canadian Digital Service, calls the crisis an “inflection point” for remote work. Forced to work at home, public servants know they can do it.

He argues agents who work at the government’s 221 call centres could work remotely, as could many policy analysts and other knowledge workers. It could lead to a major reduction in federal real estate holdings across the country.

There are bugs to iron out – more laptops and tablets are needed; employees need access to software for video conferencing, cloud and collaboration tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams; and above all, they need more bandwidth. Employees not working on the pandemic or other critical jobs have been directed to stay off the network during peak hours because of limited available bandwidth. Protocols would also need to be developed for accessing confidential documents remotely and the setting of productivity goals.

By headcount, the public service is larger in the regions, but there has long been a divide between headquarters and regions. Senior management is in Ottawa, where policy and decisions are made, leaving operations to the regions. Regional workers have often complained they feel out of the loop and like second-class employees.

Technology and distance working will eliminate that divide and allow the government to recruit a workforce that better represents the country to help resolve the regional alienation dividing the country. Androsoff warned, however, that divide could worsen if the region’s operational workers make the switch to remote working, but Ottawa policy-makers go back to the office as normal.

“Moving to a remote and distributed workforce as the norm for everyone opens up all parts of the country to feel they are a part of the central government rather than isolated in regional outposts,” Androsoff said.

“I am a westerner, from Saskatchewan, and in Ottawa you tend to see far fewer people in policy-making or executive roles from the east and west partly because it requires a move to Ottawa.”

Office accommodation for 300,000 employees is one of the government’s biggest operating expenses. It may be cheaper to set up workers at home, but it will also require a new approach to management for some 15,000 supervisors and 7,000 executives.

“It’s never been a technology limitation. It’s the philosophy about managing the workforce that has to change,” said Michel Vermette, a former CEO of the Association of Professional Executives of the Public Service of Canada.

“It means making people accountable for what they produce, and the public service has not done that very well. It has substituted office presence for production.  Managers need to think differently; hold people accountable for what they do, not for showing up,” he said.

Vermette said the crisis is showing managers they can trust employees are actually working when not in the office because suddenly “they have no choice and people are demonstrating they can be productive at home.”

It could also help change the culture of endless meetings. Some hope the number of large in-person meetings could be curtailed and call for training on how to run them better. Meetings held online or by videoconferencing should treat everyone the same whether they are physically present at headquarters or calling in.

Improving digital access to services

Under lockdown, people are living even more digitally and will emerge expecting better and speedier digital service — especially after they received almost immediate relief benefits in their bank accounts, said Androsoff. He expects demand for digital services will accelerate and the 32 percent of Canadians who still visit federal offices will decline.

The Liberal government has put a lot of stock in modernizing digital services as a way to restore trust in government. The crisis, however, exposes the risks of aging technology that governments have been warned about for a decade. Systems are outdated; some more than 50 years old, costly to maintain and on the brink of failure.

That’s particularly the case at Employment and Social Development Canada, which with the Canada Revenue Agency, jumped huge technological and approval process hurdles to deliver emergency funding.

Debi Daviau, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, argues a “silver lining” is the realization that technology is the backbone of government’s business, not just the back office.

“There will be a big push for improvement in technology because the government is way behind in investments in infrastructure and training,” said Daviau, whose union represents 17,000 federal information technology workers.

“But the downside is whenever there is an economic stimulus, they take it back from the public service, so I worry for the future. There will be a restraint budget. How will the public service be reshaped; what will be cut and what will government decide it can live without? This situation clearly highlights the importance of a public service that can act quickly.”

Government is already racing to figure out how to steer the country into a post-pandemic recovery, which will remain uncertain until a vaccine is found. Many bureaucrats are braced for a cost-cutting budget, whether in 2022 or 2023. They say national and health security will be top spending priorities, and will nudge technology upgrades off the table.

“I share concerns that the inevitable fiscal retrenchment in next couple of years will slam on the brakes,” said Wernick. “We could lose the best parts of the innovation of the public service that has already happened and the appetite for continuing to invest in back office, IT and service improvement.”

Source: How COVID-19 could reshape the federal public service

What ever happened to deliverology?

Good article by Kathryn May. May reflect in part an excessive number of commitments in the 2015 election platform as the critical voices cited have suggested. Agree that the release of Ministerial mandate letters may be the most significant achievement but paring down of the number of priorities would have liked improved implementation:

Mention “deliverology” to a public servant working on the policy frontlines, and you’ll get either a shrug or a grumble. The trendy management theory that took the federal bureaucracy by storm three years ago has struggled to live up to the initial hype.

Still, the person responsible for the public management approach believes it is changing the way policy is implemented in Canada.

Justin Trudeau’s Liberals came to power in 2015 hailing the governing theories of British political adviser Sir Michael Barber. Barber’s principles on how to achieve results on promised actions had been pioneered in Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government 15 years earlier, with the establishment of the important “delivery unit” in the prime minister’s office. The approach became known as deliverology; its goal was to get ministers and public servants to keep a laser-like focus on the government’s priorities and deliver what was promised to voters.

Trudeau invited Barber to three cabinet retreats. He also visited Ottawa, where copies of his presentation to cabinet circulated around departments and were devoured by bureaucrats wanting to see what deliverology was all about. They bought Barber’s book, How to Run a Government: So that Citizens Benefit and Taxpayers Don’t Go Crazy, and signed up for courses on the essentials that popped up around town.

In Canada, the Results and Delivery Unit was created, to be housed in Canada’s Privy Council Office (PCO).  Matthew Mendelsohn, a former Ontario deputy minister and think tank founder, became the new deputy minister who would head the office. Departments appointed “delivery officers,” and a cabinet committee was created — headed by Trudeau himself — to monitor the results.

The buzz fades

Fast forward to 2019, and the buzz has faded out to a murmur. In conversations with senior bureaucrats, management consultants, politicians, and other public administration watchers – none of whom would go on the record criticizing the government’s efforts – the word is they barely hear about deliverology anymore.

“It was such a big deal at the beginning, but it drifted. It’s just not top-of-mind now; no one talks about it anymore. They laugh about it,” said one long-time senior bureaucrat.

“There was all this anxiety and disruption over what it meant. Departments were busy setting up delivery officers and delivery units,” said public management consultant Mark Schacter.

“New performance measures had to be developed and approved. Everyone was trying to figure out what it meant. Then the wave of activity passed and things seemed to be back to business as usual.”

Another senior bureaucrat shrugged. “Is deliverology still a thing? I know the office is still there, but no one talks about it.”

The new approach imposed another layer of administration on some public servants. Their departments had been abiding by evaluation and performance policies for more than 40 years. They were already obliged to report findings to the Treasury Board Secretariat. With deliverology, the public service still did all that work, and now they also had to report the progress on all the government’s goals to a “delivery unit,” which, along with ministers and the prime minister, monitored and tracked these priorities.

Other public servants grumbled that all the resources and attention had gone to bureaucrats working on priorities, at the expense of other day-to-day operations.

Deliverology’s chief steward in Ottawa

Was the approach a total failure?

In a recent interview, Mendelsohn insisted the version adapted in this country works, and much of the criticism is misguided because Canada “never intended to do deliverology from A to Z as articulated in Barber’s book.”

He said the federal government borrowed four core principles from the UK model: to focus on policy implementation, establish routines around all aspects of the delivery process, identify obstacles to progress and remove them, and report publicly on progress in reaching the promised results.

When measured against those standards, Mendelsohn said, the system is working. He argued that the big “unappreciated” shift has been a culture change in the public service. Public servants are now trained to think about results and how to measure them at the front end of policy development, before proposals are ever brought to cabinet.

He said that shift is now baked into all reporting ─ including memoranda ─ to cabinet. The expected outcomes of a new policy or program, how they will be measured and tracked, must be incorporated.

“What we have done is we have brought greater focus on implementation into the initial policy-making choices, so cabinet and ministers are thinking about implementation, project management and delivery at the very beginning,” he said.

The idea behind deliverology was to bring a discipline into management and bridge a longstanding gap between policy-making and implementation, said Independent Senator Tony Dean, a former cabinet secretary in Ontario who helped create a delivery unit for Dalton McGuinty’s government.

For years, governments made big policy and project announcements, turned them over to the public service for implementation, and failed to deliver what was promised. Months could go by between an announcement and implementation, and ministers were not involved unless something went wrong.

The failure of the Phoenix pay system represented a cautionary tale for ministers of what happens when the senior echelons aren’t closely involved in the implementation of their policies and projects.

The ministerial mandate letters

Mendelsohn emphasizes the importance of the mandate letters Trudeau sent to all his ministers when they were appointed to cabinet. These letters laid out each minister’s marching orders and what they were expected to deliver over the government’s four-year mandate.

Up until then, mandate letters had been secret. Trudeau made them public, and he also introduced an online tracker to monitor the ministers’ progress in achieving the commitments outlined in the letters.

The argument was that when the letters are public, Canadians know exactly what the government is doing and which ministers are responsible for the policy — whether it was health care agreements, the Child Tax Benefit, or infrastructure.  Mendelsohn said the letters also created a daily pressure on departments to implement those commitments, because they were on the hook for reporting to ministers and the prime minister on the “progress being made and if not, why.”

Mendelsohn said the public release of the mandate letters, along with the online tracker, are crucial for transparency; they are driving accountability, culture change and “helping to get things done.”

One high-ranking bureaucrat acknowledged the letters became key to managing the government’s agenda in the face of a constantly changing political landscape. Without them, he said, the government would have lost traction on advancing its priorities in the second and third years of its mandate, given the unexpected threats such as the NAFTA 2.0 negotiations.

Many of the people interviewed argued that the mandate tracker backfired and distorted the principles underpinning deliverology.

Instead of focusing on a few top priorities, the government made all its election promises and the commitments in ministers’ mandate letters priorities, so that ─ as one official put it ─ “when everything is a priority, nothing is a priority.”

The original 2015 mandate letters gave ministers 289 tasks, but that to-do list has since swelled to 432, with new promises around the opioid crisis, irregular border crossings and other emerging issues. The mandate tracker suggests the government met 47 percent of its original promises, which would be 37 percent if the initiatives introduced in Budget 2019 are included.

“They never got it [deliverology] right, right off the bat,” said a former senior PCO official. “To my mind, it was an enormous failure in spirit not to identify just four or five priorities. The way it was handled, everything was a priority, and deliverology was another word for results-based management, which has been talked about since Moses was in short pants.”

Tony Dean said making the mandate letters public is a significant breakthrough, but the government should have picked a “handful of key priorities, elevated them, and shown tangible progress,” which they could be touting as they head into the fall election.

“It’s a method we know works,” said Dean. “If such goals had been set three years ago, the government would be readying to talk about progress made…”

The main question is whether Canadians are better off because of deliverology. Mark Schacter, who is the author of Does “Deliverology” Matter?, said there is no conclusive evidence it makes any “difference to the quality of public management” or to peoples’ lives.

Said Schacter, “A single-minded focus on targets sets public servants focused on targets, but being focused on targets is not necessarily the same as being focused on what’s good for Canadians.”

Source: What ever happened to deliverology?

Trudeau shakes up PS top ranks with more young blood (diversity numbers)

With these appointments, the overall DM diversity numbers for the 39  appointments are: 43.6 percent women, 7.7 percent visible minorities:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shook up the senior ranks of Canada’s public service with another sweep of promotions for younger executives who are poised to take over as the leaders of the next decade.

The latest round of appointments reflects Privy Council Clerk Michael Wernick’s push to rejuvenate the top ranks of the bureaucracy with a better mix of youth and experience. The prime minister is responsible for all senior appointments but they are typically made on the advice of the clerk.

Wernick has said managing a “generational turnover” is his top priority as the last wave of baby boomers, who dominated the face and character of public service for decades, retires. In speeches, he has exhorted the baby boomers to “move on” and make way for the next generation of leaders.

Friday’s shakeup included three promotions into the ranks of deputy minster and three assistant deputy ministers into associate deputy minister jobs. All are about age 50 — either in their late 40s or early 50s — positioning them for the top posts over the decade. Last year, the average age of deputy ministers was about age 58.

As one senior bureaucrat said, “It looks like 50 is the new 60.”  The public service has aged over the years, including its senior executives compared to the 1970s and ‘8os when the public service grew rapidly and it wasn’t unusual for executives to get their first deputy appointments in their 40s.

The Trudeau government has made more than 30 senior public service appointments, and a significant number have been younger appointments than in previous years or were recruited from outside the public service.

This round of promotions includes: Paul Glover, the associate deputy minister of health, becomes president of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency; Timothy Sargent, associate deputy minister of Finance, is promoted to deputy minister at International Trade; and James Meddings, assistant deputy minister at Western Economic Diversification Canada, moves to the top job at Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario.

Glover replaces CFIA president Bruce Archibald, who is retiring. Sargent is taking over from Christine Hogan, who was recently named the new World Bank Group executive director for Canada, Ireland, nine Caribbean countries, Belize and Guyana.

Similarly, Meddings replaces Nancy Horsman, who is the new International Monetary Fund executive director for Canada, Ireland, nine Caribbean countries and Belize.

Doug Nevison becomes the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development executive director for Canada, Morocco, Tunisia and Jordan.

The Trudeau government’s appointment of two women — Horsman and Hogan — to the world’s main economic boards is part of its push to ensure Canada’s representatives abroad reflect gender parity and the wide diversity of Canada. About 45 per cent of Canada’s diplomatic postings are now held by women.

Other moves in the Friday round of appointments included Chris Forbes, the associate deputy minister at Agriculture who moves to Finance as one of the department’s two associate deputy ministers. Rob Stewart, assistant deputy minister at Finance, moves up to the associate deputy minister position responsible for G7 and G20.

Nada Semaan, executive vice-president at Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), moves to Agriculture as associate deputy minister, and Kristina Namiesniowski, an assistant deputy minister at Agriculture, takes over Semaan’s position at CBSA.

Today, more than one-third of the executive cadre are over age 55, with 400 of them over 60. About 46 per cent of all public service executives are over age 50. The average deputy minister is 58; associate deputy minister 54, assistant deputy minister 53.7 and directors and directors-general 50.

Along with the drive to infuse more young talent into the executive jobs, Treasury Board president Scott Brison is committed to making the public service more millennial-friendly to attract more youth.

Source: Trudeau shakes up PS top ranks with more young blood | Ottawa Citizen