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

The young and the restless: Liberals look to infuse public service with new blood

Good overview by Kathryn May of the demographics of the public service and recruitment challenge:

Knowing the talent pool of the public service will need to be renewed to push forward its agenda, the Liberal government is trying to figure out how to attract more young people to a sector where the average age of a new hire is pushing 40.

The rising age of new recruits was flagged for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is also the minister of youth, as an “area in need of increased attention.”

According to Privy Council Office briefing documents, the average age of new hires has hit 37, and few young people are being hired. Once hired, however, people stay in the public service until they retire at about age 60.

“Sustained efforts are needed to recruit young people and to attract highly skilled professionals from other sectors, especially those with the skill sets needed for the future work of the public service,” say the briefing documents.

The average age of entry into the public service has been creeping up, rather than decreasing, as more and more jobs require university degrees. A decade ago, the average age of a new hire was 36 — 35 for women and 36 for men.

The public service is an older workforce compared with the private sector. It emerged out of the restraints of the Conservative era smaller and slightly older. Today, it is largely middle-aged, with more than 60 per cent of the employees between 35 and 54, and the largest concentration huddled between 40 and 54.

Over the past five years, the number of bureaucrats under 35 decreased and those over 50 increased. The average age is now 45, and more than half have worked in the public service between five and 14 years.

It’s an issue Treasury Board President Scott Brison quickly seized upon when he made a pitch last month at the World Economic Forum in Davos to the millennial generation — those under 35 — to work in government.

In an interview, Brison signalled he is reviewing how to tackle the problem to give millennials the “chance to make a difference in the future of the country.

“The complexity of decisions today is greater than it has ever been in the history of government or democracy, and now more than ever at any point in our history we need bright, talented people in government,” he said.

“And we also have the most talented, most educated, and most globally connected generation. So it seems pretty obvious to me that we need to find ways to bring millennials into these key decision-making roles in government.”

The public service never has a problem attracting people, especially when the economy slows. The big challenges are getting people with the right skills and keeping them. Young people tend to see the public service as a slow, rules-bound hierarchy with little tolerance for risk or creativity. It has countered with campaigns over the years, including one branding itself as the “employer of a thousand opportunities.”

But Brison said the image of the public service took a major beating under the Conservatives, which mistrusted public servants and “gratuitously took pot shots at public servants whenever they had the chance”

“They toxified relations with the public which was incredibly stupid given governments need the engagement of public servants to implement their agenda … We have a progressive agenda and need a motivated public service. We recognize the importance of renewing talent.”

Linda Duxbury, professor at Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business, said Brison has every reason to be worried. After a decade of being “beaten down by the Conservatives the word public service has a bad connotation.”

The big attraction, she said, for many workers in their 30s is not the work as much as job security, pensions and benefits — reinforcing a long-standing characterization of public servants who join for the benefits and stay for the pensions.

But Duxbury said the problem is that employees attracted by such “extrinsic motivators” don’t tend to be the entrepreneurial, creative thinkers and innovators the government wants to shake up the way work is done and services are delivered.

“I would like to see what is attracting them to the public service at age 37,” said Duxbury. “This isn’t just an age issue but who is attracted by what you have to offer, and if what you have to offer are extrinsic motivators like a good pension and benefits, those may not be the people you want.”

The Public Service Commission in its 2013-14 report noted the number and proportion of employees under age 35 had declined four years in a row, even though the number of new hires from this group increased. At last count, they represent 17 per cent of all permanent employees after peaking at 21.4 per cent in 2010.

At the same time, the number of people leaving or retiring outnumbered those coming into the public service. The commission warned this gap could have “implications for the renewal and future composition of the public service.”

By the Numbers: Composition of the Public Service

  • 37: average age of new hires
  • 45: average age of public servants
  • 50.4: average age of executives
  • 50: percentage with 5 to 14 years experience
  • 22: percentage with 15 to 25 years experience
  • 58: average retirement age
  • 36: percentage of baby boomers in public service workforce
  • 21: percentage of millennials in the public service
  • 257,000: number of employees in public service
  • 87: percentage of employees who are permanent or indeterminate employees
  • 13: percentage of employees who are term, casual and student employees
  • 55: percentage of employees who are women
  • 42: percentage of public servants working in National Capital Region

Source: The young and the restless: Liberals look to infuse public service with new blood | Ottawa Citizen

Diversity of Deputy Ministers – Current Baseline

With the announcement that Janice Charente is being replaced by Michael Wernick as Clerk of the Privy Council, I thought it might be interesting to see what the baseline is before further appointments and changes take place this year.

Including the 22 deputies for departments (per GEDS), eight deputies at PCO, and the heads of CBSA, CRS, CSE, CSIS, PSC, RCMP, SSC, StatsCan and TBS (39 deputies or equivalents), generates the following results (14 women, 25 men, 1 visible minority):


Will update this at the end of the year to see if any significant changes given the government’s focus on diversity and inclusion (and of course if I have missed anyone or mischaracterized anyone, happy to revise).

Kathryn May’s analysis of the appointment worth reading:

The announcement left many public servants scratching their heads as to why Trudeau replaced Charette with Wernick and asked him to help find his replacement.

It’s unclear how long Wernick will be in the job, but one of his key tasks will be studying how to select the next clerk. “The Prime Minister has asked Mr. Wernick for advice on a process to fill the position on a permanent basis,” said the press statement.

Ralph Heintzman, the University of Ottawa research professor who has long argued for an independent appointment process to pick the clerk and all deputy ministers, said the move is in line with the new approach Trudeau is taking to all appointments.

He said finding a new arm’s length process for appointing the clerk is the first step to a “renaissance” of Canada’s non-partisan public service, which many argued had become politicized as more power shifted to the Prime Minister’s Office.

Michael Wernick new Clerk of the Privy Council

Report calls for a ‘humanized’ public service

A good initiative of the previous government:

The report, which recommends implementing the Mental Health Commission’s national psychological standard across government, concludes that the way the public service is managed must shift from an “output-focused environment to one that is more people-focused.”

The recommendations revolve around fixes in key areas: leadership, engagement, education on mental health, training and workplace practices, communication, and promotion and accountability.

“We must humanize the workplace … A more people-focused environment contributes to a high-quality federal public service (and) compassion is fundamental to this shift,” said the report.

Treasury Board President Scott Brison said the report shows the government and unions have “common ground” where they can work together.

“Humanizing is consistent with our government agenda to create a culture of respect for the public service,” said Brison.

“Mental health is part of that, ensuring public servants have a healthy workplace,” he said. “It is the right thing and healthy workplaces are more productive.”

The task force grew out of the bargaining demand PSAC tabled nearly a year ago. It asked the government to adopt the Mental Health Commission’s national psychological standard across government and enshrine it in all collective agreements.

Clement took the extraordinary step of taking the proposal off the table, and setting up a task force to examine the standard and identify the toxic factors in the workplace that are making workers sick.

“The unions deserve credit … and I give full marks to Tony Clement for having helped to initiate this,” said Brison. “I told the unions that it this is just the beginning.”

Brison stressed the committee’s work won’t be used as a bargaining chip in “any way, shape or form” when Treasury Board negotiators and the 18 unions resume collective bargaining on sick leave in January.

The cost of mental illness, from absenteeism to productivity, has been on the government’s radar for the past decade, with mental health claims accounting for 47 per cent of all disability claims.

The 2014 public service survey found employees’ engagement was falling and one in five said they were harassed, mostly by co-workers or bosses.  Studies of executives and their health showed similar trends.

Last year, 40 per cent of all calls to the hotline for the Employee Assistance Program were about mental health.

Source: Report calls for a ‘humanized’ public service | Ottawa Citizen

New code of conduct introduced for political aides: Kathryn May

Good synopsis of the new code:

With the new code, ministerial staff must act with integrity and honesty, support the minister’s duties, be diligent and loyal to the minister, and work with the public service to support the minister.  When working with bureaucrats, they must:

  • be aware of the ethical standards, guidelines and codes of conduct that public servants must comply with;
  • stay out of departmental operations, including how money should be spent;
  • not engage public servants in activity that breaches their ethical and legal obligations as non-partisan public servants;
  • not direct or issue orders to public servants;
  • not undermine or circumvent the authority of deputy ministers; and
  • not suppress or alter advice that public servants prepare for ministers.

The code also calls for a separation between ministers’ social media accounts and those of the government. That’s long been the policy but the Conservatives were repeatedly called out for using the government’s communications machinery to promote partisan interests.

They made public servants refer to the Government of Canada as the Harper Government on all news releases and backgrounders.

In another case, departments were asked to send retweets promoting a family-tax measure not yet passed by Parliament, including a hashtag with the Conservative slogan #StrongFamilies. Employment Minister Pierre Poilievre had public servants work overtime to create promotional videos about child benefits, which featured him.

The government has two types of social media accounts – departmental and thematic accounts — which are targeted at specific topics or audiences. They are used to promote or advertise federal programs but can’t have identifying “party symbols” or partisan content.

The code allows ministers and parliamentary secretaries to have their own social media accounts, but won’t allow government resources to manage or create content for them.

Departments can’t tweet, retweet or link to the personal or political accounts of ministers. Ministers, however, can link or tweet content from Government of Canada websites.

Source: New code of conduct introduced for political aides | Ottawa Citizen

Liberal changes [moving #multiculturalism back to Canadian Heritage] will strengthen multiculturalism: expert

Further to my earlier post on the machinery and related changes (Ministerial Mandate Letters: Mainstreaming diversity and inclusion, and point of interest from a citizenship and multiculturalism perspective):

The moves suggest the Liberals want to make Heritage “more of a Canadian unity and identity department,” said David Elder, a former senior official at the Privy Council Office, which manages the machinery of government.

Multiculturalism is at the heart of Trudeau’s goal to defuse security concerns about bringing in 25,000 Syrians in the aftermath of the Paris attacks. In London, he said Canada has a history of taking those fleeing conflict who go on to help build stronger communities and more opportunities.

“I know when those 25,000 new Canadians begin to integrate into families and homes over the course of the winter, and as people get to know the extraordinary individuals who are working hard to contribute to Canada and our future, then many of the fears that come from not having personal connections and contacts with people will simply evaporate,” Trudeau said.

Changes to the structures, processes and accountability of departments can be highly disruptive in the public service, taking huge amounts of time and energy. This can mean moving people, carving up budgets and bringing together different work cultures.

Many say Trudeau wisely made few machinery changes that affected the structure of departments. Most of the changes amounted to tinkering, moving around responsibilities and changing some names to signal his priorities and the realigned portfolios of his cabinet.

“My take is that they did it brilliantly,” said Andrew Griffith, a former director-general of multiculturalism at Citizenship and Immigration. “They signalled change, put in strong ministers and strategically it means bureaucrats don’t have an excuse to fight over resources, and have to deliver on the government agenda.”

Kenney was the Conservatives’ multiculturalism minister for eight of the nine years the party was in power. He took it on as a junior minister – secretary of state for multiculturalism and Canadian identity in 2007 – and brought the file with him when he became minister of Citizenship and Immigration in 2008. He retained the responsibility later at Employment and Social Development Canada and at National Defence.

His political job was to court ethnic minorities across the country to back the Tories in the 2015 election. He promoted a brand of integration that promoted “social cohesion” rather than the “social inclusion” encouraged by the Liberals, said Griffith.

But Griffith said moving multiculturalism back to Heritage, rather than attaching it to a minister who bounces from post to post, should revitalize the issue. Most programs dealing with inclusion and diversity will now be in one department, meaning a broader national approach.

The Liberals also created the first cabinet committee for diversity and inclusion, Griffith noted. And mandate letters to ministers drove home that Canada’s values include “diversity” and “bringing Canadians together.” Ministers were told all appointments must reflect gender parity and “that Indigenous Canadians and minority groups are better reflected in positions of leadership.”

“They have mainstreamed the diversity and inclusion agenda so now all ministers have responsibility for it,” said Griffith.

“They have to include it in their policies, consider diversity in appointments, and having a cabinet committee to provide focus says these aren’t little boutique issues but should be government-wide issues.”

Griffith, who moved multiculturalism to CIC in 2008, long argued it had withered and gotten lost at Citizenship, a highly operational department that focused on the process side of immigration, refugees and citizenship.

Griffith said it will be difficult to tease out the jobs and funding at CIC that should be returned to Canadian Heritage because they were dispersed throughout Citizenship and Immigration. The two departments will have to duke it out over which resources will move.

Multiculturalism also faced a significant cut under the Conservatives. When Griffith moved it to CIC, the program had a $13-million budget: $12 million for grants and contributions and 73 full-time positions. The last departmental performance report showed 29 full-time positions with a $9.8-million budget. Money for grants and contributions fell to $7.9 million.

Source: Liberal changes will strengthen multiculturalism: expert | Ottawa Citizen

Public service about to feel the heat of public scrutiny

Nothing like some sunshine to improve accountability. But the challenge is real as public service-cited evidence will be more open to scrutiny and questioning:

The work Canada’s public service undertakes to support federal cabinet decisions could be thrown into the public spotlight in a way never seen before, according to the instructions Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has given Treasury Board President Scott Brison.

In what is referred to as a “mandate letter,” Trudeau has told Brison to make sure departments use the “best available information” and evidence when shaping policy and decisions — and be prepared to make that information public.

The mandate letters, sent to the 30 cabinet ministers and made public late last week, are built on the key promises of the Liberal election campaign. Brison’s marching orders for open and transparent government include specific instructions to create a culture of “measurement, evaluation and innovation” in the way programs and policies are designed and services delivered to Canadians.

In a big change from the past, those orders also include publicly releasing key supporting information used for making decisions, such as background and analysis, that has been shrouded in cabinet secrecy.

Trudeau also directed Brison to ensure departments set aside money for innovation. The letter asked that a “a fixed percentage” of program funds be reserved “to experiment with new approaches to existing problems and measuring the impact of their programs.”

Sahir Khan, the former assistant parliamentary budget officer who is now a senior visiting fellow at the University of Ottawa, said the government seems to be taking a page from New Zealand’s cabinet disclosure policy, in which a significant amount of the information submitted in memorandums to cabinet is made public.

“This is a level of transparency that we have never seen laid out so clearly,” said Khan, who led the PBO’s work on the analysis of the government’s proposed expenditures. “This represents a fundamental cultural transformation for the public service.”

During its almost 10 years in power, the more secretive Conservative government didn’t seek much public service advice or ask for evidence to back up policy-making.

The big question is whether the public service can now generate sturdy evidence-based decision that will not only be seen by cabinet but will also withstand the scrutiny of Parliament and the public.

Making more of the information around cabinet decisions public will also ramp up the accountability of both ministers and the public service.

“The public service can respond to the challenge, but it has not been asked to flex those muscles in a very long time,” said Khan. “The question is not whether they can respond but how many years for the public service to make such a substantive cultural change for a new way of doing business.”

Source: Public service about to feel the heat of public scrutiny | Ottawa Citizen